Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

James H. Wandersee


Case studies, developed with criteria from Yin's Case Study Research: Design and Methods (1994), probed single mental constructs of four introductory college biology students who were recent high school graduates. Data sources included autobiographical essays, interviews, coconstructed concept maps (Wandersee & Abrams, 1993), a videotape questionnaire, and graphics. A multisensory microscopy experiment provided the setting for the construction of shared meanings by the participants. Concept maps were used then to explore the existing cognitive framework of the participants. This research affirmed the value of supporting graphic organizers for understanding science (Good & Berger, 1998; Hyerle, 1996; Trowbridge & Wandersee, 1998). Ausubelian cognitive learning theory (Ausubel, Novak, and Hanesian, 1978) was the theoretical foundation for this research. The heuristic device of concept mapping was used as a method to aid the student in externalizing and understanding the development and integration of relevant concepts. Ausubel (1968), Novak and Gowin (1984) recognize the positive results of knowledge construction from laboratory experiences. Expanding the student's immediate knowledge of microscopy with instruction by the researcher helped students connect scale relationships with microscopy. Results of this study suggest (a) that there are anticipatable and addressable gaps in their knowledge of size, scale, measurement, and micrometry that introductory college biology students bring to the science laboratory, and (b) that these gaps and misunderstandings will otherwise impede their learning from microscopy-based laboratory experiences and frustrate their ability to measure and to grasp the relative size of microstructures and microorganisms meaningfully. Results also suggest that, the MicroMeasure(TM) grid system in particular may offer a new and more effective way to help students learn to interpret the magnification powers used in presenting the objects pictured in the commonplace electron micrograph images appearing so frequently on the pages of today's biology textbooks. A better introduction to and progressive articulation of the precursor concepts needed to understand microscopic images during the K--12 school experience apparently would smooth the transition from high school to college biology laboratory learning from microscopes and microscopic images.