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SCIENCE TEACHER

EDUCATION
Thomas Dana and Vincent Lunetta, Section Editors

A Case Stud of Change in


Elementary tudent Teacher
Thinking during an Independent
Investigation in Science:
Learning about the Face of
Science That Does Not Yet Know

BONNIE L. SHAPIRO
The University of Calgary, Department of Educational Research 726 EDT, 2500 University Drive Nw,Calgary, Alberta T2N I N4, Canada; e-mail: bshapiro@acs.ucalgary.ca
This article presents the results of an approach to the study of changes in one student
teachers thinking about the nature of scientific investigation during her participation
in an elementary science methods course assignment. During a preservice course in
curriculum and instruction in elementary science, students were assigned the task of
designing an independent investigation to solve a simple question of their own. Using survey data, interviews, and a repertory grid technique, ideas about the nature of
knowledge acquisition in science were documented prior to, during, and following
involvement in the assignment. In structured interviews following the assignment,
participants were shown documented changes in their personal constructs regarding
the nature of knowledge acquisition in science and were invited to comment on features of their own investigation which contributed to changes in their ideas. Repertory grid charts and interview data were used to develop 12 Change Themes in the
larger study that characterize movements in thinking about the nature of investigation in science. Three of the change themes are explored in depth in the individual
case report. The article concludes with a discussion on the movement in this students view of scientific investigation, and the challenges and value of the assignment in a science teacher education program. 0 1996 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Science Education 80(5):535-560 (1996)


0 1996 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

CCC 0036-8326/96/050535-26

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INTRODUCTION
Latour (1987) refers to two faces of science: one that knows (ready-made science) and one that does not yet know (science in the making). In a similar contrast,
Medawar ( 1984) describes two aspects of science the procedures of science-adventures of thought and strategies of inquiry that go into the advancement of learning-and, on the other hand, the substantive body of knowledge that is the outcome
of this complex endeavor. Science in the school setting rarely conveys Medawars
adventure of thought or the science that does not yet know described by Latour.
More often, students learn the substantive body of knowledge, a ready-made science
comprised of text readings and lectures. When this is the daily fare of science education, students lose the chance to consider one of the important images of science: its
engagement of the person in the process of answering interesting and challenging
questions. Not only is this image of the nature of science lost, but students rarely experience the sheer intellectual challenge that comes through their own personal engagement in the process of collecting information to solve a research question.
At the beginning of each term, I ask elementary preservice students about their
previous experiences in science learning. Unless they have been science majors, they
typically enter the science methods course with a very limited background in science
coursework. Many speak of negative experiences or of limited encounters in the science classroom. The majority of students speak about their fear of teaching science, a
subject that most feel they know little about. The comments by students are well supported in the research literature. In a study of the perceptions of 964 teachers views
about teaching the elementary subject area topics, language arts, social studies, mathematics, and science, by Berenson, et al. (1991), 58% felt least qualified to teach science. Thirty-seven percent reported enjoying teaching it least. Czerniak and Schriver
(1994) report that, in a 1989 study of self-efficacy in preservice elementary teachers,
levels of personal science teaching efficacy were related to science teaching anxiety,
the instructional strategies teachers most often reported using to teach science, and
confidence to teach elementary science effectively (p. 77). To suggest strategies that
might enhance self-efficacy a study by Rubeck and Enochs (1991) is cited. The authors identify variables which they say influenced science and chemistry teaching.
These included past experiences such as coursework that included a laboratory component, and community support. The authors assert that these experiences showed
greater evidence of influence on the development of self-efficacy than the teaching
experience itself.
Like many of my colleagues in science education, I have been concerned that unless student teachers are assisted in developing confidence and competence in science, the cycle may repeat itself with new teachers avoiding the topic, thereby
providing the same limited encounters with science for students that they experienced. Over many years a number of authors have asserted that both teachers and
learners can benefit from learning about the nature of science by working as scientists do (Doris, 1991; Duckworth, 1978; Hawkins, 1974; Shapiro, 1979; Shapiro &
Roberts, 1994; Tyler, 1992; Shapiro, 1994). Despite these many well-stated arguments, there have been few studies that begin to tell us what kind of learning takes
place when students participate in independent investigations in science. As Duschl

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(1988) points out, . . . it is conceivable to argue that the disenchantment among


persons today with the scientific enterprise may be due more to their total bewilderment with the methods, the criteria of application, and the reasoning used by scientists and less to their inability to learn the vocabulary and fundamental knowledge
claims of science (p. 56). Using a case study example, this article reports on an instructional effort to address this concern by guiding student teachers in the experience of developing a simple research question of their own design. I have for a
number of years involved student teachers in a research assignment as part of their
coursework in elementary science curriculum and instruction. Students pose simple
problem questions and gather data to answer the problem. This report describes the
development of one student teachers thinking during her participation in this opportunity to develop and practice the use of intellectual tools involved in the procedures
of investigation in science. The case report emerges from a larger research project
conducted to understand the kinds of changes that take place in student teacher thinking about the nature of investigation in science as students participate in their own independent research projects. The following research questions guided the
development of the larger study: (1) How might we study changes in student teachers thoughts and feelings about the nature of investigation in science while they are
participating in independent investigations in science? (2) What is the nature of
changes in student teachers thoughts and feelings about science investigation while
they are participating in independent investigations in science? (3) What are the implications of these changes for teacher education programs?
The larger study of student teachers thoughts and experiences during their investigations is framed within the context of research on teacher and learner views about
the nature of investigation in science in the next section of this study. This is followed by an overview of the design of the research project, then a case report illustration of the research findings. Using the Change Themes developed in the
analysis, specific movements in one learners ideas are presented as an example of
the kinds of thinking involved in these changes. This is followed by a discussion of
features of the study and, finally, a review of the challenges and value of the study for
teacher preparation.

