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Students' Understandings of Human Organs and Organ Systems

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How do people develop their understanding of what is inside them? This study looks at students' understandings of their internal structure. A cross-sectional approach was used involving a total of 158 students in England from six different age
  1 Students' Understandings of Human Organs and Organ Systems   Michael J. Reiss Homerton College, Cambridge & Sue Dale Tunnicliffe Homerton College, Cambridge  Running head: Understanding of human organs  2 Students' Understandings of Human Organs and Organ Systems   Abstract How do people develop their understanding of what is inside them? This study looks at students' understandings of their internal structure. A cross-sectional approach was used involving a total of 158 students in England from six different age groups (ranging from 4 year-olds to first year undergraduates). Students were given a blank piece of A4-sized paper and asked to draw what they thought was inside themselves. Repeated inspections of the completed drawings allowed us to construct a seven point scale of these representations. Our analysis shows the extent to which student understanding increases with age and the degree to which pupils know more about some organs and organ systems than others. While gender differences in the drawings were generally not large there were some intriguing differences in the ways males and females drew reproductive organs.  3 Students' Understandings of Human Organs and Organ Systems   As is widely acknowledged, and as we have reviewed elsewhere, there are many ways of gathering information about students' understandings of scientific phenomena (White & Gunstone, 1992; Tunnicliffe & Reiss, 1999a). However, despite the richness and variety of the methods used by science educators, it remains the fact that most of these methods rely on students either talking or writing about science. Such methods include oral interviewing of students (Osborne & Gilbert 1980), gathering students' written responses (Leach et al. , 1995), recording students' spontaneous conversations (Tunnicliffe & Reiss, 1999b) and getting students to construct written concept maps (Novak & Musonda, 1991). Each of these approaches has its own particular advantages and disadvantages but we wanted in this study to use an approach which relied less on words. This is not because we feel that words are a minor part of learning in science. Far from it! We are fully persuaded by the large and growing literature which argues for the importance, even centrality, of language in the acquisition of scientific concepts (Bloom, 1992; Sutton, 1992; Sprod, 1997; Tunnicliffe & Reiss, 1999c). Indeed, with the exception of an approach in which the researcher behaves as a silent observer (whether participant or non-participant) of subjects silently engaging in scientific or scientifically related activities (such as working in school science lessons, gardening, cooking or repairing a bicycle), language will inevitably be a mediator between the researcher and those who are researched - and even in such silent work, the researcher is forced to use language to record, interpret and describe findings. We hope, though, that our approach is less likely than approaches that rely on words to a greater extent than ours to disadvantage students who are very shy in conversation, students who lack certain linguistic skills and students who speak a language (or languages) other than that used by the researcher. This last point means that drawings should be of especial value for international comparative studies. We also find considerable worth in the argument that there may be no such single thing as a person's 'understanding', different facets of which can be revealed by different methodologies. Instead, it may be that different methodologies reveal different things about the multi-dimensional complexity usually labelled 'understanding' but better recognised as 'understandings' - cf. current work on the intellectual rationale for portfolio assessment (Gipps, 1999). On this argument, the appropriateness of drawing as the eliciting  4 device used in this study is at least as much that this provides a particular view of certain particular aspects of each student's understandings. In this study we report on students' understandings of their own internal structures. We decided on a cross-sectional approach in which students of different ages would simply be asked to draw what they thought was inside themselves. While we do not assert or intend to imply that our approach in particular or drawings in general are necessarily superior to other ways of elucidating understandings, drawings do have certain other worthwhile features in addition to their lower reliance on the use of language. For example, many of the subjects we studied evidently enjoyed doing their drawings and took a certain care in their production. Occasional older individuals who expressed worries about what they perceived as their 'inability to draw' were, at least to some extent, re-assured by our assertion that we were interested not in the artistic merits of their drawing but in what it revealed about their understanding of what was inside themselves. Another advantage is the comparative ease with which a rich mass of data can be obtained. In addition, there is perhaps a certain appropriateness in asking subjects to represent (albeit in two dimensions) anatomically their own anatomy. In the language of Buckley, Boulter & Gilbert (1997) and Gilbert, Boulter & Elmer (in press), such representations can be viewed as the expressed models - that is, representations of phenomena placed in the public domain - of the students. These expressed models relate to (but do not equate with) the mental models - i.e. the private and personal cognitive representations - held by the same students. By now a considerable literature exists about the use of drawings as a research technique in education. One important debate has centred around the extent to which children draw what they know  about an object or array when asked to draw it as opposed to the extent to which they draw what they can actually see  from a particular view (Willats, 1977; Beal & Arnold, 1990). Our methodology side-steps this debate in that as the students were asked to draw what they thought was inside themselves they cannot have drawn what they saw but only what they 'knew'. As far as students' knowledge, as revealed by drawings, of what is inside themselves goes, perhaps the most thoroughly studied organ system is the skeleton (Caravita & Tonucci, 1987; Guichard, 1995; Cox, 1997; Tunnicliffe & Reiss, 1999a). Those research reports and papers that have looked at other organ systems have often reported valuable data (notably Gellert, 1962; Goldman & Goldman, 1982; Johnson & Wellman, 1982; Mintzes, 1984; Carey,  5 1985; Williams, Wetton & Moon, 1989; Osborne, Wadsworth & Black, 1992; Teixeira, 1998; Selles & Ayres, 1999) but there is very little work that systematically and quantitatively examines how knowledge, as revealed by drawings, of the various human organs and organ systems depends on student age. Methodology Fieldwork was carried out in the South of England in a primary school, a secondary school and a college of higher education. The primary school (for 4/5 to 11 year-olds) is a state Church of England aided school and is in a New Town (established after the Second World War); the secondary school (for 11 to 16 year-olds) is a state comprehensive in a rural setting; the College of Higher Education contains mainly four year Bachelor of Education students training to be primary teachers. SDT carried out the primary fieldwork; MJR carried out the secondary and undergraduate fieldwork. Cox (1989) discusses some of the ways in which children can be asked to do drawings. We simply asked our subjects, in a whole class setting, to draw what they thought was inside themselves. Students were not examined under formal examination conditions but were told not to copy one another's work. They were given as long as they wanted (up to about 10 minutes) to complete their drawing and were asked to write their name on it. A note was also made by us of the gender of each student. Many of the students labelled their drawings. Students who asked us if they could/should label their drawings were told by us that they certainly could if they wanted to and that it was up to them. The teacher wrote labels on the drawings for children if they requested it; this was particularly the case with the 4 and 5 year-olds. In these cases the teacher only wrote words said by the child. The fieldwork was conducted in whole class settings. In all, data were obtained from 16 Reception children (aged 4 or 5), 21 Yr. 2 children (aged 6 or 7), 33 Yr. 3 children (aged 7 or 8), 32 Yr. 6 children (aged 10 or 11), 24 Yr. 9 children (aged 13 or 14) and 32 first year undergraduates (mostly aged 18 to 20). In the primary and the secondary school, all pupils were in mixed ability groups. The undergraduates were from a teacher training institution which, of the 52 institutions in the sector, has the highest average academic qualifications of its intake in England (Barnard, 1998). The undergraduates who participated came from two separate student groups. One group of 12 were all English specialists, none of whom had studied biology after the age of 16. The other group of 20 were all biology specialists, all of whom had studied biology after the age of 16. (In England and Wales it has been compulsory since 1989 for students to study science, including biology, up to the age of 16.) The biology
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