Adolescent Students' Images of an Environmental Scientist: An Opportunity for Constructivist Teaching

  • Jeff Thomas
  • Rosalina A. Hairston
Keywords: Science, Education, Images, Constuctivist, Teaching, Environmental


The constructivist theory of building knowledge has influenced our understanding of learning and the practice of teaching. Studies on children's conception reveal that the learner actively constructs a meaning for the new information in the context of one's prior knowledge and personal experiences. This quantitative study presents a method of investigating the perceptions of 757 adolescent students about an environmental scientist and how their perceptions justify the use of constructivist learning model in environmental education. The projective instrument called Draw A Scientist Test (DAST) developed by Chambers (1983) and the scoring rubric called Draw a Scientist Test Checklist (DAST-C) designed by Finson, Beaver, and Cramond (1995) were adapted for this study. The resulting instrument called Draw an Environmental Scientist (DAEST) was used to collect the perceptions of junior high and high school students from eight rural schools in the southeastern region of the United States. The findings reveal that students perceive the image of an environmental scientist as a mosaic consisting of the standard image of a scientist, with alternative images related to gender, ethnic origin, and age. Additional images depicted by the locale, type and nature of the work, and the emotions of an environmental scientist were also drawn. To a large extent, the images reflect the students' prior knowledge and personal experiences with local surroundings and persons in science-related occupations. This study provides evidence that adolescent students are capable of constructing knowledge about an environmental scientist by using their prior learning and experiences. The results of this study support the use of constructivist-based curriculum and instructional strategies in environmental science education to enhance students' conceptual learning about the environment.

Author Biographies

Jeff Thomas
University of Southern Indiana
Rosalina A. Hairston
University of Southern Mississippi