ERIC Identifier: ED393505
Publication Date: 1996-03-00
Author: Rifkin, Tronie - Georgakakos, John Harry
ERIC Clearinghouse for Community Colleges Los Angeles CA.
Science Reasoning Ability of Community College Students. ERIC
The development of science reasoning ability in individuals has been shown to
be correlated with a multitude of variables, some related directly or indirectly
to Piaget's cognitive theory of development (Inhelder and Piaget, 1958). Prior
knowledge (Resnick and Gelman, 1985), processing capacity (Finegold and Mass,
1985), cognitive styles (Stuessy, 1989), age (Helgeson, 1992), sex (Hernandez,
Marek, and Renner, 1984), IQ (Lawson, 1982), culture (Cherian, Kibria, Kariuki,
and Mwamwenda, 1988), SES (Acuna, 1983), majority/minority status (Lawson and
Bealer, 1984), as well as a number of individual aptitude (Owen, 1987),
achievement, and personality factors (Cloutier and Goldschmid, 1976) have all
been found to influence the development of science reasoning. Many of these
variables are pre-existing attributes students bring with them to the college
campus. However, limited efforts have been made to discover what influences the
development of science reasoning ability once the student enrolls in a course of
study at a two-year institution.
This Digest presents a 1991 study of science reasoning development in
students at Riverside City College. The results of the study point to the
importance of science in the curriculum and of academic involvement in the
sciences for the development of students' science reasoning ability.
DEFINING AND ASSESSING SCIENCE REASONING
presents a definition of science reasoning which stems from the concepts
inherent in Piaget's formal operations stage. For Steussy,
"Scientific reasoning is used to denote consistent, logical thought patterns
which are employed during the process of scientific inquiry that enable
individuals to propose relationships between observed phenomena; to design
experiments which test hypotheses concerning the proposed relationships; to
determine all possible alternatives and outcomes; to consider probabilities of
occurrences; to predict logical consequences; to weight evidence, or proof; and
to use a number of instances to justify a particular conclusion" (p. 2).
This definition of science reasoning ability also parallels the approach
taken by American College Testing (ACT) in the development of the Science
Reasoning Test, the instrument used in this study. The test is one element of a
battery of tests called the Collegiate Assessment of Academic Proficiency
(CAAP), which measures selected general education skills typically obtained by
students in the first two-years of college (ACT, 1991). The Science Reasoning
Test was determined appropriate for this study specifically because many of the
components found in Stuessy's (1984) definition of science reasoning mirror the
content of the test. In addition, the test is designed to evaluate the
development of science reasoning ability among students who matriculate through
both science and non-science courses.
COLLEGE AND SAMPLE
This study was conducted at Riverside
City College (RCC), located in southern California. RCC offers comprehensive
lower division, transfer-oriented curricula in the liberal arts and sciences
along with a wide range of certified occupational programs and courses in
continuing and developmental education.
This study reports the findings from two samples of RCC students. One sample,
the college-wide sample, consisted of student volunteer subjects (N=843) from
across the campus who were enrolled in one of 55 courses. The second sample, the
science-oriented group, was a sub-set of the college-wide sample and made up of
students who took at least one science course (N=494) at RCC.
Students participating in the study were
asked to complete the CAAP Science Reasoning Test twice. The pre-test was
administered at the beginning of the 1991 fall semester. The post-test was
administered at the conclusion of the 1991 fall semester.
Regression analyses were conducted to determine the factors that influence
the development of science reasoning from pre-test to post-test.
RESULTS FROM THE COLLEGE-WIDE SAMPLE
Analyses of the
college-wide responses from pre- to post-test administration of the CAAP Science
Reasoning Test offer the following results:
1. The science curriculum at the college serves as a positive influence for
the development of students' science reasoning ability.
2. The positive effect of taking science courses on a student's science
reasoning ability increases with the number of science units taken.
3. Calculus-based physics courses strongly influence the development of
science reasoning ability.
4. Training in undergraduate psychology contributes positively to students'
science reasoning development, while training in history appears to have the
opposite effect. While reasons for this are not exactly clear, evidence
indicates that the course contents and methods in psychology are more congruent
with science offerings, in particular life sciences.
RESULTS FROM THE SCIENCE-ORIENTED SAMPLE
The results for
the science-oriented sample are similar to those for the college-wide sample.
New and additional findings to highlight are:
1. A background in college humanities courses favorably influences science
2. Physics courses contribute most to the development of science-reasoning.
3. The introductory chemistry course had a negative impact on science
The present research was an exploratory study
into the nature of science reasoning ability of community college students. It
provides us with an understanding of the positive and negative influences on the
development of science reasoning in community college students. It also provides
a vivid demonstration of the applicability of the theory of student involvement
and the importance of science in the curriculum.