A REVIEW OF THE RESEARCH LITERATURE ON TEACHER


AND LEARNER VIEWS ABOUT THE NATURE OF
INVESTIGATION IN SCIENCE
The Nature of Science and the Goals of Science Teaching
During the last half-century there has been recognition that one of the most important goals of science education is the development of students understanding of the nature of science (American Association for the Advancement of Science, Science for All
Americans, 1989; Department of Education and Science, Welsh Offices, Science 5-16:
A Statement of Policy, 1985). Despite efforts to bring this about, many educators claim
that students and teachers hold limited or inadequate views about the nature of science
(Carey & Strauss, 1968; Lederman, 1986, 1995; Rubba, Homer, & Smith, 1981). There
has been no lack of research on student and teacher ideas about the nature of science.

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Studies have been conducted to identify teachers views of the nature of science
(Bloom, 1989; Carey & Strauss, 1968; Cobem, 1989; Koulaidis & Ogbom, 1989;
Lederman, 1995; Ogunniyi, 1982). Work has been devoted to changing students and
teachers views, and investigations have been conducted to determine how teacher
views of science influence or fail to influence classroom practice (Aguirre, Haggerty, &
Linder, 1990; Billeh & Hasan, 1975; Brickhouse, 1989; Carey & Strauss, 1968;
Koballa & Coble, 1979; Lederman & Zeidler, 1987; Lucas & Dooley, 1982; Munby &
Russell, 1987; Pope & Gilbert, 1983; Riley, 1979; Schmann, 1989). Though the majority of studies suggest connections between teachers views and student learning, a
number of important questions are raised about the nature of those ideas. In reflection
on the research literature, Lederman (1986, 1992) raised the question as to whether or
not student and teacher views about the nature of science can actually be regarded as
adequate or inadequate. He points out that the problem is complex, that various interests have a wide range of views and assumptions about what it is that should be considered adequate or inadequate conceptions of the nature of science.
Research on Teacher and PreserviceTeacher Views
on the Nature of Science

A review of the literature on teacher and preservice teacher views on the nature of
science is useful in framing the research problem and is presented in the following
sections. Preservice teacher views have been analyzed suggesting that prospective
science teachers hold inadequate or incomplete views of science (Carey & Strauss,
1968). In a study by Bloom (1989), many students expressed frustration with their
science learning experiences, yet felt encouraged to continue in science through their
own interest in nature. A large number of students suggested that the purpose of science is to benefit humankind. This anthropocentric view of the nature of science influenced their ideas in science learning. Ryan and Aikenhead (1992) report on the
development of an instrument to understand high school students ideas about the
epistemology of science. The authors found a high degree of naivetk and inaccuracy
in students ideas about the nature of science. Although their study focused on the
views of high school students, and a large portion of student teachers are very recent
high school graduates who have had no further science education prior to entering the
teacher preparation program, we cannot necessarily assume similarities in the views
of preservice teachers.
Ogunniyi ( 1982) investigated student teachers considerations of the language of
science reflecting the philosophical structures of various philosophers of science. He
discovered that both prospective science teachers and science majors subscribed to an
inductive view of science. Following a course in logic, preservice science teachers
demonstrated a more prominent deductive view of the nature of science. Koulaidis
and Ogbom (1 989) found that there are identifiable differences in teachers views
about the philosophical-empirical bases of science. The authors suggest one of the
possible reasons for the general shift of views might be a move toward consistency
with pedagogical positions put forward in current curriculum reform documents, and
suggested that this link should be studied further.

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The study conducted by Ogunniyi (1982) is supported in similar work by Cobem


(1989). These projects investigated culturally different views about the nature of science between American and Nigerian preservice teachers. He pointed out that Nigerian students viewed science as producing useful technology and that scientists were
viewed as nationalistic and secretive about their work.
There is some suggestion that a focus on the nature of science in science teaching
can help to restructure and change negative attitudes to science teaching (Carey &
Strauss, 1968; Koballa & Coble, 1979; Lucas & Dooley, 1982; Riley, 1979;
Scharmann, 1989). The picture of science teaching and learning is far more complex,
however, as evidenced by several studies suggesting that some approaches to instruction have little or no effect on the abandonment of views of teaching and leaming by
preservice and practicing teachers understandings of the nature of science (Aguirre,
Haggerty, & Linder, 1990; Lederman & Zeidler, 1987; Lucas & Dooley, 1982).
Classroom Interaction Studies

Billeh and Hasan (1975) were among the first researchers to attempt to determine
factors affecting the acquisition of knowledge about the nature of science in classrooms. Gallagher (1991) explored perspectives of the nature of science portrayed to
American high school students through textbooks and teachers classroom practice.
Lederman (1986, 1992, 1995) has studied the problem in several projects, most recently in the development of profiles of a group of grade 10 biology teachers. He
concluded that teachers conceptions of the nature of science do not necessarily influence classroom practice. He also notes that, although many activities model the nature of science, unless teachers explicitly address the topic, such activities are not
likely to result in learners development of conceptions about the topic. The emerging
picture suggests that the problem is very complex. In addition to personal views, the
way that the nature of science is portrayed is largely dependent on contextual features
of the school learning environment, such as textbook resources, cumulative examinations, and administrative and classroom organizational approaches. A number of authors challenge the contention that teachers ideas about the nature of science actually
influence teaching behavior (Brickhouse, 1989; Lederman & Zeidler, 1987; Munby
& Russell, 1987; Pope & Gilbert, 1983). Pope and Gilbert (1983) considered the extent to which teachers metaphors concerning the nature of science are shared and
employed by students. Munby and Russell (1987) suggested that the epistemology
of science is not deliberately neglected by teachers, but rather, the epistemology of
school as an organization overwhelms the epistemological features of science, or of
any other disciplined body of knowledge (p. 8).
Research on Student Learning during Involvement
in Scientific Investigations

This study of student involvement in scientific investigations is particularly relevant


to the present project. Only three studies were found in the research literature that
made reference to student learning during involvement in independent investigation in

