The history of science education and nature of science

The History of Science
Education and Nature of
Dr. Jeanelle Day
Origins of Inquiry-Oriented
• Use of laboratory unheard of until mid-1800’s.
Physical materials and specimens, though rarely
used, served to verify lectures/book information.
• By mid-late 1800’s, labs were extremely popular
as they were believed to be useful in “disciplining”
the mind.
• Mental “discipline” came from popular
psychological theory that
– Human mental behavior was compartmentalized (logic,
memorization, observation)
– Such mental behavior could be enhanced by exercising
these faculties
– These faculties, when developed, would function in all
life situations.
• Theory was used to justify the use of abstract,
meaningless, laborious tasks during instruction to “exercise
and strengthen” the mind!
Origins of Inquiry-Oriented
As this theory lost favor among psychologists, the emphasis in
schools shifted away from rote tasks and toward an effort to
present meaningful information, develop positive attitudes and
interests in science, and develop useful reasoning skills.
By 1898, the NEA made the following recommendation:
– “The high school work should confine itself to the elements of the
subject…full illustration of principles, and methods of thought.”
The 1910 report by the Central Association of Science and
Mathematics Teachers suggested:
– More emphasis on “reasoning out” than memorization.
– More emphasis on developing a problem-raising and problemsolving attitude among students.
– More applications of the subject matter to personal and social
– Less coverage of territory; the course should progress no faster
than students can go with understanding.
• Yet no methods of how to accomplish this were suggested!
Origins of Inquiry-Oriented
In 1916, John Dewey addressed the NEA and argued that
“science is primarily the method of intelligence at work in
observation, in inquiry and experimental testing; that,
fundamentally, what science means and stands for is simply
the best ways yet found out by which human intelligence can
do the work it should do, ways that are continuously
improved by the very process of use.”
As an instructional method, Dewey suggested a series of
events called a complete act of thought.
Sensing the problem or question.
Analyzing the problem.
Collecting evidence.
Interpreting the evidence.
Drawing and applying conclusions.
It would take another 40 years before this view of the Nature
of Science would make its way into large-scale science
curriculum movements, or not until the NSF sponsored
curriculum development projects in the late 1950’s and early
1960’s as a response to Sputnik.
In the 30 years between 1952 and 1982,
there was a shift in society towards a
dependence on technology and science.
• In 1952, production of technology was important.
• In 1982, the major concern became educating all
citizens to participate in the highly technological
world produced by the previous generation.
Today, we have a richer understanding
about the processes associated with
the growth of knowledge. Shapere
(1984) discovered three things about
the nature of science.
1. The standards used to assess the adequacy of
scientific theories and explanations can change
from one generation of scientists to another.
2. The standards used to judge theories at one time
are not better or more correct than standards used
at another time.
3. The standards used to assess scientific
explanations are closely linked to the then-current
beliefs of the scientific community.
Themes of Science
• Science as a way of thinking
– Beliefs, curiosity, imagination, reasoning, cause and
effect relationships, and self-examination and
skepticism, objectivity and open-mindedness.
• Science as a way of investigating
– Hypothesis, observation, experimentation,
mathematics (i.e. Bacon’s “Mathematics is the door
and the key to science).
• Science as a body of knowledge
– Facts (directly observable & can be demonstrated at
any time), concepts (name, definition, attributes,
values, examples), laws and principles (examples of
concepts), theories (explain underlying patterns and
forces and never become fact or law), models (no
distinctions between models, hypotheses, and
• Science and its interactions with technology
and society.
– Each influences the other.
Scientific theories are often confused with
scientific fact. It is important for teachers to
understand that:
• All scientific explanations are not equal; some
ideas are more important than others.
• A scientific explanation can rise and fall from
grace in the scientific community.
• Criteria exist for judging or evaluating scientific
• A description of the rational evolution of
scientific explanations is possible.
It is important to remember that
knowledge about science and
scientific knowledge are two different
• Knowledge about science is knowledge of both why
science believes what is does and how science has
come to think that way.
– In a curriculum that relies on this idea,
interactions among science, technology, and
society are more relevant.
On the other hand,
• Scientific knowledge claims--facts, hypotheses,
principles, theories--are learned on the basis of
their contribution to the final form models of
– How knowledge came to exist is not an issue
in this form of curriculum.
The Nature of Science
• In the NSES, NOS is divided into
three categories:
– The Scientific World View
– Scientific Inquiry
– The Scientific Enterprise
Learning in science and cognitive development in
general are conceived as processes in which old
ideas, concepts, and meanings are replaced by
new ones.
