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Understanding how science work: The nature of science as they foundation for science teaching and learning

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SSR June 2017, 98(365) 71
Epistemic insight
Understanding how science works: the
nature of science as the foundation for
science teaching and learning
William F. McComas
ABSTRACT The nature of science (NOS) is a phrase used to represent the rules of the game of
science. Arguably, NOS is the most important content issue in science instruction because it helps
students understand the way in which knowledge is generated and validated within the scientic
enterprise. This article oers a proposal for the elements of NOS that should inform classroom
science teaching and learning, including the distinction between law and theory, the shared
methods of science, the role of creativity and subjectivity, the idea that scientic knowledge is
tentative, long-lasting and self-correcting and the important reality that science has limits.
The history of science curriculum development
reveals countless suggestions for the facts and
principles that students should learn to gain an
appreciation of the scientific enterprise. Often,
these encyclopaedic proposals for content are
joined by recommendations that students should
have opportunities to engage in the ‘doing’
of science (i.e. enquiry instruction) and other
calls that students must also understand the
implications of those discoveries on society (i.e.
socio-scientific decision-making). It is clear that
science instruction should feature a combination
of process and product.
Accompanying these important trends
in the field of science teaching and learning
are increasing thoughts that perhaps the
most essential element to include in science
instruction is the nature of science (NOS). As
we will see, NOS is a distinct kind of science
process and product. Even though there remains
some discussion about what this domain of
knowledge should be called (i.e. nature of
science studies, history and philosophy of
science, ideas-about-science, nature of sciences,
nature of scientific knowledge, etc.), there is
little doubt that having students understand
how this discipline functions is vital. While
useful distinctions are made between each of
the various labels mentioned, it is probably
best to continue to use the traditional name
‘NOS’ to represent the broad issues related to
an understanding of the rules of the ‘game’ of
science, its tools, products and methods as they
apply in educational settings. In short, we are
talking about an understanding of science as
a way of knowing, but simply making such a
statement is most certainly not enough to guide
learning, curriculum development or even the
discussion found here. As shall be seen, it is
necessary to agree on what elements of NOS we
want instructors to weave into science lessons
and students to understand.
To set the stage, we must recognise that, for
more than a hundred years, countless studies
and expert opinion (Central Association of
Science and Mathematics Teachers, 1907;
Lederman, 1992; McComas, 1998; Matthews,
2014) have demonstrated the importance of
including elements of NOS in school science
programmes. This foundational understanding is
just as important as ‘traditional science content’,
such as lessons about the phases of the Moon,
the products and reactants in chemical reactions,
and Newton’s laws of motion. In fact, NOS is
so vital that even making a distinction between
‘traditional science content’ and an understanding
of the rules and products of the game of science
that characterise NOS seems odd to those who
have considered the relative merits of classroom
science content. Yet many educators do make
72 SSR June 2017, 98(365)
the distinction between NOS and other science
content – and in doing so fail to provide students
with opportunities to learn the rules, products and
limitations of the game of science.
Many who have examined the importance of
NOS in the curriculum would agree with Driver,
Leach, Millar and Scott (1996), who suggested
that NOS provides students with the foundation
to understand how science is done and engage
in it themselves, shifting the emphasis from
simply learning about science to doing and
understanding science. Their rationales for NOS
in school science include five conclusions about
its importance:
l Utilitarian: NOS is necessary to make sense
of science and technological objects and
processes in everyday life.
l Democratic: NOS is necessary for informed
decision-making on socio-scientific issues.
l Cultural: NOS is necessary to appreciate
the value of science as part of contemporary
culture.
l Moral: NOS helps develop an understanding
of the norms of the scientific community
that embody moral commitments that are of
general value to society.
l Science learning: NOS facilitates the learning
of science subject matter.
With these NOS rationales in mind, it would
be hard to imagine a compelling argument against
the inclusion of goals and practices that enable
students to understand how science works,
appreciate how science knowledge is created and
validated, explore how scientists do what they
do and distinguish science from non-science.
This is very timely content. In various nations,
it has recently become clear that large numbers
of individuals fail to distinguish between news
and ‘fake news’, facts and ‘alternative facts’.
Understanding how knowledge is generated
and validated in science can help. There has
never been a more crucial time for students –
on their road to becoming reflective citizens
– to understand how science functions. This
understanding, in turn, will enable our future
citizens to evaluate and judge science knowledge
claims and act appropriately. It is vital that
citizens recognise that the results of science are
essentially neutral and apolitical. This is true even
in this current political situation in which many
want either to ignore the findings of science,
criticise its methods or simply to believe that
one can choose or not to accept widely shared
conclusions and recommendations. At this time,
how ironic it is to note that the author of Brave
New World, Aldous Huxley (1927), said, ‘facts do
not cease to exist because they are ignored’. He
could have offered this view yesterday! He would
likely agree with those who state that there is no
time like the present to do whatever is necessary
to help students understand knowledge generation
and validation in science.