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science: Anderson and Walvoord (1990, 1993), Swain (1991), and Tyler (1992).
Anderson and Walvoord (1990, 1993) describe the difficulties encountered by university biology majors (not education students) taking courses in preparation for work in
research and development laboratories in a large metropolitan area. Anderson developed a research assignment asking students to design experiments corresponding with
the kind of design problems students would encounter in the employment setting.
These students typically seek employment in local cosmetics and food industries as
entry level scientists. Example projects include: Which purple eye make-up is easiest
to remove? Which milk product is most stable? Which grind of pepper is most aromatic? Following the course, the authors described and analyzed the kinds of difficulties experienced by students as they conducted the experiments. Major categories of
difficulty were: (1) The construction of audience and self. The instructor wanted students to adopt the role of the scientist but found traces of lay roles, such as the advicegiving parent or the storyteller mixed into the format. (2) The interrelated difficulties
of: (a) stating a position; (b) using discipline-based methods to arrive at and support
the position; (c) managing complexity; and (d) gathering sufficient specific information. (3) Lack of topic focus. In the design of experiments, students took few topics seriously, and concentrated too much on peripheral issues rather than experiment design.
They rarely conducted pilot investigations, failed to design ways to quantify information and did not know what to do with nonexperimental data. Students failed to construct clear operational definitions and experienced difficulties in controlling variables.
(4)Graphic presentation of data was limited. Graphic forms were often inappropriately selected and displayed. (5) Data interpretation was often incomplete. (6) The
standard scientific research format proved to be frustrating for many students. Conclusions and results sections were often confused and students made errors in placing material in appropriate sections throughout their studies.
Anderson worked with a second group of students at a later time. Using her
knowledge of the difficulties experienced by the first group, she developed experiences to address areas of difficulty experienced by the first group. The second group
of students performed better than the first according to outside performance raters.
The authors concluded that many of the difficulties arose from the scientific requirement to quantify data. She also noted difficulties in the adoption of the scientist role
in the conduct of independent research projects. She expected that students would
adopt the professional-in-training role of the scientist. Many students adopted aspects
of this role, but there were also traces of lay roles-advice-giving parent/storyteller.
Students had difficulty in adopting the role of scientist, and in performing it appropriately, that is, writing with appropriate scientific format.
Swain (1991) proposed a means of assessing important student work using the
term, Explorations. Explorations are identified as one of the three dimensions of
the British National Curriculum in Science, the other two being Content and
Process Skills. Explorations are concerned with the students ability to design, organize, and carry out investigations and projects and report on them. Swain suggests
a range of criteria that can be used using scales and extensive criteria to review the
three phases of planning, implementing, and concluding/evaluating activities.
A study by Tyler (1992) focused on the development of autcrlomous behavior in
the pursuit of independent research projects. His case study approach provides im-

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pressive evidence of the independence, self-reliance, and commitment that students


can display while undertaking independent research projects. In doing so, they display many, if not all, of the characteristics associated by progressive educators with
intellectual autonomy, or with the purposive, strong-minded individual.

AN OVERVIEW OF THE DESIGN OF THE RESEARCH PROJECT


The Research Assignment:Inviting Investigations
Information for the project has been gathered over a 4-year period from over 210
students as they worked on the assignment, Inviting Investigations, a part of their
coursework in an elementary science methods course. In this assignment, students
undertook a systematic study to answer a question of their choice. They were asked
to pose the type of problem question that might typically be asked by a child. Simplicity was stressed throughout the project as even the most simple question can pose
complex problems when variables must be identified and controlled. Course instruction was devoted to the development and refinement of a suitable question for investigation, clarifying the appropriate approach to research design and presentation of
research results. The instructor and research assistants were available to help students
in the question selection process and to work with students as they proceeded with
the investigations. Over a 7-week period devoted to the study, students kept a journal
record describing their efforts to propose a problem question, the nature of their work
to answer the question, their approaches and results. Each group developed a display
to summarize data and share project findings with an audience of peers and children.
The display was used by the student teachers to document what is involved in the
conception and design of a research project.
Beyond the mere presentation of results, the displays are used by the student
teacher to teach what is involved in undertaking work in such a study so that they
might be encouraged to pursue problem questions of their own. Classes of children
from a local school who were in the process of developing their own research projects came to the university to work in small groups with the preservice teachers.

Collection of Information for the Research Project


The development of the case study presented in this paper is an example report that
developed from data collected in the ongoing research project on student teacher
thinking about independent investigations in science. The rationale for selection of
Jans experience for the case report is presented in detail in a later section.
As mentioned previously, the assignment was given to assist learners in developing
greater depth of understanding of science and the procedures of investigation in
science. Data was collected during the project to determine the nature and quality of
the effects of the assignment on student teachers learning and thinking about scientific investigation. Jans case report demonstrates the research approach used in the
study and demonstrates the kinds of changes that occurred in student teacher thinking.

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During the 4 years of work on the project, 210 students were surveyed regarding
their ideas about investigation in science. During the first 3 years of work with students, a survey and a research tool, the repertory grid, were used and refined. During
the last year of the project, in a recent elementary science methods course, 38 students participated in interviews about their experiences in the project. These students
represented a typical elementary science methods course for generalist teachers in a
North American teacher education program based in a university faculty of education. The class was comprised of 34 females and 4 males. Twelve of the students held
university degrees prior to entry into the bachelor of education program. Four of the
student teachers were majoring in science education in their teacher preparation program.
Twenty-one of the 38 participants completed repertory grid charts comprised of
sets of personal constructs. The elicitation of personal constructs is described in the
next section of this study. Personal constructs became a powerful source of information to identify themes of change in thinking about investigation in science. Several
data sources were used in the study: (1) A survey to gather information on each individuals background, interest and confidence in science teaching. (2) A definition of
science provided by each student teacher on the first day of class. (3) A statement
written at the completion of the project, indicating whether the definition was supported or changed by the experience of conducting an investigation. (4) Repertory
grid charts based on the procedures of systematic investigation. ( 5 ) Notes made by
the researcher throughout the progress of the projects. (6) Transcriptions from interview conversations with student teachers commenting on changes made in the repertory grid charts from the beginning of the project to its conclusion. Six researchers
assisted in the conduct of these interviews using an approach found useful in other
work with the developing ideas of student teachers (Shapiro, 1991). (7) Complete
records of students project notes, journals, and reflections on the assignment were
also used in the development of the case reports.
The Use of Personal Constructs in the Collection of Information

