The nature of science

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The nature of science. How Science is represented in National curriculum and how it is taught in school?

Robin Millar's paper on' Towards a science curriculum for public understanding' (1996) endorsed the importance of the school curriculum addressing this area so as to meet aspirations for students becoming scientifically literate. It is not just a question of them knowing about science, but knowing science itself-this is what we mean by the 'Nature of Science'. Millar's paper and the subsequent 'Beyond 2000' report (Millar and Osborne 1998) laid the foundations for the latest version of science in the National Curriculum and it now incorporates some elements of the nature of science.

The understanding of science that might be useful to people in the course of their everyday lives and the kind of understanding that they might need to progress to more advanced courses in science, perhaps eventually leading to a scientific job, this we call 'pre-professional training of scientists' or one that requires science as a basis, we call this as 'developing scientific literacy'. The courses which lead to develop 'scientific literacy' would be an education in and about science. They would have to develop some understanding of some of the major explanatory ideas of science such as the working of digestive system or the atomic model of the chemical reaction, as it is not possible to imagine the scientific literacy without this. But they would also have to develop an understanding of science itself -but as a process and as a product (Millar and Osborne 1998).

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The series of seminars that led to the report "Beyond 2000: Science education for the future" (Millar and Osborne, 1998) highlighted this central tension within the science curriculum, and explored ways of resolving it. The report argued that the primary goal of science education should be to provide an education in science and about science, which could enhance the 'scientific literacy' of all students.

School science is seen as providing a pre-professional training and acts essentially as a sieve for selecting those who will enter academic science and the professions that have a scientific base, or follow courses of scientific vocational training. Consequently, the principal focus of any GCSE course should be on developing 'scientific literacy' rather than on training future scientists. This does not mean that the school science neglect the process of preparing student for careers in science. The science curriculum should provide access to more advanced courses, in both pure and applied science, for those who wish to take them. (Millar and Osborne 1998).

This is why the programme of study for Key Stage 4 has two versions, one for 'double science' taking up to 20% of curriculum time and one for 'single science', taking up to 10% curriculum time. The NC does not preclude schools offering what has become known as 'triple science' (i.e. biology, chemistry and physics taught as separate subjects) in the 14-16 age range. The minimum requirement is that pupils are taught single science. A significant feature of the national curriculum was that science had to be taught in primary schools. There had been a steady increase in the number of primary schools teaching science prior to the introduction of the national curriculum, but from 1989 it became compulsory. Pupils now entering secondary school in Year 7 have already six years of science teaching. This has profound implications for the secondary curriculum.

In England, the new National curriculum programme of study of key stage 4 (ages 14-16) from 2006 recognises the breadth of aims of the science curriculum, perhaps for the first time. It has been designed to provide the flexibility needed to address the multiple purpose of the science curriculum and the diversity of student needs and interests.

Martin Hollins (2006) explained an insight about national curriculum, the original focus on key stage 3 was because it was acknowledged as 'forgotten key stage'. It is an interim time between crucial end of key stage 2 and most important key stage 4. The pupils fall back in their attainment during early parts of key stage 3. This results a new key stage 3 programme of study for science was introduced in 2007 which support the key stage 4 programme which released in 2004. A core has been identified which includes the kind of science that all future citizens will find useful, whether as scientist, technician, house holder, accountant or lawyer. In the new National curriculum for 14-16 years old in England this is called 'How Science works' and emphasises the process of science rather than the content. The other requirement of the programme is called the 'Breadth of study' and is a selection of key ideas from across the sciences: Biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, earth and environmental sciences .The selection builds on the work in key stage 3 and is seen to be of current relevance to pupils personal wellbeing, their everyday life and the technological world they inhabit To meet the needs of those who intend to progress in their science studies beyond 16, there is a range of additional courses.

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McComas et al (1998) explained why students should learn about nature of science, rawing on eight standards documents from around the world:

  1. Scientific knowledge, while durable, has a tentative character.
  2. Scientific Knowledge relies heavily but not entirely on observation, experimental evidence, rational arguments and scepticisms.
  3. There is no one way to do science therefore there is no universal step-by-step scientific method. I.e. science is dynamic ever changing.
  4. Science is an attempt to explain natural phenomena.
  5. Laws and theories serve different roles in science, therefore students should note that theories do not become laws even with additional evidence.
  6. People from all cultures contribute to science.
  7. New knowledge must be reported clearly and openly.
  8. Scientists require accurate record keeping, peer review and replicability.
  9. Observations are theory laden.
  10. Scientists are creative.
  11. The history of science reveals both an evolutionary and revolutionary character. In my opinion this seems to be in line with Thomas Kuhn's model of revolutionary paradigm shifts.
  12. Science is part of Social and cultural traditions this seems to be against Karl poppers afore mentioned beliefs.
  13. Science and technology impact each other.
  14. Scientific ideas are affected by their social and historical milieu.