What we know about NOS in schools: a
quick review
We are aware that most students and teachers
don’t know much about science as a way of
knowing. However, before turning our attention
to other kinds of misunderstanding worthy of
discussion, it is useful to share the following
conclusions that have been revealed by six
decades of NOS research regarding what teachers
and students think about NOS. There are hundreds
of references that could be cited, but the following
summary by Lederman (2007) does an excellent
job outlining the situation while identifying
some of the challenges with respect to NOS in
science instruction:
l pre-university students do not typically
possess ‘adequate’ conceptions of NOS;
l pre-university teachers do not typically
possess ‘adequate’ conceptions of NOS;
l conceptions of NOS are best learned through
explicit, reflective instruction as opposed to
implicitly through experiences with simply
‘doing’ science;
l teachers’ conceptions of NOS are not
automatically and necessarily translated into
classroom practice;
l teachers often do not regard NOS as an
instructional outcome of equal status with that
of ‘traditional’ subject-matter outcomes.
These statements, which come from a review
of the science education literature, point out many
of the challenges associated with the incorporation
of NOS into plans for science learning. I would
add to this list that we also do not have a firm
notion of how to teach NOS but a few thoughts
about that issue will be forthcoming. What we do
know, however, is what aspects of NOS should
be the focus of instruction in the school science
arena. As will be pointed out, these NOS learning
The nature of science as the foundation for science teaching and learning McComas
SSR June 2017, 98(365) 73
goals come from a consensus of the science
education community and generally may be
grouped into these broad categories: how science
generates knowledge (i.e. the philosophical
processes that are acceptable within the practice of
science) and the philosophical products of science
(i.e. the idea that laws and theories are related but
not the same).
Considering a consensus view of NOS for
school science purposes
When making decisions about what to include in
school science, it is vital to consider a multitude
of issues, including the readiness of students to
learn at a given age, how packed the curriculum is
with other content, how particular content might
be supported by packaging it with other content,
and so on. For instance, at some point, biology
educators decided that students should learn
about photosynthesis (for good reason, I might
add). Hence, life science and biology books are
filled with descriptions of photosynthesis that are
typically first qualitative (carbon dioxide is taken
into plants during the day and is transformed into
oxygen through chemical processes resident in
chlorophyll). Later, those descriptions become
much more mechanistic and quantitative as
the structure of chloroplasts and the chemical
reactions are added to the discussion. Ultimately,
we hope that students learn about photosynthesis
and, as a result, understand and perhaps even value
the roles of plants in the environment. Countless
decisions and discussions have resulted in the
biology curriculum that we have today. Clearly, we
have reached consensus regarding the inclusion of
photosynthesis as a worthy goal of instruction.
Not surprisingly, this process has also
occurred in NOS studies. Since the advent
of advocacy for the inclusion of NOS in the
science curriculum, many proposals have been
offered for what elements of NOS we should
teach. Lederman (1992, 1998), Lederman and
Lederman (2004), McComas (1998, 2004,
2008), Osborne et al. (2003), and others, have
all provided quite similar recommendations for
robust sets of elements regarding what should
be the NOS focus in school science. These are
sometimes called the ‘key NOS aspects’, ‘general
NOS aspects’ or the ‘NOS consensus view’. In a
study comparing various definitions of NOS in
school science, Al-Shamrani (2008) found large
degrees of overlap. That realisation, coupled
with the similar recommendations for NOS goals
found in the Next Generation Science Standards
(NGSS Lead States, 2013), suggests that most
in science education are no longer questioning
what we should teach about NOS. There is no
clear advantage of one set of NOS aspects over
another but a widely-shared consensus proposal
of such elements is provided here as Figure 1.
In this set of recommendations, related issues
(sub-elements) are found together so, for instance,
McComas The nature of science as the foundation for science teaching and learning
Figure 1 One consensus view of the major aspects of NOS that should be included in science instruction,
arranged in three clusters with related sub-elements; reproduced from McComas (2015a) based on McComas
(2008) and generally reflected in the US Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS Lead States, 2013)
making a complete statement on what NOS to teach somewhat dif-
ficult for teachers to find. One of the NOS categories, Science Is a
Way of Knowing,seems unnecessarily vague; what does one teach
to focus on this statement?
NOS for School Science Purposes: Beyond the Next
Generation Standards
There is likely no list of NOS elements that all science educators
would embrace, but some might see the conceptualization offered
by McComas (2008) as a clear and comprehensive representation
of NOS for school purposes. It is not possible to provide a full descrip-
tion of each of the recommended NOS elements here, but such a
discussion can be found in McComas (2004, 2015). One can gain a rea-
sonable overview by examining Figure 1 and the corresponding outline
below, in which the nine elements are organized in three clusters.
Outline of Proposed Core NOS Ideas to Inform K12
Science Curriculum Development, Instruction, & Science
Teacher Education
Note: An asterisk indicates that the particular NOS idea is found in
or implied by the NGSS (in appendix H and the associated illustra-
tions). On this point, consider that the NOS principle that science
cannot answer all questionsis implied by the NGSS statement that
science addresses questions about the natural and material world.
This would seem to suggest that science does not address questions
that do not pertain to the natural and/or material world; thus, there
are limits to science.
Tools and Products of Science
(1)* Science produces, demands, and relies on empirical
evidence.
(2)* Knowledge production in science shares many common
factors and shared habits of mind, norms, logical think-
ing, and methods, such as careful observation, careful
data recording, and truthfulness in reporting. The shared
aspects of scientific methodology include the following:
Experiments are a route, but not the only route, to
knowledge.
Science uses both inductive reasoning and hypothet-
ico-deductive testing.