Reported changes in personal constructs regarding ideas about the nature of investigation in science inquiry were a major source of information in the development of
the case reports. Personal constructs are essentially linguistic categorization systems
which allow insight into the ways individuals organize thinking about events and
phenomenon (Kelly, 1963).
Using personal construct grids, ideas about the nature of investigation in science
were documented prior to, during, and following involvement in the assignment. Following completion of the assignment, student teachers were shown the changes that
occurred in their personal ideas. Using an approach developed for use in the analysis
of changes in student teacher development in secondary science (Shapiro, 1991), students participated in reflective interviews in which they discussed changes in thinking that occurred. The repertory grid charts used consisted of provided constructs
as opposed to individually elicited constructs. The provided constructs (Table 1) were
developed from typical responses of a pilot group of students interviewed during the
previous year. Each student was given the same list of 15 constructs which consisted

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TABLE 1
Provided Constructs
Creating my own ideas/Just following directions
Challenging, problematic, troublesomel Easy, simple
Shaping the investigation/Conducting the investigation
Having some idea beforehand about the project outcome/Having no idea what will
result from the study
5. Using the imagination-spontaneous ideas/Recipelike prescriptive work
6. Frustrating experiencelsatisfying experience
7. Creating new knowledge/ Discovering what exists-the way things are
8. Doing real science/ Doing things unrelated to science
9. Personally meaningful, interesting/ Not particularly meaningful or interesting
10. Rational, logical activity/ Affective-feelings and emotions involved
11. Experience with the phenomena/ Observing objectively
12. Theoretical work/ Practical work
13. Using the scientific method to solve the problem/ Not using any particular method
14. Important work in science/ Less important work in science
15. Process oriented/ Product oriented
1.
2.
3.
4.

of terms and phrases commonly used by students when describing steps in conducting an investigation. The constructs were used to provide descriptive ratings for 12
elements. The provided elements consisted of a list of typical experiences in the conduct of similar investigations by pilot students in the previous year. These elements
are listed in Table 2. Student teachers participating in the study completed a sheet of
constructs rating each of the 12 elements separately. For example, the first element is
A problem or topic of interest is selected for investigation. All of the elements represent typical experiences or problems that are encountered during the course of an
investigation. This element, like all of the elements, is rated on the construct chart.

TABLE 2
Elements
1. A problem or topic of interest is selected for investigation
2. The topic is developed into a testable question
3. Factors and variables which may affect the outcome of the investigation are identified

and defined
4. An idea about how the investigation will turn out is developed
5. Materials and equipment needed to conduct the investigation are collected

6. Observations are collected and recorded to answer the problem question


7.
8.
9.
10.
11.
12.

Improvements must be made to the original design of the investigation


An unusual or unexpected result is produced
The investigation does not run smoothly
The results of the investigation are recorded
Conclusions are drawn from the results of the investigation
The findings and conclusions are organized for public presentation

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SHAPIRO

The participant rates the element along the continuum between two opposite poles,
Creating my own ideas, versus Just following directions. An entire chart rating
all 15 constructs is completed for each element. Student teachers filled out the repertory grid on the first day of class prior to receiving the investigation assignment, and
prior to any form of instruction in the course. Following completion of the projects,
the same grids were again filled out by students. An example chart is shown in Table
3. This happened during the last week of the first term of class. Participants did not
refer back to their original grid charts which were completed prior to the assignment.

Repertory Grid Analyses


The 21 students were interviewed following completion of the second set of repertory grids. Students reviewed their construct charts with an interviewer who encouraged discussion on the changes in ratings of elements using personal constructs as
they related to the individual investigations. Pronounced movement on the repertory
grid charts became an important discussion focus in the interview and allowed insight into student thinking about conducting investigations. Pronounced movement
was designated as a change of two or more squares toward one pole or the other. Of
the 38 students who completed the grids, 34 made one or more complete reversals in
the placement of elements on the construct charts, as shown in Table 4. Pointing to
changes during the interview allowed a conversation focus that helped the student
discuss changes in thinking during work on independent investigations. For example,
many students placed element, Factors and variables which may affect the outcome
of the investigation are identified and defined, as more closely an aspect of Conducting the investigation at the beginning of the project. After completing the investigation, several students made a reversal in their categorization of the process of
identifying and defining factors and variables, seeing them more closely aligned with
the process of Shaping the investigation, the opposite pole of the construct set. In
the case study report presented in this article, this shift can be seen in the student
teachers construct chart shown in Table 7. Each time a dramatic shift in student
thinking occurred such as this, the construct set was noted, and became an important
focus in an interview with the student teacher. All of the repertory grid interviews
were taped and transcribed for analysis. In the review of the transcriptions and other
research material, changes in thinking were coded and organized into categories
which became themes of change in thinking about the nature of investigation in science. The case report presented in the following sections focuses on the reasons for
changes in one student teachers thinking about the nature of investigation in science
as a result of her experience with an investigation with her partner.

THE RESEARCH FINDINGS AND THE DEVELOPMENT


OF THE CASE STUDY REPORT
Each of the repertory grid charts was reviewed and a note made to indicate
changes and to guide the interview. The 38 student teachers charts were compared to
determine patterns in the movement in constructs. Interview transcripts were analyzed for themes of change in thinking about the nature of investigation in science

Creating my own ideas


Challenging, problematic, troublesome
Shaping the investigation
Having some idea beforehand about the project outcome
Using the imagination-spontaneous ideas
Frustrating experience
Creating new knowledge/ ideas
Doing real science
Personally meaningful, interesting
Rational, logical activity
Experience with the phenomena
Theoretical work
Using the scientific method to solve the problem
Important work in science
Process-oriented

N
N

x o

x o

0
X
N

x o

x o
x o

A Problem orTopic of

1. Just following directions


2. Easy, simple
3. Conducting the investigation
4. Having no idea what will result from the study
5. Recipe-like prescriptive work
X
6. Satisfying experience
7. Discovering what exists-the way things are
8. Doing things unrelated to science
9. Not particularly meaningful or interesting
0 10. Affective-feelings and emotions involved
11. Observing objectively
12. Practical work
13. Not using any particular method
14. Less important work in science
15. Product-oriented

0 = placement at beginning of the term; X = placement at the end of the term; N = no change.

9.
10.
11.
12.
13.
14.
15.

1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
8.

