Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Rita A. Hagevik

Committee Members

Mehmet Aydeniz, Gina U. Barclay-Mclaughlin, Gary J. Skolits


A major component of the values people place on science and their attitude toward it is their openness to new ideas or overall open-mindedness. An individual’s values and attitudes become integrally connected to their prior knowledge and conceptions regarding science and science content. Sometimes the nature of a natural phenomenon and the scientific explanation for the phenomenon is controversial. A controversial scientific concept is one that evokes emotion and forces individuals to assess the values associated with this content and make assessments of their attitudes toward it. This is especially true during learning. The purpose of this study was to provide evidence on how prior knowledge and existing conceptions are related to open-mindedness when learning science content that is regarded as controversial. The participants for this study consisted of 7 elementary science teachers and 8 secondary science teachers. Data collected for the study included the determination of how individuals assessed and used their prior/existing conceptions when learning controversial science content based on individual interviews, an individual’s level of open-mindedness as measured by the Actively Open-minded Thinking scale (AOT) and determined through the interviews, and the assessment of the change in an individual’s level of knowledge regarding geologic time as measured by the Geoscience Concept Inventory (GCI). The investigation consisted of multiple case studies analyzed within cases and across cases. The teachers’ use of their prior conceptions was determined through the coding of interviews based on the four appropriation modes of Integration, Differentiation, Exchange, and Bridging. Results from the interview data showed that 53% of the teachers differentiated their existing conceptions from new geologic time conceptions, while 47% integrated new conceptions with their prior conceptions. In addition, 40% of the teachers exhibited a bimodal appropriation of their existing conceptions. Bridging and exchange were the secondary appropriation modes observed among bimodal appropriators. No relationships were found between the teachers’ thinking disposition (open-mindedness) and their level of geologic time knowledge, nor where there any relationships found between the teachers’ prior conception appropriation and their geologic time knowledge or their appropriation and thinking disposition.

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