Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

James H. Wandersee


A trend in science education reform is the move towards the goal of scientific literacy. Attributes of scientific literacy include: (a) understanding key concepts and principles of science; (b) understanding newspaper articles and graphics related to science issues; and (c) using scientific ways of evaluating evidence for individual and societal purposes (AAAS, 1989; Demastes & Wandersee, 1992). Furthermore, BSCS (1993) has proposed a model of biological literacy that includes four distinct levels (nominal, functional, structural, and multidimensional). The Gulf of Mexico and its coastal environments are of social, economic and scientific importance. An understanding of the Gulf of Mexico in terms of its history, ecology, natural resources, economic impact, and fragility should be part of K-12 science education. The following research questions formed the framework of this study: (1) Can a meaningful model of Gulf literacy be developed? (2) Does the model have instructional utility? (3) What level of Gulf literacy can high school students achieve using this booklet? A model of Gulf literacy was developed through content analysis of coastal newspapers and expert interviews. A series of concept maps were produced as a conceptual framework of Gulf literacy. A curriculum guide emphasizing graphics was developed for a two-week unit on the Gulf of Mexico. Students' development of Gulf literacy was assessed by interviews, concept mapping, and questionnaire. Students in this study were emergent with respect to reaching a level of multidimensional literacy as described by the BSCS. Students' conceptual understanding of the Gulf of Mexico was well founded for human impacts related to Gulf, marine animals, and trophic structure. An understanding of Gulf physiographic concepts was dependent upon what exercises the teacher actually utilized. However, physical/chemical processes were poorly understood (possibly due to teacher selection of activities and the existence of critical junctures such as the one at the concept of dead zones). Concept mapping was shown to be generative based on the addition of student supplied concepts on concept maps. Use of microscale models of scientific literacy such as this Gulf literacy model may help inform the larger scientific literacy reform efforts.