Gott, Dugan and Johnson (1999) insist the poor correlation between the culture of practising scientists and that of school science especially with regard to different emphases on the procedural understanding of science. Nature of science requires much more than scientists and their discoveries, and teachers have to rely on a greater range of subject knowledge and pedagogical skills for which they have not been trained (Watts and McGrath 1998; Nott and Wellington 1999) Hodson (1991) strongly agreed the Dewey's (1916) argument that understanding scientific method is more important than the acquisition of scientific knowledge.

Lederman (1992) reported that the central association of science and maths teachers in 1907 strongly emphasized the scientific method and processes of science in science teaching.

It was nnot until the second half of this century that the construct we now call the nature of science was stated explicitly as a major aim of science teaching by the National Society for the Study of Education (1960)

Duschl 91994) recently argued that students are learning facts, hypothesis and theories of science -that "what" of science - but they are not learning where this knowledge originated - the "how" of science.

Incorporating the nature of science in school science has been widely embraced by organisations such as Association for Science Education (1981) in Britain.

Moms Shamos (1995) argues in The Myth of Scientific Literacy that while knowledge of science content may not be necessary for obtaining science literacy, understanding the nature of science is prerequisite to such literacy.

In the 1999 version of the science curriculum (science 2000) (DfEE 1999c), important changes have been made broadening the role of scientific investigations and introducing aspects of the nature of science and the ways in which the scientists work.

The science teachers found that the choice of activities in their teaching of the National Curriculum, by far the most frequently reported activity was 'practical work in groups' closely followed by 'scientific investigations for assessment' (Donnelly and Jenkins 1999).

On the other hand Nuffield foundation organised a series of seminars to which science educators from schools, universities, LEA's and the outcome of these seminars were expressed through ten specific recommendations. The key recommendation identifies the fundamental weakness of the current science curriculum as the lack of clear aims. Macaskill and Ogborn (1996) stress the importance of teaching about capability of knowing about the importance of technology in our lives and the connection between science and technology. Millar 91996) have drawn attention to the need for developing scientific literacy in the population.

The view of Nottt and Wellington (1996) that science teachers are a part of the community of professional scientists, gives teachers an important role in these debates and they are also the ones who required teaching nature of science as initiators of pupils into some aspects of the scientific culture. Secondly there is a political dimension as governments, urged by academics seek to steer and control school curriculum in order to promote a better public understanding of science, raise scientific literacy, and thereby improve the understanding of science in relation to democratic citizenship (AAAS1993)

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Ratcliffe (1998) recommended the following approaches to ensure good practice in science lessons clarify the purpose of the discussion; make the science base overt; emphasise the nature of the evidence; use a framework for analysing discussion; value pupil's opinion; group pupils carefully; review the activity.

Another approach to Nature of science is through open ended investigations in science which involve problem solving.

The first version of the National curriculum had 17 attainment targets. Sc17 was significant, the reason was Sc17 was entitled 'The Nature of Science' and was intended to provide young people in schools with further insights into the world of science not only in the present but by looking at the development of scientific ideas in the past and how they influence our thinking today. With the rationalization of the National Curriculum in 1992 and a further reduction of the number of attainment targets from 17 to 4, the latest GCSE courses as what is now called 'How Science Works'.

Nandy Brickhouse (1990) suggested that science teachers who are consistent in their beliefs about the nature of science are consistent in their approaches to classroom instructions and that, in effect, their belief systems are important factors in determining how they teach. Most other research (Lederman 1992) has broadly similar findings.

Gott and Duggan (2003) mentioned that 'How Science Works' includes practical and inquiry skills for planning and carrying out investigations, a consideration of data, evidence and theories and how scientific knowledge is developed and validated, also it focused towards the use of evidence and making judgements.

The few individuals even have an elementary understanding how the scientific enterprise operates. This lack of understanding is potentially harmful, particularly in societies where citizens have a voice in science funding decisions, evaluating policy matters and weighing scientific evidence provided in legal proceedings. (Mc Comas, Clough, Almazroa 1998)

The Nature of Science enhances the learning of science content, to enhance understanding of science, interest in science and also the nature of science knowledge to enhance decision making and also it enhances instructional delivery.

Driver et al., (1996) have suggested five additional arguments supporting the inclusion of the nature of science as a goal of science instruction. The argument includes the utilitarian view that "an understanding of the nature of science is necessary if people are to make sense of the science and manage the technological objects and processes they encounter. The second one is related to the democratic view that people must understand the nature of science" to make sense of socio-scientific issues and participate in the decision-making process". The third is cultural argument is that such understanding is necessary "in order to appreciate science as a major element of contemporary culture". The fourth rationale is moral to understand the norms of the scientific community, embodying moral commitments which are of general value" and the final rationale including the nature of science in science instruction is that it "support successful learning of science content".

