New Perspectives in Science Education

Edition 14

Accepted Abstracts

A Pilot Study for Promoting Students’ Critical Thinking Through an Upper-Secondary Biology Class in Austria

Susanne Rafolt, Department of Subject-Specific Education, University of Innsbruck (Austria)

Suzanne Kapelari, Department of Subject-Specific Education, University of Innsbruck (Austria)


According to the Austrian educational standards, science education is supposed to confront students with problems at the interface of science and society. Not only are students expected to consider these issues, but to make evaluations and decisions. Living in a rapidly changing world where the Internet is offering a vast amount of unfiltered information, students need scientific literacy and thus critical thinking in order to tackle these socio-scientific issues appropriately. Although critical thinking has been intensively discussed as a fundamental educational ideal and key to scientific literacy, we hardly know anything about the role science education plays in supporting students to develop critical thinking. To provide a more thorough understanding of critical thinking in connection with science education we want to develop case studies of students. Therefore, we are monitoring an Austrian upper-secondary academic school class of approximately 25 students (aged 15 to 17) in biology and chemistry lessons during the school term 2017/18 and the following two terms using a multi-perspective approach. The aims of this pilot study were to target necessary conditions for implementing critical thinking in the classroom and introduce the students to its characteristics. In accordance with the Austrian curriculum the pilot study was implemented in the area of sex education. We qualitatively analysed teaching diaries, writing tasks and student discussions recorded on audiotape. We found that students rarely used prior knowledge, got lost in details and experienced difficulties in distinguishing facts from opinions or changing their perspective when asked to “critically” considering an ethically controversial subject without precise instructions. Teachers should not only collect and present different thinking patterns, arguments and conclusions, but reflect about them in the classroom with regard to intellectual qualities. All these aspects make the promotion of critical thinking a difficult and time-consuming process, which also requires a high level of teacher knowledge and a careful preparation of the teaching environment. We propose that science education research needs to put more emphasis on evaluating critical thinking under real conditions to provide teachers with a clear and understandable concept as well as subject-specific and realisable solutions for teaching practice.

Keywords: socio-scientific issues, ethics, judgement, self-regulation, sex education;


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