Scientists make observations and produce inferences.
There is no single stepwise scientific method by
which all science is done.
(3)* Laws and theories are related but distinct kinds of scien-
tific knowledge.
Human Elements of Science
(4)* Science has a creative component.
(5) Observations, ideas, and conclusions in science are
not entirely objective. This subjective (sometimes called
‘‘theory-laden) aspect of science plays both positive
and negative roles in scientific investigation.
(6)* Historical, cultural, and social factors influence the prac-
tice and direction of science. The topics of scientific
inquiry are as much dictated through funding and
focus by the needs of a particular society as they are
by the curiosity of scientists.
Science Knowledge and Its Limits
(7) Science and engineering/technology influence each other
but are not the same.
(8)* Scientific knowledge is tentative, durable, and self-
correcting. (This means that science cannot prove any-
thing, but scientific conclusions are valuable and long-
lasting because of the way in which they are developed;
mistakes will be discovered and corrected as part of the
process.)
(9)* Science and its methods cannot answer all questions. In
other words, there are limits to the kinds of questions
that may be asked within a scientific framework.
Much has been written both pro and con about listssuch
as those provided above, in the NGSS, and in various contributions
to the literature. Those who support the contents of such lists are
motivated not so much by a desire to present a full account of
Figure 1. The major elements of NOS appropriate for inclusion in science instruction, arranged in three related clusters
(modified from McComas, 2008).
THE AMERICAN BIOLOGY TEACHER THE NATURE OF SCIENCE
487
74 SSR June 2017, 98(365)
those NOS issues that are related to what are
called the ‘Tools and Products of Science’ are
shown near that circle. The same is true for the
sub-elements associated with the other two larger
NOS domains.
It is true that a few contributors to the
literature of education question whether a set of
statements about knowledge generation in science
can even be produced (van Dijk, 2011, 2012) and
others (Erduran and Dagher, 2014) have offered
an alternative to the dominant consensus view.
However, the vast majority who support the
enhancement of science teaching and learning are
ready to put recommendations into action. We
have moved on from general NOS advocacy and
have agreed on NOS learning goals. Thus, the new
focus should be on how to teach and assess NOS
for the variety of audiences in the school science
realm. Given the attacks on science, which seem
to be born out of politics and misunderstanding,
perhaps there has never been a more opportune
and vital moment to do just that.
What should all citizens understand
about the nature of science?
The debate regarding what to teach about NOS
in school science settings has been productive in
two ways. First, the challenges to the consensus
have caused a reconsideration of our assumptions
and positions; this is always a healthy ingredient
in high-quality scholarship. Second, those of
us who have embraced and even added to the
consensus list should be heartened that we have
it ‘right’ – at least as correct as those who have
defined the science content in biology, chemistry
and physics texts. Yet we realise that this is a
fluid conversation and new knowledge from
the fields of history, philosophy and sociology
of science will cause us to reconsider current
recommendations. After all, just a generation ago,
many were describing science (quite inaccurately)
in positivist terms. Therefore, let us end with a
quick examination of one of the consensus lists
that shares a wide number of features with those
offered by others. Please recognise that these
descriptions are necessarily brief here but more
detail can be found in a variety of sources (e.g.
McComas, 2004, 2015b).
In Figure 1, the suggestions for what we
should be teaching about NOS in school science
settings are clustered in three domains of related
sub-elements designed to cover the landscape of
important but introductory NOS notions. As stated
earlier, this ‘list’ was never designed to be given
to students and memorised; rather, it is a set of
benchmarks for teachers, curriculum developers
and assessment experts. The first cluster of related
NOS ideas is called the ‘Tools and Products of
Science’. This domain contains the related ideas
of empiricism, the law/theory distinction and the
notion of shared methods in science. The first
idea is basic: scientific conclusions are based on
evidence – an idea that even the youngest learners
seem able to appreciate. Next, readers will note
a very important tool and product of science,
the notion of the roles and nature of laws and
theories. Entire books could be written on either
of these notions but, in their most basic form,
laws are the generalisations or principles (i.e.
Newton’s law of gravity), while theories are the
explanations (i.e. the germ theory of disease) for
laws. Many individuals believe in a hierarchical
view of laws and theories and falsely think that,
with time, a good theory will turn into a law.
That misconception is pernicious and potentially
damaging, particularly when some use it to reject
important scientific ideas such as evolution
by declaring them ‘only theories’. Finally, this
domain includes the idea of shared methods
in science as a tool of science. This is a large
sub-element and involves issues such as induction
and deduction, inference and observation, and all
the other commonly accepted ways that scientists
collect and analyse data to reach conclusions.
Even though there are shared methods, there is no
one step-by-step approach that all scientists use;
this is a common misconception in the USA and
perhaps elsewhere.
