Title

Living In a Material World: Development and Evaluation of a New Materials Science Course for Non-Science Majors

Date of Award

2004

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Polymers and High Performance Materials

First Advisor

Lon J. Mathias

Advisor Department

Polymers and High Performance Materials

Abstract

This study was designed to discover if there is a difference in the scientific attitudes and process skills between a group of students who were instructed with Living in a Material World and groups of students in non-science majors sections of introductory biology, chemistry, and geology courses at the University of Southern Mississippi (USM). Each of the four courses utilized different instructional techniques. Students' scientific attitudes were measured with the Scientific Attitudes Inventory (SAI II) and their knowledge of science process skills were measured with the Test of Integrated Process Skills (TIPS II). The Group Assessment of Logical Thinking (GALT) was also administered to determine if the cognitive levels of students are comparable. A series of four questionnaires called Qualitative Course Assessments (QCA) were also administered to students in the experimental course to evaluate subtle changes in their understanding of the nature and processes of science and attitudes towards science. Student responses to the QCA questionnaires were triangulated with results of the qualitative instruments, and students' work on the final project. Results of the GALT found a significant difference in the cognitive levels of students in the experimental course (PSC 190) and in one of the control group, the introductory biology (BSC 107). Results of the SAI II and the TIPS II found no significant difference between the experimental group and the control groups. Qualitative analyses of students' responses to selected questions from the TIPS II, selected items on the SAI II, QCA questionnaires, and Materials that Fly project reports demonstrate an improvement in the understanding of the nature and processes of science and a change to positive attitude toward science of students in the experimental group. Students indicated that hands-on, inquiry-based labs and performance assessment were the most effective methods for their learning. These results indicate that science courses for non-science majors should focus on connections to students' daily lives while utilizing an STS curriculum and inquiry-based activities. Future research could focus on long term effects of this type of course as well as the effectiveness of these teaching methods for science majors.