Brickhouse, (1989) conducted extensive interviews and observations of three science teachers to consider the influence of teachers beliefs about the nature of science on their classroom practice and she concluded that teachers nature of science conceptions do influence their decisions about what they teach.

The overview of research that science teacher's knowledge and understanding of the nature of science do influence the teacher's classroom behaviour.

Mc Comas, Clough, Almazroa (1998) explained the term "nature of science". It is a fertile hybrid arena which blends aspects of various social studies of science including the history, sociology and philosophy of science combined with research from the cognitive sciences such as psychology into a rich description of what science is, how it workds, how scientific endeavours. The nature of science is not particularly concerned with the natural world in the way science itself is, at least not directly.

Shulman (1986) suggests that teacher's knowledge can be divided into three broad categories- pedagogical, curricular and subject matter and defines subject matter knowledge as a discipline's facts, principals and structure.

Hollon, Roth and Anderson (1991) added that science teachers must develop knowledge that enables them to make two types of decisions -curricular decisions and instructional decisions

Why we need to learn science?

Everyone ought to understand this at an appropriate level - for utilitarian reasons (i.e. it is practically useful).

Everyone ought to understand this at an appropriate level -for democratic resaons (i.e it is necessary knowledge for participation in decision-making).

Everyone ought to understand this at an appropriate level -for cultural reasons (i.e. it is a necessary component of an appreciation of science as a human enterprise).

It is not necessary that everyone know this. It need not be included in a science curriculum the aim of which is public understanding of science.

Source: Robin Millar 1993. Dr Jonathan Osborne, King's College, London, and Professor Robin Millar,University of York, will be presenting the 'Beyond 2000' report at the ASE

The report recommends

  • The science curriculum needs to contain a statement of its aims - making clear why we consider the study of science valuable for all young people and what we would wish them to gain from the experience.
  • The science curriculum from 5 to 16 should be seen primarily as a course to enhance general "scientific literacy".
  • At key stage 4 (age 14-16), the science curriculum needs to differentiate more explicitly between those elements designed to enhance "scientific literacy" and those designed as the early stages of a specialist training in science.
  • Up to the end of key stage 3 (age 11-14), a common curriculum is appropriate. At key stage 4, we recognise the need for greater diversity. We recommend that 10 per cent of the total curriculum time be taken up by a statutory course for all pupils, designed to enhance "scientific literacy". Alongside this core provision, we would then envisage a wide choice of science options, including modules of a more academic and of a more vocational kind. These could be taken by pupils in a variety of combinations.
  • The curriculum should be presented clearly and simply, and its content needs to be seen to follow from the statement of aims. Scientific knowledge can best be presented in the curriculum as a number of key "explanatory stories", so the core understanding to be developed is not of a set of singular "facts" but rather a set of inter-related ideas.
  • The curriculum should provide young people with an understanding of some key ideas about science - about how reliable knowledge of the natural world has been, and is being, obtained.
  • The science curriculum should encourage the use of a wide variety of teaching methods and approaches. There should be variation in the pace at which new ideas are introduced. Case studies of historical and current issues, involving practical work and other resources, should be used to consolidate understanding.
  • Work should be undertaken to explore how aspects of technology and the applications of science currently omitted could be incorporated. The existing curriculum focuses overwhelmingly on pure science. Consequently, any treatment of "how things work" has become marginalised. Yet this aspect, rather than abstract formal knowledge, is a central interest of many children.
  • The assessment approaches used to report on performance should encourage teachers to focus on pupils' ability to understand and interpret scientific information, and to discuss controversial issues, as well as on their knowledge and understanding of scientific ideas.
  • In the short term, the aims of the existing science national curriculum should be clearly stated with an indication of how the proposed content is seen as appropriate for achieving them. Aspects which deal with the nature of science and with systematic inquiry in science should be incorporated into the first attainment target, "experimental and investigative science"; new forms of assessment need to be developed to reflect such an emphasis.
  • In the medium to long term, a formal procedure of trialling innovative approaches in science education should be established. The outcomes would be used to inform subsequent changes at national level. No significant changes should be made to the national curriculum or its assessment unless they have been previously piloted in this way.

References:

  • Frost, Jenny, Turner, Tony (2005) Learning to Teach Science in the Secondary School: A Companion to School Experience London, New York Taylor & Francis Routledge.
  • Bishop, Keith (Author) Denley, Paul (2008) Learning Science Teaching, open University Press
  • http://nationalstrategies.standards.dcsf.gov.uk/node/16048 (23/02/2010)
  • McComas, William F (1998) Nature of Science in Science Education: Rationales and Strategies, Kulwer Academic publishers
  • Wellington, Jerry (1999) Teaching and learning secondary Science contemporary issues and practical approaches Routledge Falmer Publishers