In the domain of ‘Human Elements of Science’,
educators will encounter recommendations that
students should come to understand that many
aspects of science are as creative as those in the
arts (i.e. the selection of problems and methods
of investigation) and that subjectivity and bias
are inherent in the fact that humans are the ones
engaged in science. This idea of bias is often seen
as negative. To be sure, sometimes when scientists
‘see’ only what they ‘want’ to see, important
evidence or findings may well be missed. At the
same time, however, the experiences that scientists
have after years of work in a field can help them
move more quickly to potentially fruitful avenues
of research. Finally, this domain contains the idea
that social and cultural forces guide the direction
The nature of science as the foundation for science teaching and learning McComas
SSR June 2017, 98(365) 75
of investigations in science, particularly in
nations that actively fund research. Many students
believe that scientists work on what is of most
interest or importance. In reality, much research
is encouraged and discouraged primarily by the
lines of funding available to support it. In the
USA, recently, some administrations supported
stem cell research with funding while others
cut funding so dramatically that such research
slowed considerably. Students must understand
that scientific work occurs within a socio-
cultural context.
The last domain, ‘Science Knowledge and its
Limits’, includes the vital notion that there are
limits imposed by the rules of science itself as
to what science can investigate and speak about
with authority. Here, too, we see the often-
misunderstood notion that scientific conclusions
are long-lasting but ultimately tentative. This
idea introduces students to the reality that we
can never prove anything in science and that any
conclusions reached are liable, but not likely, to
be replaced when more evidence demands that
science paint a different picture. Finally, one idea
that is rarely mentioned in NOS recommendations
is the distinction between science and
engineering/technology. Many in the science
education community have adopted a preference
for STEM (science, technology, engineering and
mathematics) as a reference for best practices
in teaching, and new standards documents
across the globe frequently embrace such a
view. Certainly, these four areas of inquiry work
together, but it is very important that students
understand how each contributes and how each is
distinct philosophically and in practice from the
others. The Next Generation Science Standards
(NGSS Lead States, 2013) include practices
in science and engineering in lists on the same
page, potentially leading to two unfortunate
conclusions: that science has a stepwise method
and so does engineering, and that science and
engineering are essentially the same. Of course,
neither is a valid conclusion. Thus, it is vital in
the STEM education world in which we live that
distinctions between the disciplines of science and
engineering are clarified for students.
Teaching the nature of science
It will likely be frustrating to note that I end this
article with only a brief set of suggestions on what
is a highly important aspect of NOS in science
instruction, but the fullest account might occupy a
book. Certainly, the most important hurdles have
now been crossed: we have strong rationales for
the inclusion of NOS in the classroom and equally
robust and thoughtful suggestions for what must
be taught in this domain. In addition, we are
beginning to see science standards documents
more frequently including guidelines for what
to teach about the nature of science. With those
thoughts in mind, I will offer some thoughts about
NOS instruction.
First, let us begin with a firm rejection of
a common mischaracterisation of the ‘list’ of
suggestions regarding NOS content. The list as
it is commonly illustrated (Figure 1) is often
just a shorthand way of showing the important
ideas; much more detail about the meaning of
the labels is often contained elsewhere by those
offering such lists. No matter what set of NOS
principles one adopts to guide science teaching
and learning, there is no implication that it
simply be memorised by students as if doing
so would satisfy the wide range of important
NOS understanding that we collectively support.
Rather, these sets of recommendations must
be unpacked and understood by instructors,
and transformed into the basis of material in
textbooks, standards, classroom lessons and
assessment. Also, we need much more work on
the development of engaging and NOS-accurate
curriculum projects that will translate these
learning goals into classroom practice.
Second, the implication is clear that if any
of the interesting and important philosophical
notions related to the practices of science are to
be included in the classroom, teachers must both
embrace and understand for themselves NOS
content. This is easier said than done because
most teacher education programmes offer
little in specifics of NOS and its instructional
methods. Likewise, the courses that gave teachers
their knowledge of the facts and principles of
science likely failed to share any of the detail
provided about how knowledge is generated
and tested. It would be unfair to suggest that
teachers have no understanding about the NOS
domain, but studies have shown that teachers
may know far less than they do about the
traditional science content they teach. In recent
years, increasing numbers of teacher education
programmes include extensive NOS content
or even an entire semester (approximately
McComas The nature of science as the foundation for science teaching and learning
76 SSR June 2017, 98(365)
14 weeks) of instruction and conversation about
the nature of science. This trend must increase
because only NOS-knowledgeable teachers can
provide effective and interesting NOS learning
experiences for students. Another trend that must
accelerate is the treatment of NOS in textbooks,
with a strong recommendation that this content
not be relegated only to the first chapter of the
book as is often the case.
Students must have opportunities to learn
about NOS in every science discipline or topic
they are studying. The strong conclusion from
research studies is that it is best if students
encounter NOS in context related to traditional
science content. Furthermore, it is vital that
students encounter NOS explicitly. It is not
possible for students to learn ‘how science works’
by engaging in laboratory or some other practical
activity, even though such environments provide
incredible examples if pointed out explicitly by
teachers. We also know that learners frequently
fail to see NOS in traditional science content
– such as the dual nature of evolution as a
natural principle on one hand and its theoretical
mechanism of natural selection on the other. In
a classroom of attentive NOS biology teachers,
no student would ever say that ‘evolution is just
a theory’. That statement simply makes no sense
to anyone with a firm understanding of the nature
of science. To conclude, aspects of NOS must be
taught explicitly, must be found across the science
curriculum, must be facilitated by knowledgeable
teachers and must have equal status with the
usual science content. In fact, blending NOS
content with traditional science content may be
the best way to include these important ideas in an
already-packed science curriculum.