TABLE 3
Jans Repertory Grid Chart: Example Constructs and Element #1 -Pre- and Postresponses-1:
Interest Is Selected for Investigation

rn
0

F0

I
rn

-I

N
N

x o

x o

0
X
N

x o

x o
x o

1. Just following directions


2. Easy, simple
3. Conducting the investigation
4. Having no idea what will result from the study
5. Recipe-like prescriptive work
X
6. Satisfying experience
7. Discovering what exists-the way things are
8. Doing things unrelated to science
9. Not particularly meaningful or interesting
0 10. Affective-feelings and emotions involved
11. Observing objectively
12. Practical work
13. Not using any particular method
14. Less important work in science
15. Product-oriented

0 = placement at beginning of the term; X = placement at the end of the term; N = no change.

1. Creating my own ideas


2. Challenging, problematic, troublesome
3. Shaping the investigation
4. Having some idea beforehand about the project outcome
5. Using the imagination-spontaneous ideas
6. Frustrating experience
7. Creating new knowledge/ ideas
8. Doing real science
9. Personally meaningful, interesting
10. Rational, logical activity
1I . Experience with the phenomena
12. Theoretical work
13. Using the scientific method to solve the problem
14. Important work in science
15. Process-oriented

TABLE 4
Constructs Showing Reversals in JansThinking (Indicated in Bold)-Element 1: A Problem orTopic of Interest Is Selected for lnvestiaation

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TABLE 5
Change Themes
I.
II.
Ill.
Iv.
V.
VI.
VII.

VIII.
IX.

X.

XI.
XII.

Changes in ideas about the nature of the steps and procedures of investigation in
science
Changes in thinking about what science is
Changes in ideas about the complexity of investigation in science
Changes in thinking about the value of establishing an hypothesis, clarifying
variables and factors affecting the outcome of a study
Changes in thinking about the importance of thinking logically while moving
through the project
Changes in thinking about the importance of personal commitment to a project,
seeing it through to its conclusion
Changes in the importance of a personal participation in the investigation
experience, rather than a mindless following of steps
Changes in views about self as successful science learner
Changes in views about the importance of sharing knowledge with a community,
seeing science as a means of sharing knowledge with others
Changes in ideas about the importance of taking a critical perspective on the
knowledge claims of research studies, a realization of the power to manipulate
results
Changes in an expanded appreciation for finding the unexpected
Changes in concerning ideas about the usefulness of independent investigations
as a learning approach in the elementary science classroom

and were coded by interviewers. Using photocopies of transcripts, individual coded


statements were cut out and placed on a large table and sorted into theme categories.
The theme categories were assessed and affirmed by two graduate students, one research consultant and the author. Using this process, 12 change themes were delineated. These are presented in Table 5. Case reports following a number of students
were created to provide insight into the quality of changes in thinking that occurred
during participation in the assignment. To illustrate the research approach and the
quality of changes that occurred, a report on one students work with her partner is
presented in the sections that follow.
Jan: Using the ChangeThemes to Describe the Nature of Changes
in One Students ideas about Investigation during the Course
of the Assignment

Jan was a student in her final year of the teacher preparation program. At the beginning of the term, she stated that she felt a lack of confidence in her ability to teach
science in the elementary program, commenting, I dont feel that I have a lot of
background knowledge. I havent taken much science. I never felt very good at it.
Jans academic performance was average to above average during the term. She was
selected as the subject of a case study to describe several of the change themes in further detail. All of the students worked with a partner. Jan was selected because her

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views and experiences with her partner were particularly appropriate for sharing in a
case study for several reasons. Their background experiences were representative of
a number of the other group members in that both were lacking in initial confidence
in their understanding of science. Neither student was majoring in science education.
Both Jan and her partner, Laura, were experiencing difficulties in the initial design of
their project which they were willing to explore and discuss. Three of the change
theme areas are developed below to show the nature of Jans involvement in the project and to consider the kinds of changes that occurred in her thinking about investigation in science.

Theme I: Changes in Ideas about the Nature of the Steps


and Procedures of Investigation in Science
The majority of students undertaking the project stated that one of the greatest
challenges of the project was the selection of a research project or question. Jan and
her partner, Laura, struggled to find an appropriate topic for investigation. She told
me that one of her younger sisters was working on a science project in her fourth
grade class, using decaying fruit. As a part-time job, Laura worked in a grocery store
produce room. Fruit emerged for both students as a reasonable topic of interest. They
moved to develop a research question.
Jan and Laura made an appointment with me to discuss the feasibility of a project
designed to determine Where do fruits ripen best? They stated that they intended to
use several different types of fruits, place them in different locations in the home
and see which are the best places for ripening. Laura suggested, We might put one
on the radiator, one in my room, one on the window, maybe one in the fridge, then
see which are the best places for ripening. Our class lessons emphasized the importance of clarifying the change or variable condition which was being studied or
tested. I pointed out that the variation in the range of ripening time for the six fruits
made it very difficult to determine whether the investigators would find that it was
the location, the stage of ripening of the particular fruit, or the nature of the fruit being used that was the most important feature to consider.
We worked together to determine how these concerns might be accommodated. As
we discussed the possibility of narrowing consideration to a single fruit, Laura mentioned that she was in charge of bananas in her produce room job. She knew a great
deal about the stages of ripening of bananas, from the time of their storage and arrival on trucks at the store to placement on the shelves. Bananas were selected as the
fruit to be studied. We returned to the problem question and changed it to, Where do
bananas ripen best? Jan and Laura now realized that all of the fruit used would have
to be at the same stage of ripeness. But what about the placement of the fruit? What
would be different about each place the investigators chose? We worked to rephrase
the question to further isolate just those factors that might affect the ripening. Each
location offered different conditions of light, temperature, and humidity. We reorganized the project further by rephrasing the original question from, Where do fruits
ripen best? to Where do bananas ripen best? then to Under what conditions do
bananas ripen best?

