Cognitive styles as predictors of success in an experientially-based science program

Date

1982

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Abstract

Introduction. Less than two decades ago pressure was transmitted to all educational institutions calling for change which would allow for individual differences in student learning and promote a need for school curriculum and instruction to be related to learning in the "real world". This emphasis on "individuality" and "realism" brought about changes in the use of standarized intelligence tests, as well as aptitude and achievement instruments. These measures supported the theory that one’s intellectual abilities or IQ were value directional where having more ability was considered to be better than having less. Today the learner is seen as a multifaceted organism with other learner characteristics now being included in research studies. The concept, cognitive style, is one of these variables which has shown considerable promise. Purpose of the Study. This study investigated the relationship between cognitive style (field dependence, balanced and field independence) and the enhancement of science knowledge and attitudes of sixth grade middle school students engaged in learning abstract physical science concepts in an experiential mode of instruction. Treatment. The treatment materials used were two units developed by staff members of the Informal Science Study (IfSS), a curriculum design project funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation. The two classroom instructional mini-units were entitled Science Safari and Physics of Fun and served as treatment curricula. Each of these units involved students in classroom study of science by relating physical science concepts to life outside the classroom. In addition, as part of the Physics of Fun unit a one-day field trip was organized in which students experienced structured activities at a local theme park, Astroworld. Achievement was measured using instruments designed to assess changes in student attitudes toward science, knowledge of physics terms, application of physics principles and student ability to recall experiences both within class settings and during the amusement park visits. Pre- and post testing was done at three intervals during the program. In addition, students' cognitive style was assessed using the Group Embedded Figures Test (GEFT). Results. Data were analyzed for statistical differences across group adjusted means and for any significant differences among the dependent variables . Analysis of covariance was employed with significant levels set at the 0.05 level. Statistical results indicated that there were significant increases in levels of application and recall across cognitive style groups and that the structured amusement park experiences may have contributed significantly to these increases in both application and recall. In reviewing trends, the data showed that the more field independent learners demonstrated a higher level of achievement than did the balanced and field dependent learners in the areas of application and recall. An investigation using cognitive style as predictors of student success was undertaken in a post hoc analysis. The result indicated that cognitive styles did serve as predictors of success on levels of application when used in coordination with other achievement measures such as IQ, IOWA and TABS scores. Conclusions. This study supports the theory that field independent persons fare better than their more field dependent and balanced counterparts on levels of recall and application. If these findings are accurate, educators and curriculum designers responsible for developing and implementing instruction may need to provide additional activities for field dependents and balanced learners, which can serve to sharpen their recall and application skills in such areas as mathematics and physical science.

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Keywords

Science--Study and teaching (Elementary)

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