Director / Professor
G119 Stone Building
Dr. Sherry Southerland is a Professor in the Science Education program, Co-Director of FSU-Teach, and Interim Director of the School of Teacher Education at Florida Sate University. She received her B.S. in Biology from Auburn University, her M.S. in Physiology from Auburn University, and her Ph.D. from Louisiana State University in Science Education. She has been a biology teacher at the high school, community college, and university levels and a science teacher educator at both the University of Utah and Florida State University. She has also worked as a field biologist and a forensic chemist.
Her primary focus in her teaching of undergraduate methods courses is to provide students with successful experiences with learning science through inquiry instruction. As students understand that scientific knowledge is accessible, this expectation is used as a bridge to more formal analyses of and experiences with inquiry. In her graduate courses, she focuses on having students look critically at the portrait of reform of science instruction as suggested by national movements with a particular interest on understanding the role of language and culture in science teaching and learning.
Her three primary areas of research include an examination of the learning of nature of science knowledge (How does it happen? Does it enhance students’ science interests? Does it aid in the learning of controversial topics?), the role culture plays on the learning and teaching of science, and the ways in which teachers own sense of discontentment shape their professional development.
Dr. Southerland’s work within conceptual change theory follows two pathways. In the first, she turns to investigations of the intersection of personal internalization of knowledge and social construction of knowledge, asking, “How is knowledge constructed by the group learned by the individual?” Currently, there is scant research that examines the intersection. The paper published in 2005, “The intersection of individual and group meaning making in an urban third grade classroom,” represents a shift in Southerland’s conceptual change work, allowing for a focus on the culturally laden nature of science learning.
Working with Gale Sinatra (University of Nevada at Las Vegas), they examine the relation between beliefs and scientific knowledge, and the role of intentionality when learning about biological evolution. Their research examines how students’ knowledge about evolution, their personal epistemological beliefs about the nature of science (NOS), and their willingness to question ideas play a unique role in learning about evolution, particularly human evolution. These relationships are used to suggest that conceptual change about biological evolution can brought about through heightening students’ awareness of current conceptions of NOS and their own epistemological beliefs.
Working with Scott Sowell and Adam Johnston, they proposed a model of the interaction of the prominent components of teachers’ conceptual ecologies for NOS, one in which learning dispositions, understandings of the broad enterprise of science, and orientation to learning and learners are understood to shape teachers’ conceptual frameworks for NOS. The complex ties between NOS conceptions and goals, affect, dispositions, and beliefs speak to the inclusion of the bounded nature of science as a central aspect of NOS for practicing teachers. Teachers’ dispositions toward learning this construct are linked to their conceptions of the boundaries of science as well as their understanding of the role of NOS in their own teaching. They argue that a recognition of the bounded nature of science foregrounds actions of a teacher’s learning disposition, thus potentially minimizing the influence of their religious beliefs.