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549

Still we were not finished. What did we mean by best? Jan and Laura realized
that we could not readily agree on the subjective meaning of the term. What was considered best by one individual might not be considered best by anothers standard.
We decided that best for us would mean quickest and could be readily documented. If we were to study the topic, we would need some means of keeping
records that could be compared over time. We rewrote the question once again: Under what conditions do bananas ripen most quickly? Jan and Laura suggested placing sample bananas from bunches from the same shipment and at the same degree of
ripeness in settings around Jans home that corresponded to several different conditions: high light-in the sun; cold-in the refrigerator, moist-in a baggie with a
moist towel, warm-near a heater; and dark-in a cupboard. They now felt that
they were ready to proceed with the collection of information to answer their study
question. This process was documented in journals kept by the students in which they
maintained daily records of their project design and experiences.
Each team created a display to summarize the steps taken in the development of
the research project. The displays were used to share research results with colleagues.
Once the students projects were completed, the experiences with the investigations
allowed us to probe changes in thinking about the nature of knowledge acquisition in
science in progress. Jan made prominent shifts in movement on personal construct
charts regarding areas associated with these first stages of the development of their
investigation. These shifts are shown in bold type in Tables 4,6, and 7. Discussion in
the interview suggested changes in Jans thinking about the steps and procedures of
designing an investigation. Her ideas were probed to understand the nature of
changes in this thinking.
As indicated in Table 4,Jan made dramatic shifts in several areas of thinking about
the selection of a problem for investigation. These areas are described here to show
how the repertory grid charts were used to provide depth and focus during the interviews. For example, Jan made a complete reversal in her thinking about problem selection. Initially, she considered it to be a frustrating experience, shifting to it being
a satisfying one. She shifted from considering problem selection to be doing
things unrelated to science to doing real science, and she made the shift from affective-feelings and emotions involved to considering the activity to be a rational, logical activity.
When asked about her construct changes, Jan spoke about her initial reaction to the
assignment. At first she questioned the point of it, considering it just another assignment to do in a methods class. In the end, however, she said that she found the
experience worthwhile and satisfying. She particularly valued the experience of
working through the difficulties she and her partner experienced in setting up the design of her project.
You find that there were more problems going along than, you know, doing a project
like this might seem very simple, but really it wasnt when it came down to it. There
were more difficulties. We had a problem with variables. Like just trying to make the
test consistent. Um, we found out that experimenting isnt as easy as you think it
could be. Theres so many variables and factors that come into it.

Frustrating experience
Creating new knowledge/ ideas
Doing real science
Personally meaningful, interesting
Rational, logical activity
Experience with the phenomena
Theoretical work
Using the scientific method to solve the problem
Important work in science
Process-oriented
N
N

X
0

o
x

x
o

0
0

5
1. Just following directions
2. Easy, simple
3. Conducting the investigation
4. Having no idea what will result from the
study
5. Recipe-like prescriptive work
6. Satisfying experience
7. Discovering what exists-the way things are
8 . Doing things unrelated to science
9. Not particularly meaningful or interesting
10. Affective-feelings and emotions involved
11. Observing objectively
12. Practical work
13. Not using any particular method
14. Less important work in science
15. Product-oriented

2.The Topic Is Developed

0 = placement at beginning of the term; X = placement at the end of the term; N = no change.

6.
7.
8.
9.
10.
11.
12.
13.
14.
15.

3. Shaping the investigation


4. Having some idea beforehand about the project
outcome
5. Using the imagination-spontaneous ideas

1. Creating my own ideas


2. Challenging, problematic,troublesome

~~

TABLE 6
Constructs Showing Reversals in Jans Thinking (Indicated in Bold)-Element
into aTestable Question

I
D

v,

X
N
N

x
X

X
N

X
X
X

5.
6.
7.
8.
9.
10.
11.
12.
13.
14.
15.

Doing things unrelated to science


Not particularly meaningful or interesting
Affective-feelings and emotions involved
Observing objectively
Practical work
Not using any particular method
Less important work in science
Product-oriented

Recipe-like prescriptive work


Satisfying experience
Discovering what exists-the way things are

4. Having no idea what will result from the study

3. Conducting the investigation

1. Just following directions


2. Easy, simple

0 = placement at beginning of the term; X = placement at the end of the term; N = no change.

4. Having some idea beforehand about the project


outcome
5. Using the imagination-spontaneous ideas
6. Frustratingexperience
7. Creating new knowledge/ideas
8. Doing real science
9. Personally meaningful, interesting
10. Rational, logical activity
11. Experience with the phenomena
12. Theoretical work
13. Using the scientific methodlto solve the problem
14. Important work in science
15. Process-oriented

3. Shaping the investigation

1. Creating my own ideas


2. Challenging, problematic, troublesome

TABLE 7
Constructs Showing Complete Reversals in Jans Thinking (Indicated in Bold)-Element 3. Factors and Variables
Which May Affect the Outcome of the Investigation Are Identified and Defined

rn

G
rn

cn

-n

rn

I
rn

--I

552

SHAPIRO

Jan stated that she found it more satisfying because we had to change our question,
and I really learned from it in the end. She pointed out that it was necessary to clarify and change the question to such an extent that she began to value a rational, logical approach to the investigation. She stated that she was really doing science-not
just some project somewhere.
I had always had an idea that science was, like I say, lab coats and a check list
of everything that had to be done, and you know, you had to stick to that. That was
the rules. But by the end of our project, I realized that we had to think of a lot of
things ourselves-that, werent just what somebody could tell us. Thats what you
had to do. We had to figure it out ourselves and use our imagination to solve the
problem.

For Jan, learning science had previously meant learning science from a textbook
and by laboratory recipe. This conveyed to her an image of science that did not include personal involvement.
When I thought of science before I thought of ah, your microscope and your Bunsen
burner and [laughing] you just work with those tools in the lab, there, and, just after
doing the experiment, I found that, you know, we had to figure out what we could
use ourselves. And, it wasnt just, certain things that were in a science lab that you
could use. You could use all your knowledge to figure out what to do. It ended up not
being just the product that we found out. We learned so much going all the way
through.

Jan stated further,


We learned what variables actually were. Because you know, I knew what a variable
was, but I thought somebody could just say, well, heres your variables, go to it. But
I realized when I was doing it, you couldnt just put a banana wherever you wanted
because there were so many variables acting on it.