During the past decade a number of researchers have placed high priority on
increasing student involvement in learning as a means to academic achievement
(Chickering & Gamson, 1987; Astin, 1987; The Study Group on the Conditions
of Excellence in American Higher Education, 1984). According to Astin's theory
of student involvement, "Students learn by becoming involved" (1987, p.
133-134). Quite simply put, the greater the amount of physical and psychological
energy a student devotes to an academic experience the greater will be the
dividends paid by that experience in terms of the talent development of the
student. Applied to the development of science reasoning ability, student
involvement implies that a student highly involved in the sciences will tend to
develop energy to devote to studying and other experiences related to the
sciences. The outcome of this involvement is an increase in science reasoning
ability. This study discovered that this is indeed the case. Another conclusion
drawn from this study is that science is a component of the curriculum that
plays an important role in community college students' progress in developing
reasoning ability--a very encouraging premise upon which to develop future
Acuna, J.E. Acculturation, Social Class and
Cognitive Growth. Quezon City, Philippines: Philippines University, Science
Education Center, 1983. (ED 239 751)
American College Testing. ACT Collegiate Assessment of Academic Proficiency:
1991-92 Test Supervisor's Manual for Objective Test Modules--Writing Skills,
Mathematics, Reading, Critical Thinking, Science Reasoning. Iowa City, IA: ACT
Astin, A.W. Achieving Educational Excellence. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass,
Cherian, V.I., Kibria, G.F., Kariuki, P.W. and Mwamwenda, T.S. "Formal
Operational Reasoning in African University Students." The Journal of
Psychology, 1988, 122, (5), 487-498.
Chickering, A.W. and Gamson, Z.F. Seven Principles for Good Practice in
Undergraduate Education. Washington, DC: American Association for Higher
Education, 1987. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 282 491)
Cloutier, R. And Goldschmid, M.L. "Individual Differences in the Development
of Formal Reasoning." Child Development, 1976, 47, 1097-1102.
Finegold, M. And Mass, R. "Differences in the Processes of Solving Physics
Problems Between Good Physics Problem Solvers and Poor Physics Problem Solvers.
Research in Science and Technological Education,1985, 3(1), 59-67.
Helgeson, S.L. Problem Solving Research in Middle/Junior High Scho ol Science
Education. Columbus, OH: ERIC Clearinghouse for Science, Mathematics, and
Environmental Education, 1992. (ED 351 208)
Hernandez, L.D., Marek, E.A., and Renner, J.W. "Relationships among Gender,
Age, and Intellectual Development." Journal of Research in Science Teaching,
1984, 1 (4), 365-375.
Inhelder, B. and Piaget, J. The Growth of Logical Thinking from Childhood to
Adolescence. New York: Basic Books, 1958.
Lawson, A.E. "Formal Reasoning, Achievement, and Intelligence: an Issue of
Importance." Science Education, 1982, 66 (1) 77-83.
Lawson, A.E. and Bealer, J.M. "Cultural Diversity and Differences in Formal
Reasoning Ability." Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 1984, 21 (7),
Owen, D. "The SAT and Social Stratification." In J. W. Noll (Ed.), Taking
Sides: Clashing Views on Controversial Educational Issues (4th ed.). Guilford,
CT: The Dushkin Publishing Group, Inc.
Resnick, L. B. and Gelman, R. Mathematical and Scientific Knowledge: An
Overview. Pittsburgh, PA: Pittsburgh University, Learning Research and
Development Center, 1985. (ED 258 808)
Study Group on the Conditions of Excellence in Higher Education. Involvement
in Learning: Realizing the Potential of American Higher Education. Washington,
DC: National Institute of Education, 1984.
Stuessy, C. Correlates of Scientific Reasoning in Adolescents: Experience,
Locus of Control, Age, Field Dependence-Independence, Rigidity/Flexibility, IQ ,
and Gender. Columbus, OH: Doctoral dissertation, The Ohio State University,
1984. (ED 244 834)
Stuessy, C. "Path Analysis: A Model for the Development of Scientific
Reasoning Abilities in Adolescents." Journal of Research in Science Teaching,
1984, 26, (1), 41-53.
This digest is drawn from "Impact of Differential College Environments on the
Science Reasoning Ability of Community College Students: A Matriculation Study,"
a dissertation by John Harry Georgakakos, University of California, Riverside,
1995. Detailed information on this study including the research design and
statistical analyses can be obtained from this source.