Teaching the Nature of Science

26 Sep 2013

“Science is more than a body of knowledge,” Carl Sagan said. “It’s a way of thinking; a way of skeptically interrogating the universe.” And teaching science means teaching more than groups of facts – it means teaching the natures of science (NOS).
A 2010 study of three elementary students found that, “Although each had robust knowledge of instructional strategies for teaching NOS, teachers lacked the requisite knowledge of assessment that would provide a feedback loop to support continued development of their knowledge of learners and lead to improvement in their teaching of NOS” (Hanuscin and Lee 2010).
A sample size of three is not enough to make broad statements about elementary teachers across the US, but the study does point out that teachers could benefit from “professional development that focuses on developing aspects of [pedagogical content knowledge] for NOS such as teachers’ knowledge of assessment as well as educative curriculum materials…” (Hanuscin and Lee 2010).
This curriculum might include “knowledge of a wide range of related examples, activities, illustrations, demonstrations, and historical episodes. … Moreover, knowledge of alternative ways of representing aspects of NOS would enable the teacher to adapt those aspects to the diverse interests and abilities of learners…” (Abd-El-Khalick and Lederman 2000). Teachers should be able to help students contextualize their learning about NOS with examples or “stories” from science (Abd-El-Khalick and Lederman 2000).
For example, teachers might combine their content knowledge about the nature of science with their pedagogical knowledge to create posters with “kid-friendly” NOS aspects to display in the classroom – “empirical” becomes “scientists collect data and use evidence to explain their ideas” (Hanuscin and Lee 2010). The study also found that explicit instruction of NOS aspects worked better than implicit instruction.
Teachers in a number of studies (Appleton 2006, Hanuscin and Lee 2010) requested “pre-packaged activities that work” for teaching NOS to students; Hanuscin and Lee note “these may play an important role in the development of elementary teachers’ [pedagogical content knowledge] for teaching science” and that “teachers need assistance to integrate NOS into their own science teaching.” Hanuscin and Lee caution against a “cookbook” approach; instead, teachers need some scaffolding of their own to help integrate NOS activities and instruction into their teaching.
Check out the paper here (access to more than the abstract is by subscription).
What activities do you use to teach the nature of science?

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