Theme I/: Changes in Jans Thinking about What Science Is


Despite her view that she possessed an inadequate science background, Jan provided a very comprehensive response to the question on the first day of class, making
four points:
Science is information that has been tested and retested often enough that it is
now considered fact.
2. Science is a large part of our lives as we use technology everyday.
3. Scientific study will never end.
4. Science involves studying everyday occurrence and studying situations that
occur very infrequently.
1.

After clarifying the investigation question, completing the study and presenting her
research project with her partner, Laura, Jan reviewed her original statement about

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553

what science is. She pointed out that she had changed some of her original ideas, but
that some had remained the same. She commented on the first item:
After doing my experiment I realize that science is not just information that has been
proven. Science is about studying any type of information whether it has been
proven or not. I see science as more of a process of inquiry than factual information.
Rereading statement number 2, she commented:
This statement has been partly confirmed for me and partly changed. Science is a
large part of our lives. After doing my experiment with bananas I have begun to ask
myself questions about other everyday occurrences, for example, why does snow go
crusty after a few warm days . . . science is not necessarily technology. I now see
science as studying and observing anything in our world.

Jan retained her belief stated in number 3:


I do still believe that scientific study will never end.

And she confirmed her understanding stated in number 4 that:

. . . science involves studying everyday occurrences and studying situations that occur very infrequently. What I didnt think about before I started was how complicated experiments with everyday occurrences could be. Our problem was variables.
I can appreciate how difficult it is to develop conclusions now.
Theme X//: Changes Concerning Ideas about the Usefulness
of Independent Investigations as a Learning Approach
in the Elementary Science Classroom
Jans valuing of her involvement in the systematic investigation extended beyond
her own experience. She reflected on how her experience might influence her work
with children:
J have never done a science inve.dZ&jon such as his before thjS C)hSS AftTh2VZkg
such an enjoyable experience, I believe that I will use it in my classroom so that my
students will also have an enjoyable, worthwhile learning experience. It will affect
how I work with students in the classroom. I learned a lot by asking my own questions and finding my own answers. This made the project meaningful for me. I believe that students will find science more meaningful if they can investigate their own
questions. The best thing about experimenting is that one can usually come across
more information than they intended to. An hypothesis can be proven correct or incorrect but there is other information to be found along the way. For example, I thought I
knew where bananas ripened the most quickly but I did not know that they would turn
hard on the side left in the sun or that they never turn yellow but go straight from
green to brown in the fridge. I now believe that it would be a great experience for
children to stumble upon surprises in their own investigations. This knowledge will
mean more to them if they figure it out themselves than if they read it in a book.

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DISCUSSION OF FEATURES OF THE STUDY

The image of science that is conveyed to children will influence future interest in
involvement in science learning or daily experiences that require an understanding of
science. The image of science that their teachers value and are encouraged to present
will likely have a strong impact on the childs view of science and the possibility of
personal involvement in investigation in science. The purpose of this study has been
to clarify and characterize the kinds of changes that occur for student teachers concerning their thinking about the nature of science during participation in independent
research projects. A second goal has been to consider the value of this work in the
preparation of teachers in elementary science methods courses. The case reported not
only helps to convey a picture of learning for researchers and teacher educators, but
it might usefully be read by student teachers in the development of understanding of
the processes of becoming involved in independent investigations in science.
Two features of the project allowed the students and interviewer to engage in conversation which allowed deep reflection on students changing ideas about the nature
of knowledge acquisition in science. First, because students had completed individual
projects, they were able to make specific comments on the experience and how it
contributed to their thinking. Second, the use of personal construct shifts allowed reflection on features of changes in thinking that were not immediately apparent to students. Changes in thinking were highly personal, and in many cases dramatic shifts
occurred. In-depth interviews were transcribed and coded. The 12 change themes allowed the organization of case reports about the students experiences as they conducted independent investigations. These reports help to develop a picture of student
learning that is useful to researchers, teacher educators, and students themselves.
Jans case report and another developed using project data have been presented to
current preservice science methods classes who have been given the same assignment as part of their preparation for the development of an investigation.
A significant finding in the study overall has been the indication by over 90% of
students prior to the assignment of never having experienced science as investigation
in any of their classes either in primary or secondary school. This means that the majority of students completed their secondary programs having missed involvement in
developing an understanding of the very nature of science itself. Of those who had
some involvement in research or investigation, the most frequently reported experience was the school science fair in this project. The same conclusion was made in a
study by Cummins (1993). This can result in the promotion of a somewhat restricted
view of the nature of science. The effort to provide opportunities for learners to become involved as participants in science learning early in the school program may
help to counter this limited view. An interesting secondary finding of the larger study
was the discovery that the few students in the program who had strong science backgrounds made fewer changes in their constructs than nonscience majors. This feature
warrants further study.
Student teachers developed the skills of working with existing facts to synthesize
new information in the project. Many individuals also commented on the projects emphasis on commitments, appreciations, and values they were surprised to discover so
strongly associated with the knowledge acquisition in science. Most individuals strug-

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gled with the formation of a project question and the initial design of their experiment
or data collection. Those who did also spoke of the positive benefits that resulted. Jan
spoke of the intellectual satisfaction resulting from finally achieving a testable question. She mentioned the substantial commitment of time and personal involvement in
the project which required particular thoughtfulness and careful attention to detail. Jan
demonstrated an appreciation of the need to make changes to solve a problem, and an
interest in the surprises often accompanying research results. She stressed the importance of a willingness to persevere, to cooperate with her research partner, and to develop original ways of communicating her findings with others. These values and
appreciations were personally experienced by participants who spoke first hand of
their importance in the process of creating new knowledge in science.
IMPLICATIONS OF THE STUDY FOR THE DEVELOPMENT
OF TEACHER PREPARATION PROGRAMS

