The Nature of Science – Are we understanding it

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The Nature of Science:
A science standard we are to be teaching!

Ten years ago (boy time flies) I wrote an article for THST on the “Nature of Science” (NOS). Since then our state and national standards have begun to add standards that require us to teach NOS to our students. I am also involved in teacher preparation at my institution and part of their preparation is the understanding of and the ability to engage students in the NOS. Yet I still wonder how well we as science educators truly know about the nature of science.
If we do not know, or better yet, if we do not understand what the NOS is, how can we engage our students into it? So many of us went through teacher preparation and never did any kind of authentic research. Our exposure to the NOS was only through the many two-hour cookbook laboratories we had in high school and college. Did you catch that word, authentic research? As early as 1979, the understanding of NOS was discovered to be extremely poor in our teachers. And with the current debates on issues such as the teaching of Evolution in high school has show that not only do our administrators not understand it, neither does the populace that we serve. We hear the sayings, “teach the controversy!” I will respond, what controversy? Where in the scinece literature is the controversy? We hear retoric on TV, but not in the science community. So are we teaching science? Or retoric? Do we address what is wrong in the science of what we hear, or only of what we hear? For example, just this past August the report of 15 children in Texas coming down with measles because a minister of faith proposed that autism was caused by the measles immunization shot. Does it? What does the science say? Yet those under him listened, followed his teachings (even though he was not knowledgeable of science) and this resulted in an very harmful outbreak of a illness that is quite preventable.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science has defined NOS as:
“Over the course of human history, people have developed many interconnected and validated ideas about the physical, biological, psychological, and social worlds. It is the union of science, mathematics, and technology. Those ideas have enabled successive generations to achieve an increasingly comprehensive and reliable understanding of the human species and its environment. The means used to develop these ideas are particular ways of observing, thinking, experimenting, and validating. These ways represent a fundamental aspect of the nature of science and reflect how science tends to differ from other modes of knowing.” (Rutherford and Ahlgren, 1990)

It is such a blend of areas, we really need to address these topics more. We need to see how important understanding this will help us know when to trust in what science is offering and how much trust that should be.
Let’s answer so questions to see how well we are doing? Can you consistently integrates activities and lessons to convey the nature of basic and applied sciences, including multiple ways to create scientific knowledge, the tentativeness of knowledge, and creativity based on empirical evidence? Can you designs effective lessons distinguishing science and non-science and referring to the continuum of criteria for evidence; provides case studies that allow students to analyze knowledge and actions against the tenets of science? Do you designs lessons showing how research questions and design, and data interpretation, are guided by contemporary conventions of science and concepts of the nature of knowledge? Are you students systematically involved in inquiries pertaining to the nature of science including historical and philosophical changes that have shaped subsequent knowledge and the social interpretation of knowledge and events? If the answer to these questions is I don’t know or I am unsure at my level, then let me encourge you to come to the HASTI conference in February and learn about these topics.
These questions are not just geared to college faculty! Nor to High School Faculty! These standards are K-20+. Yes, from Elementary to Graduate Schools. If our country is going to be able to function in this century, then the students we are preparing now will have to be able to adapt, descern, and suggest solutions to problems we have no idea about.

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