• “Cognitive development is a process involving
conceptual changes. The challenge for science
teachers is how to design instructional strategies
that will promote the evolution of students’ naive
views into the more sophisticated scientists’
views” - Carey (1985)
Conceptual change teaching model is
different from other models of teaching
science because there is the recognition
that all learning begins with and is
subsequently influenced by the prior
knowledge of the student.
• Hanson (1958) put it this way: “What we see is
determined by what we know.”
Theories tend to determine
what we observe.
There are two faces of science:
• Science as a process of justifying knowledge-what we know.
• Science as a process of discovering
knowledge--how we know.
In large part, students are bombarded with tasks
that teach what is known by science without
learning about the discovery process of science.
Teaching the “what” without teaching about the
“how” runs the risk of making science instruction
Kilborn (1980) suggests that all too
often, science instruction is taken out
of context and presented without the
critical background material necessary
for an understanding of the meanings
or transitions of science.
If teachers do not fill in the gaps
for students, they will fill them in
themselves, more often than not,
with ideas and self-constructed
theories that are incorrect and lead
to less success in science at
higher grade levels. This makes
science inaccessible to many
young students (Novak & Gowin,
It is important to remember that facts
derive meaning from theory, not vice
As science educators,
we must convince
students that change is a
normal element of the
growth of scientific
When we neglect to present science as a
process of revision and substitution of
knowledge claims, we run the risk of:
• Developing in students the perception that
scientific-knowledge growth is governed by the
addition of new ideas, facts, and theories to old
ones; and
• Portraying science as an activity in which scientists
always seem to agree or have a consensus.
It is fundamental that sound instruction
seeks ways to partition knowledge
claims and establishes the relationship
among the parts. There are six models
that can be used to attempt to explain
or characterize knowledge growth in
Goal-of-Science Hierarchy
Levels of Theories
Argument Pattern for Testing Theories
Four Criteria for Theory Evaluation
Triadic Network
Tripartite Process of Observation
Goal-of-Science Hierarchy--places theories within a general
scheme that seeks to establish explanations and
understandings of the natural world.
Levels of Theories
Ce nter Le v el
Core Explanatio n
No Competition
Solid Obser v ation Base
Sets Stand ards for In quiry
Cel l Theory
Per iodi city
of El ements
Kine ti c
Theor y of
Frontie r Le ve l
Estab lished Explanations
Few Competitor s
Good Data Base
Has a Few Unexplained
Pl ate
Tec toni cs
Evol uti on
Physi cs
Fringe Lev el
New Expla nations
Crank Idea s
Grand Speculations
M any Competito rs
Sci entific
Crea ti onism
Extinc ti on of
Dinos aurs by
Meteori te
Coll is ion
Fi fth
Forc e
Argument Pattern for Testing Theories (Giere, 1984)
*The theory is treated as a hypothesis in which a
theoretical model is making a claim about the real world.
This is a “Theoretical Hypothesis”.
*The hypothesis is then treated as both a contingent
statement (either it is true or false) and a conclusion of an
*The argument is a set of premises that lead to a
statement of a conclusion.
* An argument is analyzed by testing the truthfulness
of the premises (all must be true), or by testing the internal
consistency of the set of true premises (there can be no
Four Criteria for Theory Evaluation (Root-Bernstein,
1. Logical criteria-good theories provide
sound explanations, and sound explanations are
based on logically sound arguments;
2. Empirical criteria-valid but unexplained
data or empirical facts are referred to as anomalous
data and are important in changing the explanations
of science. When enough data exists, some
scientists question existing central theories.
3. Sociological criteria-science does not
function in isolation, and scientists do not practice
their profession without influence from the outside.
4. Historical criteria- ensures the growth of
scientific knowledge has followed a path that clearly
establishes correctability.
Triadic Network of
The ories
Metods/ Methods
in Aims
Must Harmonize
Tripartite Process of Observation
(Shapere, 1984)
• The release of information by a source
• The process of transmitting the information
• The reception of information
– A large part of what we seek to
accomplish in the science classroom is
moving students from novice “seeing as”
observers or naive “seeing that”
observers to informed “seeing that”
Now look at the handout
entitled “Essential Concepts to
be Covered in the Study of
Do the textbooks you have
used either in class or to teach
cover all of these topics?
Essential Concepts to Be
Covered in Teaching Evolution
Dating the earth
The Big Bang
Fossils of different ages
Comparative anatomy
Embryonic development
Comparative genetics
Comparative physiology
Geographic distribution
Classification of species
Experimental manipulation of
populations under controlled conditions

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