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William F. McComas is Parks Family Professor of Science Education at the University of Arkansas in
Fayetteville, USA. Email: mccomas@uark.edu
The nature of science as the foundation for science teaching and learning McComas
... As previously mentioned, NOS has been suggested as a way to challenge and broaden the stereotypical images of science and scientists (see e.g. Erduran & Dagher, 2014;Lederman, 2007;McComas, 2017) that are frequently communicated in a science teaching characterised by a focus on facts (Hansson, 2018;Leden et al., 2015;Zacharia & Barton, 2004). When science is communicated as objective and value free the role of scientists in the scientific processes often becomes downplayed or invisible. ...
... There are several different frameworks available that suggest appropriate NOS content at school-level (e.g. Erduran & Dagher, 2014;Lederman, 2007;McComas, 2017). However, these frameworks are not developed for the ECE level (children between 1 and 6 years old). ...
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Full-text available
This article focuses on the need for increased attention to content issues and working methods for science teaching in Early Childhood Education (ECE). Science education research emphasises the importance of not only focusing on specific phenomena, but also on the Nature of Science (NOS). NOS teaching deals with questions about what science is, how scientific knowledge is developed and in what ways humans are involved in these processes. An inclusion of such issues is important if common stereotypical images of science and scientists are to be challenged. Previous research has suggested that NOS can be taught through book talks connected to trade books. However, there is a lack of empirical studies at the ECE level supporting this suggestion. Thus, this article reports from the first part of a project in which researchers and teachers explored book talks as a possibility to introduce NOS in early years science (children between 1 and 5 years old). Data consists of book talks (N=48) around two picture trade books led by five preschool teachers preceded by a teacher-researcher workshop on NOS and NOS teaching. The results show that discussions on a variety of NOS issues is possible in an ECE context. These results are discussed in relation to previous literature on both NOS teaching and science in the early years.
... Accordingly, there is a need to identify factors that can reduce the anticipated levels of discrimination for minority high-school students in STEM. The current paper begins to address this need by investigating how different perceptions of STEM (McComas, 2017) may impact anticipated discrimination. In doing so, the paper complements research showing how perceptions of STEM impact educational outcomes and social views (Grossman & Porche, 2014;Hurtado & Cerezo, 2012), and proposes a potentially novel way of reducing anticipated discrimination in STEM for minorities. ...
... Students develop different understandings and perceptions of the nature of science and STEM throughout mandatory education (McComas, 2017). It is apparent that individual perceptions of STEM predict levels of engagement and interest in science education (Hurtado & Cerezo, 2012) and attitudes towards science (Snow & Dibner, 2016). ...
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This paper investigates how different perceptions of STEM are related to the anticipated levels of discrimination in STEM-related fields for minority high-school students in Israel. Regression analyses of questionnaire data (N = 380) from Arab-Palestinian (minor-ity) and Jewish (majority) high-school students are conducted. The results suggest that for all students, perceiving STEM as cooperative is associated with reduced anticipated discrimination. Perceiving STEM as global and international is also associated with reduced anticipated discrimination, but only for minority students with the highest levels of social distance from mainstream society. The paper argues that for students who experience high levels of social distance , perceiving STEM as global or international creates a 'global space' wherein the salience of the local-national context-which typically facilitates discrimination-is reduced. Accordingly, the paper addresses larger debates regarding the conditions under which the globalisation of education may be empowering and/or threatening for minority students. ARTICLE HISTORY
... For the past 100 years, the definition of Nature of Science (NOS) and its aspects has been a matter of constant debate between philosophers/historians/sociologists of science and educators. Until today, there is no consensus on its definition and its aspects (Lederman, Antink & Bartos, 2014;Piliouras & Plakitsi, 2015;Lederman, 2019;McComas, 2017;Clough, 2007;Allchin, 2011;Matthews, 2012;Erduran & Dagher, 2014;Van Dijk, 2011). However, all of them acknowledge the importance of NOS aspects in Science teaching. ...
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The present study examines the integration level of the Nature of Scientific Knowledge in secondary school science classes in Greece. The research was designed and organized on the basis of the Cultural-Historical Activity Theory. The activity system of the researchers, who use the proper tools each time, are in network relations with the activity system of Science Education. Major components of the educational system are studied (the curriculum, textbooks, teachers' know-how and teaching methods, school inspectors' viewpoints, students' knowledge) in relation to the nature of scientific knowledge, to ensure valid results. The curriculum and textbook content is decoded, the knowledge of teachers and students is assessed with the use of an internationally validated questionnaire, and interview protocols are analyzed. Research results reveal that the nature of scientific knowledge is included in a small degree in the curriculum and textbooks, teachers refer intuitively to some of these aspects, without assessing the knowledge of students, and, finally, the majority of high-school graduate students have naï ve views regarding the nature of scientific knowledge.
... Such aspects have been attributed to the fact that certain intransigent religious views clash with evolutionary views, together with the variation in religiosity observed among countries or even social groups within a given country [2,21,22]. However, empirical studies [23][24][25] typically have found three major factors determining evolution acceptance: religiosity, evolution understanding, and nature of science (NOS) understanding [26]. Therefore, a complex problem like this is most probably multifactorial while, at the same time, the different factors involved may presumably be partially correlated. ...
