Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Education, Teaching-Learning Processes

Date of Defense

8-12-2005

Graduate Advisor

William C. Kyle, Jr.

Committee

Gary Burger, Ph. D.

Dr. Joe Polman

Dr. Pat Somers

Abstract

The events of 9/11 brought into focus two ongoing trends that were present before this tragedy and have continued since: 1) The United States needs more scientists if it is to ensure its freedoms and maintain its economy. 2) The number of scientists in the ¿pipeline¿ is declining because of the diminished presence of foreign scientists (they are wanted in their own countries), the under-representation of minorities and women, and the reduced numbers of students able and willing to take on the scholastic rigors necessary for a science or engineering degree. Though much has been written about improving science education, and numerous projects have been conducted to promote it, few education researchers have questioned the scientists themselves about the experiences, practices, and people that positively influenced them, particularly during their pre-college years. Towards this end, thirty-two scientists were interviewed in order to address four research questions: 1) How did practicing scientists¿ personal relationships with their science teachers influence their decision to pursue a career in science? 2) What pedagogical methods (e.g. lectures, demonstrations, ¿hands-on¿ work, problem solving, small groups) used in their high school science courses, if any, played a significant role in propelling certain students towards a career as a practicing scientist? 3) What high school science-related support structures (e.g. labs, equipment, textbooks, technology), if any, played a significant role in propelling certain students towards a career as a practicing scientist? 4) What high school science-related educational activities (e.g. science fairs, clubs, summer internships), if any, played a significant role in propelling certain students towards a career as a practicing scientist? Some of the scientists reported that they knew they were headed towards a career in science before they even entered high school, while others did not make a decision about a science career until after they had graduated from college. The prevailing conviction, however, was that the encouragement from others (though not exclusively by teachers), the excellence of teaching (regardless of pedagogical style), and the richness of science related experiences were the most influential factors in either maintaining or initiating a persistence in science towards a career.

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