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The History of Science and Science Teaching

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EDSC5411 The History of Science and Science Teaching

The Nature of Science

Danielle L. Reid

ID# 602116556

University of the West Indies Mona Campus

Faculty of Humanities and Education

School of Education


For the better part of this century, the nature of science has long time been promoted an important content of science education (Lederman, 1992). Research suggests that neither science teachers nor students have adequately grasped the conceptions of nature of science (Lederman, 1992). Perceptions of the nature of science are continually altered by advances in the many scientific fields (Abd-El-Khalick & Lederman, 2000). The change from a classical methodology in physics to a quantum interpretation of the field is a prime example (Abd-El-Khalick & Lederman, 2000). Moreover, notions of the nature of science also change with advancements in the understanding of history, philosophy, and sociology of science (Abd-El-Khalick & Lederman, 2000). These developments, in turn, give rise to changes in the ways in which science educators and policy makers define the nature of science (Abd-El-Khalick & Lederman, 2000). This paper, therefore, explores some of the underlying principles of the nature of science and concludes by identifying some of the benefits of teaching the nature of science as a part of the science curriculum.

EDSC5411 The History of Science and Science Teaching

The Nature of Science

The foundation of any nation’s education policy is the grooming of its people to lead rewarding and sensible lives (Rutherford & Ahlgren, 1991a). Rutherford and Ahlgren (1991a), in their work at the behest of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences (AAAS) further state:

[Science] education…should help students to develop the understandings and habits of mind they need, to become compassionate human beings able to think for themselves and to face life head on. It should equip them also to participate thoughtfully with fellow citizens in building and protecting a society that is open, decent, and vital. (para. 2)

Apart from the economic benefit of teaching science, that is, the increase in national prosperity, and the facilitation of learning scientific content, Driver, Leach, Millar, & Scott (1996) argue that there are other benefits to teaching science. These benefits include the ability to: sensibly use science and technology in everyday life; take knowledgeable stances on socioscientific issues; develop an understanding of the ethics and norms that govern the scientific community; as well as, recognize science as a factor that affects culture (Driver et al., 1996).

The teaching of science poses a bit of a conundrum. This dilemma occurs as, too often, science is taught as “a body of knowledge” without taking the nature of science into consideration (Bell, 2009, para. 1).

What is the Nature of Science?

Recently, the nature of science has enjoyed renewed attention in science education circles as a primary component of scientific literacy (Bell & Lederman, 2003). The nature of science is a paradigm which usually describes science in an epistemological sense, “as a way of knowing, or the values and beliefs inherent to the development of scientific knowledge” (Abd-El-Khalick & Lederman, 2000, pp. 665-666). This, however, is where any agreement with regards to its definition ends, as the nature of science is such a complex idea that it cannot be simply defined (Bell, 2009).

Aspects of the Nature of Science

Despite the lack of a concrete definition for the nature of science, there are themes held common by many researchers within the scientific community. This paper seeks to explain a few of these themes.

Fluid in nature. Science is exploratory, yet it is also durable, reliable and robust (Bell, 2009; Rutherford & Ahlgren, 1991b). Scientific knowledge can be upgraded once new, validated information is available (Bell, 2009). Contemporary ideas in science tend to revise, rather than outright rebuff previously established viewpoints (Rutherford & Ahlgren, 1991b). Science postulates that the world knowledge is understandable, even though it does not posit to provide the answers to all questions (Rutherford & Ahlgren, 1991b). Numerous concepts in science have been the subject of debates “and have remained largely unchanged for hundreds of years” (Bell, 2009, pp. 3-4). As such, it is realistic to be confident in scientific knowledge, even while realizing the tentative nature of that knowledge which may change over time (Bell, 2009).

Demands evidence. The acceptance as truth of any assertions made in science is decided upon by examining the available evidence (Rutherford & Ahlgren, 1991b). Scientific knowledge is based, primarily upon “empirical evidence” (Bell, 2009, p. 4). This evidence is both quantitative and qualitative in manner (Bell, 2009). Some constructs in science are based mainly on rationality and analysis (Bell, 2009). In the end, however, all scientific endeavours must correspond to data that has been observed before its validity can be decided upon (Bell, 2009). Rutherford and Ahlgren (1991b) close this theme as they state that “this reliance on evidence,” (para. 13) lays extensive significance on the improvement of “instruments and techniques of observation,” (para. 13). Furthermore, the results attained by any scientist or collaboration of scientists are usually verified by members of the scientific fraternity (Rutherford & Ahlgren, 1991b).

Science observes and infers so as to try to explain and predict. Science is more than simply the gathering of scientific knowledge that becomes a “body of knowledge” (Bell, 2009; Chalmers, 2013, p.14). Scientific knowledge results from observing and inferring data that has been obtained through experimentation (Bell, 2009). Scientists use their senses to observe the world around them and collect data (Bell, 2009). Scientists then infer or develop explanations to the observations they make (Bell, 2009). However, it is not enough for scientific knowledge to be applicable only to known observations (Rutherford & Ahlgren, 1991b). Scientific conjectures should also be able to expect further observations than those that were used in articulating the conceptions in the first place (Rutherford & Ahlgren, 1991b).

Science strives to be creative and objective while avoiding biases. According to Bell (2009), “creativity is a source of innovation and inspiration in science.” (p. 4). Although evidence must support scientific claims, scientists must be creative when formulating scientific ideas (Rutherford & Ahlgren, 1991b). Scientists strive to be as decontextual as possible in their inquiry of scientific knowledge (Nott & Welington, 1993). The nature of science requires procurers of its knowledge to be objective; however, personal and cultural biases are unavoidable (Bell, 2009).


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