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The theory of evolution is one of the greatest scientific achievements in the intellectual history of humankind, yet it is still contentious within certain social groups. Despite being as robust and evidence-based as any other notable scientific theory, some people show a strong reluctance to accept it. In this study, we used the Measure of Acceptance of the Theory of Evolution (MATE) and Knowledge of Evolution Exam (KEE) questionnaires with university students from four academic degree programs (Chemistry, English, History, and Biology) of ten universities from Spain to measure, respectively, acceptance and knowledge of evolutionary theory among third-year undergraduate students (n MATE = 978; n KEE = 981). Results show that acceptance of evolution is relatively high (87.2%), whereas knowledge of the theory is moderate (5.4 out of 10) although there are differences across degrees (Biolo-gy>Chemistry>History>English), and even among various universities (ranging from 4.71 to 5.81). Statistical analysis reveals that knowledge of evolutionary theory among Biology students is partially explained by the relative weight of evolutionary themes within the curriculum , suggesting that an increase in the number of hours dedicated to this topic could have a direct influence on students' knowledge of it. We also found that religion may have a significant although relatively small-negative influence on evolutionary theory acceptance. The moderate knowledge of evolution in our undergraduate students, together with the potential problem of acceptance in certain groups, suggests the need for a revision of the evolutionary concepts in the teaching curricula of our students since primary school.
... The type of context that STEM provides for intergroup contact is a direct product of individual perceptions of STEM. Perceptions of science (or STEM), or indeed understandings of the nature of science, are developed throughout formal education (McComas 2017), and vary greatly between individuals and groups with diverging implications. For instance, different perceptions of science have been found to predict willingness to engage with science (Hurtado and López Cerezo 2012), support funding scientific projects (Muñoz, Moreno, and Luján 2012), and social and political attitudes (Snow and Dibner 2016). ...
Article
Science education projects are being used to improve attitudes between conflicting groups, but it is not clear which aspects of science make it an effective agent for this purpose. This paper investigates how attitudes towards intergroup cooperation relate to different perceptions of science. Regression analyses are conducted on questionnaire data (N = 246) collected from Arab-Palestinian minority high school students in Israel, comparing students who identify primarily as Israeli, Palestinian, and pan-Arab. The analyses indicate that perceiving science as global and international is strongly associated with a preference for mixed work or study environments. The paper suggests that for many students, science and technology in Israel have become globalised and internationalised to the point that science education represents a distinct social space from mainstream Israeli society. By border-crossing into the science classroom, students enter a ‘global space’ wherein the challenges associated with minority status and poor minority–majority relations are less salient.
... En palabras de McComas (2017), que se refiere al argumento cultual de Driver y colegas, "La NdC es necesaria para apreciar el valor de la ciencia como parte de la cultura contemporánea" (p. 72). ...
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La importancia de la naturaleza de la ciencia (NdC) reside en varias suposiciones teóricas que no han sido contrastadas de forma empírica. Este estudio examina la presunción de que una comprensión apropiada de algunos aspectos epistémicos de la NdC estaría relacionada con una mayor valoración de la ciencia, en 6º curso de Educación Primaria (N = 341). Los resultados revelan actitudes más positivas en los estudiantes con concepciones apropiadas de los aspectos «naturaleza provisional» y «observaciones e inferencias», lo que ofrece apoyo empírico al argumento cultural para la enseñanza de la NdC en el nivel elemental. Si bien estos hallazgos subrayan el valor educativo de la NdC, se requiere el desarrollo de futuros estudios que adopten una conceptualización de la NdC que supere las limitaciones de la denominada en la bibliografía como visión de consenso.
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One of the most fundamental understandings within biology is evolution, yet often ascribed as one of the most misunderstood scientific concepts by the American public. Despite not being explicitly mentioned in most American science standards, human evolution is nevertheless taught as an engaging context for understanding complex evolutionary processes among pre-college science students. Therefore, pre-college science teachers seek out human evolution content experts (e.g., Smithsonian Institution, NOVA, ENSI) to procure curricula (lesson plans) to teach these concepts in their classrooms. For students to accurately understand human evolution, research recommends lesson plans employ a diversity of direct and indirect evolutionary evidence, infused with social science perspectives related to the nature of science (NOS) and/or socioscientific issues (SSI) to foster necessary conceptual change. Given such empirical affordances of using multiple sources of evidence and integrated social science perspectives to foster conceptual change in teaching human evolution, it is unknown to what extent these attributes are present in lesson plans created by these entities and targeted to pre-college science teachers. To ascertain to what extent pre-college lesson plans on human evolution employ these research-based best practices, this paper analyzed 86 lesson plans created by 18 entities with content expertise in human evolution concepts that had developed online pre-college lesson plans. Among the sampled lesson plans, less than one third (29%) presented a combination of direct and indirect evidence. Further, a mere 17% incorporated elements of NOS, where SSI (like historical (n = 3) and racial (n = 1)) perspectives were fewer. In sum, findings suggest available resources are deficient in fostering the conceptual change necessary for pre-college students to fully understand human evolution concepts. This study evidences a continued need to ensure best practices are incorporated into human evolution lesson plans created for pre-college teachers.
