Conceptual understanding of science through archaeological inquiry

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Education, Health & Human Development


Since the launch of Project 2061 in 1985, an effort to improve science education, educators have searched for engaging ways to teach science inquiry in the classroom. While archaeology is inherently interesting, it is an underused vehicle for teaching to national standards, especially science inquiry, in pre-collegiate education. This case study examined students' conceptual understanding of five science inquiry concepts (observation, inference, classification, context, and evidence) and the Nature of Science (NOS), the differences between science and history, and the similarities in science inquiry and historical inquiry through the study of archaeology. This qualitative case study included 27 subjects, all fifth grade students who were studying American history through archaeological inquiry. Data was collected through a series of learning assessment probes and a performance task designed specifically for this study. Interviews, observation of the performance task, and examination of classroom work completed data collection. With only minor exceptions, students were conversant in all five of the inquiry concepts, however, their understanding of each concept was highly individual. In many cases, students retained some misconceptions, misunderstandings, or incomplete understandings of the concepts. Identification of the cognitive processes underlying student understanding helped trace the origin of misconceptions, misunderstandings, and incomplete understandings. All of the students demonstrated some understanding of the Nature of Science and the relationships between science, history, and archaeology. The study has implications for learning, for curriculum development, and for teaching and teacher preparation. Students can easily retain misconceptions throughout a course of study or can fail to reach complete conceptual understanding. Identification of misconceptions and their source can provide teachers with a clear starting point to dispel misconceptions and to create deeper and more accurate conceptual understanding of science processes. Results can be used immediately to improve the curriculum used in this study and to design better science inquiry curricula. Future research could be designed to confirm the results of this study and to expand the sample to a larger and more diverse group of subjects.




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