Representing Scientific Knowledge in High School Textbooks: a Corpus Study
MetadataShow full item record
This thesis reports a computational corpus study of textbooks used in high school science programs in Queensland, Australia. The central research issues concern: 1. how textbook authors deploy linguistic resources in representing scientific knowledge; 2. whether or not authors deploy linguistic resources differently across the disciplines of science, and for younger and older readers; and, 3. whether or not variation in the deployment of linguistic resources can be interpreted in terms of the processes and mechanisms for establishing reliable and valid scientific knowledge. The thesis first summarises theoretical debates concerning the nature and teaching of science. An extended discussion, in the form of a case study of Galileo's work on motion, is presented, along with examples of how the 'Galileo story' has been revised and modified into popular and professional / educational imagination. This discussion thaws out critical points about the relationships between science as an observational and empirical activity and science as an abstract and intellectual activity. This is contrasted with educational constructivist accounts of learning and pedagogy, and how constructivist pedagogy is influenced by constructivist accounts of the doing of science. The data collection and analysis methods are then described in detail. A variety of tagging and marking techniques relating to vocabulary, logical formation and connection words, and grammatical formations are used. These provide the bases for a variety of frequency and collocational analyses, which, in turn, feed into a series of multivariate analyses. After presenting a descriptive overview of the corpus of textbooks, the results are reported in four chapters. Each chapter considers one linguistic resource in turn: vocabulary diversity, lexical organisation, words used to establish logical and structural formations, and grammatical organisation. These chapters show that there is systematic variation in authors deployment of linguistic resources, and that variation with respect to one linguistic resource is associated with variation with respect to the others. In particular, when scientific knowledge is presented through elaboration, persuasion, and description, there is little or no underlying structure to the phenomena being discussed, or there are few or no underlying concepts to which authors can return as their discussions progress. Alternatively, when scientific knowledge is presented in terms of rules, statements, procedures, and arrangements, the content of a topic is structured around a small number of underlying and uni~ing concepts. The contrast is between a loosely structured science that is descriptive, factual and observational, and a highly structured science that is for the most part theoretical. Furthermore, authors selectivity in their deployment of linguistic resources is associated with the major scientific disciplines. The suggestion is that the contents of Biology and Geology, with only a loose structure or no structure to the contents underlying concepts, are presented through elaboration, persuasion, and description, whereas the contents of Physics and Chemistry, structured around a small number of underlying and uni~ing concepts, are presented in terms of rules, statements, procedures, and arrangements. The thesis concludes that what is missing in textbook accounts that embody naive empiricism is the discernment evident in Galileos work: when, how and with what cost to 'simplify' the experiential world, and how to add back to theoretical accounts the complexities of the experiential world. It is an understanding of these processes and the ways in which they can be displayed and developed in classrooms that could better inform the preparation of science teachers as well as laying a stronger base for high school programs.
Thesis (PhD Doctorate)
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
School of Cognition, Language and Special Education
Item Access Status
teaching of science