Chapter
“Nature of Science” (NOS) and “Social Justice” (SJ) are vivid areas in contemporary science education research. There are different conceptualizations of NOS and SJ, giving rise to divergent research agendas. NOS and SJ research areas have mostly been separate tracks, with only a few contributions across each other. The aim of this volume is to bring NOS and SJ research closer together, explore possibilities that might arise, and start a dialogue on the characteristics of NOS for SJ. In this chapter, we prioritize SJ as an overall aim of science education and shed light on how NOS teaching can contribute to that aim. We argue for the importance of three questions: Why should a school science aiming for SJ address NOS? What NOS-related content, skills and attitudes form the basis when aiming for SJ? How can school science address NOS for SJ? The goal of the dialogue around these three broad questions is to develop a research base for NOS teaching aimed towards SJ. In this chapter, we initiate this dialogue, which is then continued in the chapters that follow. We also provide an overview of the volume and identify some of the main arguments that the authors make as they embark upon this dialogue.
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This chapter is founded on the notion that there is a consensus view of NOS and so offers a rich discussion of a shared set of NOS elements to guide the development of NOS learning standards and classroom assessment and ultimately inform science curriculum development. We begin with some assertions about NOS learning and then offer nine key NOS elements (evidence, law theory distinction, shared methods, creativity, subjectivity, society and science interaction, science and engineering distinction, tentativeness, and the limits of science) clustered in three domains (tools and processes of science, human elements of science, and the domain of science and its limitations). A robust description of each of these key NOS aspects is provided along with common misconceptions about that element of NOS. These descriptions are introductions and/or reviews for educators but cannot substitute for the more complete understanding that would come from a deeper study of these sophisticated notions.
Article
Smartphones, coupled with small mobile sensors, make it possible to work with near infrared (NIR) spectroscopy in science classrooms. NIR spectroscopy has become a standard analytical technology in various industries. These new devices enable students to create their owndata in real time. This article presents an inquiry-based teaching unit, in which students analyse seemingly identical white crystals in order to find a hazardous chemical substance in the school lab. Using student safety sheets, they develop a risk assessment for themselves and the teacher. https://www.ase.org.uk/resources/school-science-review/issue-376/has-time-come-use-near-infrared-spectroscopy-in-your
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The nature of science (NOS) is an often neglected part of science teaching, yet it provides a vital background for students, detailing how science and scientists work and how scientific knowledge is created, validated, and influenced. Here, I review the concept of NOS and some of the challenges to its inclusion in science classes. In addition, I outline proposals, including those in the Next Generation Science Standards, for those aspects of NOS that should be featured in science classes. Finally, I discuss distinctions in NOS specific to the science of biology and conclude with some thoughts on how NOS can be incorporated into science instruction.
Book
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Back Cover Publisher's Description: Prompted by the ongoing debate among science educators over 'nature of science' , and its importance in school and university curricula, this book is a clarion call for a broad re-conceptualizing of nature of science in science education. The authors draw on the 'family resemblance' approach popularized by Wittgenstein, defining science as a cognitive-epistemic and social-institutional system whose heterogeneous characteristics and influences should be more thoroughly reflected in science education. They seek wherever possible to clarify their developing thesis with visual tools that illustrate how their ideas can be practically applied in science education. The volume's holistic representation of science, which includes the aims and values, knowledge, practices, techniques, and methodological rules (as well as science's social and institutional contexts), mirrors its core aim—to synthesize perspectives from the fields of philosophy of science and science education. The authors believe that this more integrated conception of nature of science in science education is both innovative and beneficial. They discuss in detail the implications for curriculum content, pedagogy, and learning outcomes, deploy numerous real-life examples, and detail the links between their ideas and curriculum policy more generally. http://www.springer.com/education+%26+language/science+education/book/978-94-017-9056-7
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Almost 20 years ago, Richard Duschl (1985) wrote an important essay reminding science teachers that the descriptions of “how science functions” typically provided in class and intextbooks had fallen out of step with the most accurate interpretations. Many cheered this article in hopes that, at last, one of the most important missing elements of science instruction would finally be addressed as accurately and completely as are the topics of plate tectonics in Earth science, mitosis in biology, pH in chemistry, and Newton’s laws of motion in physics. Unfortunately, the impact of Duschl’s plea has been mixed. There has been a welcome proliferation of nature of science (NOS) elements and recommendations. Professional organizations including the National Science Teachers Association have issued position statements both advocating and defining relevant aspects of NOS (NSTA 2000). Increasing numbers of NOS standards appear in both United States (AAAS 1990, 1993) and foreign reform and standards documents (McComas and Olson 1998). The National Science Education Standards specifically includes standards focusing on science as a human endeavor and the nature and history of science across all grade levels (NRC 1996; 141, 170–171, 200–201). These NOS recommendations are a step in the right direction. However, calls for the inclusion of NOS in science teaching have been made for almost a century (CASMT 1907) with frequent reminders during much of this time (Herron 1969; Kimball 1967; Robinson 1969; Duschl 1985; Matthews 1994; McComas, Clough, and Almazroa 1998; and Lederman 1992, 2002). The reality is that in spite of these continuous and well-reasoned recommendations, some students and teachers alike still fail to understand even the most basic elements of this important domain (Abd-El-Khalick and Lederman 2000). Studies show that a few teachers do not even value the inclusion of NOS elements in instruction (Bell, Lederman, and Abd-El-Khalick 1997).A consensus of key NOS ideas appropriate for inclusion in the K–12 science curriculum has begun to emerge from a review by science educators of the extensive literature in the history and philosophy of science. The authors in this issue of The Science Teacher suggest surprisingly parallel sets of NOS content goals for K–12 science teaching that do not oversimplify science itself or overburden the existing science curriculum. This article presents nine key ideas, which represent both a concise set of ideas about science and a list of objectives to shape instruction in any science discipline.
