British Journal of Developmental Psychology

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Volume 33 Issue 1 (March 2015), Pages 1-157

Testing primary‐school children's understanding of the nature of science (pages 57-72)

Understanding the nature of science (NOS) is a critical aspect of scientific reasoning, yet few studies have investigated its developmental beginnings and initial structure. One contributing reason is the lack of an adequate instrument. Two studies assessed NOS understanding among third graders using a multiple‐select (MS) paper‐and‐pencil test. Study 1 investigated the validity of the MS test by presenting the items to 68 third graders (9‐year‐olds) and subsequently interviewing them on their underlying NOS conception of the items. All items were significantly related between formats, indicating that the test was valid. Study 2 applied the same instrument to a larger sample of 243 third graders, and their performance was compared to a multiple‐choice (MC) version of the test. Although the MC format inflated the guessing probability, there was a significant relation between the two formats. In summary, the MS format was a valid method revealing third graders' NOS understanding, thereby representing an economical test instrument. A latent class analysis identified three groups of children with expertise in qualitatively different aspects of NOS, suggesting that there is not a single common starting point for the development of NOS understanding; instead, multiple developmental pathways may exist.

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