Lederman and Zeidler ( 1987) suggest that, besides teacher conceptions of science,
other contextual factors may have greater impact on teachers approaches and may
determine whether a teacher is able to put into practice personal views about the nature of science. They raise the question of whether or not the experiences of teacher
preparation courses affect the understanding and teaching behavior of student teachers. We do not always see immediate evidence of the impact of what is learned in the
teacher preparation program. Sometimes the circumstances of the beginning teachers
assignment do not allow the full practice of teaching as he or she believes it should
be carried out. What is seen in practice is determined by a wide range of influencing
factors and experiences interpreted and put into practice by the beginning teacher.
The study by Rubeck and Enochs (1991), cited earlier in this article, however,
suggests that there are variables that do influence science teaching behavior. These
include past experiences such as coursework that included a laboratory component, and community support. The authors assert that these experiences showed
greater evidence of influence on the development of self-efficacy than teaching experience itself. We have an unclear picture of the precise impact of teacher preparation
programs. Not only are the insights and understandings involved in learning to teach
complex, it may take years for the teacher beginning his or her practice to become
clear about his or her own views of teaching and learning in classrooms. What we do
know is that the problem must be viewed as a complex of interweaving environmental and contextual factors.
It is significant that many students interviewed in the study mentioned the value of
adapting this approach to classroom teaching to allow children to pose their own
problem questions and develop a means of answering the question and sharing the results with others. Involvement in the study not only made the researchers aware of
the nature of change in students thinking about the nature of investigation in science,
but participation in the research project helped the student teaches themselves to gain
insight into their own learning experience. Prominent shifts were made in Jans case
from objectivist understandings of science to a sense of involvement in the construction of knowledge. These were observed in her increased talk of a sense of ownership

556

SHAPIRO

of the process, and of satisfaction, surprise, and intrigue with the project. The fact
that significant change did occur for Jan, who regarded herself lacking in confidence
to teach science makes her comment on the effect of the project on her own teaching
all the more meaningful.
The greatest number of comments regarding changes in student teacher thinking
about phenomena concerned the development of deeper insights into and an appreciation of the complexity of the process of designing and working through a scientific
investigation. During the 4 years of working with this assignment, a number of observations have allowed substantial refinement and deepening of the experience for
learners. First, students need a good amount of time in the science methods course to
formulate the problem question and to develop an appropriate research design. It is
the quality of the time that is the important consideration. When first making this assignment students were given the entire first term (10 weeks) to complete the project.
Although useful for some projects, this meant that some put off the start of their work
or were working on the project at the same time as other coursework requirements,
making the task onerous, rather than creating the excitement and immediacy that was
sought. I have found that a 4-week intensive emphasis on the nature of scientific investigation and the development of the project has allowed students to focus quickly
while still allowing time to begin a project. If students are just able to begin to collect
data, it is sufficient to share these preliminary results in the report of the project.
Some students continue with projects beyond the 4-week submission date out of
sheer intellectual interest. Students must be encouraged to select a topic as early as
possible. Another aspect related to this is the need for time for students to talk about
their projects with one another and with the instructor. It is through the discussion of
ideas with others that suggestions for refining the project are made, and new perspectives on the approach to data collection are put forward. Students who are uncomfortable with the idea of pursuing a project develop confidence in their ability to carry
on. Students who are struggling with some aspect of the investigation need a sounding board to move in new directions. Working with other students contributes significantly to the sharing of ideas and approaches. A second significant aspect of the
assignment for student teachers has been its great potential for integration with other
curriculum areas. Students keep journal records not only of the data collected in the
project, but records of their thoughts about the initiation and occasional redirection of
projects. Scientific literacy development occurs alongside the development of language and organizational skills. A project may have important social implications and
may require the collection, tabulation, and display of substantial mathematical material. Student teachers who are not science majors are encouraged to develop questions
that explore some aspect of a field with which they are already familiar. For example,
music majors have explored the facility of adults to recall major and minor chords,
and physical education students have investigated age and gender differences in the
conduct of simple eye-hand coordination tasks. Many students have developed remarkably creative and aesthetically pleasing forms of data collection which have inspired and delighted peers and colleagues. Student teachers comment on a sense of
enhancement in their sense of being responsible consumers through the development
of skills that allow for more critical review of advertising claims. In our own elementary teacher preparation program, the same cohort of student teachers works with
other subject area methods instructors. The science education research project has

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557

been effectively extended into other methods courses. This was accomplished by
sharing the timing and plans for work with other instructors who were then able to
build on the project in their own subject area methodology courses.
A third aspect of the project that I have found to be a significant strength in the
Teacher Preparation Program has been the development of a display to share findings
with peers and children. Student teachers remark that the creation of the display for
the purpose of sharing and presenting their work logically and in presenting evidence
to persuade others of the value of conclusions has been a valuable impetus for carefully and logically organizing investigation data and material. Student teachers remark on the motivational impact of sharing the project findings first with peers and
then with the children who come to the university to begin to consider their own project work. During the initial planning stages of the project with my most recent class,
student teachers met with 11- and 12-year-old children to discuss the questions they
were planning to pursue. The children contributed significantly to student teachers
planning and understanding of the insights that children have into what is involved in
the development of a fair test in the organization of a scientific study.
Finally, it is important to emphasize that student teachers are not completing a
science fair project as prior experiences with science fairs do not always conjure
up the most positive recollections among student teachers. Through the presentation
of a project of their own when initiating the assignment, one of the first messages intended in the experience is an encounter with the messiness involved in the actual
process of developing the problem question and conducting the investigation.
Many researchers and writers in science education suggest the importance of helping to break the cycle of portraying science as an impersonal, lifeless regurgitation of
product and fact (Aikenhead, 1989; Duschl, 1988; Hodson, 1988). Though this assignment in their elementary science methods course, student teachers learned about
their own ability to engage in the process of formulating and gathering data to answer
a problem question of their own design. In this way, many changed their ideas about
the nature of scientific investigation and moved to enhanced confidence in their own
abilities to work scientifically. For many students such as Jan, engagement in the
process of answering a question of their own has brought new insight to the possibilities of their work with elementary children. In fact, many course participants stated
that they used the investigation in their classroom student teaching experience. This
project provided the experience, insight, and support needed to show student teachers
and, in the future, their own students the excitement and sheer intellectual adventure
of turning to the face of science that does not yet know.
Support for this project was provided by Grant No. 410-91-1442 from the Social Sciences and
Humanities Research Council of Canada and is acknowledged with gratitude. I would also
like to thank Jeff Turner, Stephanie Davis, and Louise Gauthier-Morrell who assisted in the
collection of information and materials for the study.

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Accepted for publication 20 December 1995