Article
Recent arguments in science education have proposed that school science should pay more attention to teaching the nature of science and its social practices. However, unlike the content of science, for which there is well-established consensus, there would appear to be much less unanimity within the academic community about which “ideas-about-science” are essential elements that should be included in the contemporary school science curriculum. Hence, this study sought to determine empirically the extent of any consensus using a three stage Delphi questionnaire with 23 participants drawn from the communities of leading and acknowledged international experts of science educators; scientists; historians, philosophers, and sociologists of science; experts engaged in work to improve the public understanding of science; and expert science teachers. The outcome of the research was a set of nine themes encapsulating key ideas about the nature of science for which there was consensus and which were considered to be an essential component of school science curriculum. Together with extensive comments provided by the participants, these data give some measure of the existing level of agreement in the community engaged in science education and science communication about the salient features of a vulgarized account of the nature of science. Although some of the themes are already a feature of existing school science curricula, many others are not. The findings of this research, therefore, challenge (a) whether the picture of science represented in the school science curriculum is sufficiently comprehensive, and (b) whether there balance in the curriculum between teaching about the content of science and the nature of science is appropriate. © 2003 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Res Sci Teach 40: 692–720, 2003
Article
To improve K-12 students' images of the nature of science (NOS) through science textbooks, two issues must be addressed: (a) the level of NOS that ought to be included in science textbooks and (b) the treatment of this level in those textbooks. Science educators achieved a consensus level of agreement regarding what NOS aspects should be taught for K-12 science learners; however, there is a need for more clarification regarding the actual treatment of NOS in science textbooks. The purpose of this study is to investigate the NOS inclusion in high school physics textbooks. To be specific, this study examines the included NOS aspects, the frequency of NOS inclusion, the contexts exist for NOS inclusion, and the accuracy of NOS inclusion. This study utilized 12 science education studies to develop the Master Aspects of Nature of Science [MA-NOS] which includes 12 NOS aspects that ought to be included in K-12 science curriculum. The analyzed textbooks in this study are seven textbooks identified by The American Institute of Physics as the most widely used high school physics textbooks in the United States in 2005. These textbooks were used in teaching five academic levels: (a) Regular First-Year Physics, (b) Physics for Non-Science Students, (c) Honors Physics, (d) AP-B Physics, and (e) AP-C Physics. The researcher selected exclusively physics textbooks because physics is his main interest. To facilitate the content analysis of the selected textbooks, the study developed The Collection Data Coding Guide which includes six parts describing the MA-NOS aspects and the process of identifying and collecting data. For each NOS aspect, a description and one or more selected ideal indicators were provided to facilitate data collecting and judging the accuracy of NOS inclusion. This coding guide was reviewed for its content validity by two science educators who specialize in NOS. However, two types of reliability were conducted to identify the consistency of selecting NOS units, classifying contexts existing for NOS inclusion, identifying NOS elements, and judging NOS inclusion accuracy. The agreements over time "rate-rerate reliability" were 100%, 96.97%, 79.36%, and 100% respectively. However, the agreements among analysts "inter-rate reliability" were 100%, 92.3%, 66.7%, and 96.2% respectively. This study permitted eliminating, adding, or modifying NOS indicators through textbook analysis. At the end of this study, three indicators were eliminated, one was added, and one was modified. The final version of the coding guide includes 36 indicators representing the meaning of the ML-NOS. The findings of the first research question indicate that all NOS aspects are included in the textbooks except "there is a distinction between observations and inferences." However, the textbooks vary in their inclusion of NOS aspects; each textbook includes between five to 11 different NOS aspects. The results of the second question indicate that the frequencies of NOS inclusion range between 41 to 174 instances in the textbooks. The textbooks seem to include more NOS elements related to "scientific knowledge is tentative," "there is a distinction between scientific laws and theories," "scientific knowledge is empirically based," "the absence of a universal step-wise scientific method," "cooperation and collaboration in development of scientific knowledge," and "the role of experiment in science." The findings of the third research question indicate that 84.5% of the total included NOS elements in the textbooks are included through the main texts. 15.5% of the elements are included through figures, lab activities, boxed-in sections, and glossary sections; however, no elements are included through tables or charts. The results also indicate that more utilization of types of contexts beside the main text associates with more NOS inclusion. The results of the fourth question indicate that 14 NOS elements, with 2.3% of the total elements, are inaccurately included in the textbooks. These elements are related to only two aspects which are "scientific knowledge is tentative" and "the absence of a universal step-wise scientific method." The only two textbooks that do not include any inaccurate NOS elements are Physics (Giancoli) and Physics (Cutnell & Johnson). All other textbooks include between one to four inaccurate NOS elements, with 1.4% to 9.8% of their included NOS elements. Several strengths and limitations of the study are introduced in chapter five. Then, the findings are discussed under five main conclusions. Implications related to science education preparation programs and science textbooks and recommendations for future research are introduced at the end of this chapter.