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Session 39 - Astronomy Education.
Display session, Tuesday, June 09
Atlas Ballroom,

[39.06] College Student Learning about Theory, Evidence and the Interface between Science and Religion in an Astronomy Course

H. Shipman, N. Brickhouse, Z. Dagher, W. J. Letts (Univ. of Delaware)

Seventy years of tradition and the latest national standards documents call for inclusion of some treatment of the nature of science in the education of all Americans. However, nearly two decades of research has failed to establish just what it is that students learn about the nature of science, even when they are exposed to courses which ostensibly emphasize this topic. We have completed the first stage of an extensive study of a college level astronomy course, "Black Holes, Quasars, and Cosmic Evolution," and report on it in this paper. Our collaboration includes a scientist, who is the course instructor, as well as scholars in science education.

Our results do show student growth in all three areas of study. The amount and nature of student growth is extremely variable from one student to another, and so it is not surprising that it is hard to discover with survey instruments. Some, but not all, students do develop an understanding that theories are explanations supported by evidence, not mere hunches. Most students develop an appreciation of the connection between evidence and scientific credibility. Some students in this course show a surprisingly strong response to a rather weak intervention in the interface between science and religion. We base these conclusions on extensive pre- and post- interviews with a core group of 20 students as well as on written material gathered from the entire group of 340 students enrolled in this large course.

This work has been supported by the Division of Undergraduate Education of the National Science Foundation \(DUE-95-53787\).

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