What should we teach about science? A Delphi study

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1 Evidence-based Practice in Science Education (EPSE) Research Network What should we teach about science? A Delphi study Jonathan Osborne, Mary Ratcliffe, Sue Collins, Robin Millar and Rick Duschl

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3 Contents Executive Summary 1 Introduction 4 Teaching the Nature of Science: 7 Difficulties and Dilemmas Methodologies and Findings 19 Conclusions and Implications 75

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5 Executive Summary Rationale In the past century, school science has been dominated by the educational requirements of our future scientists. That is, it has become and remained fundamentally an education in science for those who wish to pursue scientific and technically related careers. However, during the past two decades, the growing concern about the relationship between science and society has led to a concern to improve the quality of formal education about science in short, to ask what kind of school science education is required for citizenship in a participatory democracy? For the separation of scientific knowledge from the political, cultural and historical context of its production endows it with status as exact, true and absolute leaving the public without the skills to understand science in a variety of public contexts where scientific knowledge is often contingent and tentative. And, given that scientific and technological issues are increasingly dominating the political agendas confronting society, the meagre public education about science undermines societies commitment to democratic pluralism. For the lack of any understanding of how scientific knowledge is produced, how it is evaluated or the motives for its production leaves its citizens too dependent on the knowledge of experts for critical decision making. Yet, part of the difficulty of determining what should be taught about science is the failure to agree an acceptable account of science within the scientific community, or amongst philosophers and sociologists, let alone between the various communities. Hence, the lack of any consensus makes the task of defining that aspect of the formal science curriculum which might portray ideas about science problematic for policy makers the more so as there is, in contrast, a well-established consensus about the content aspect of science curricula. This study sought, therefore, to make a contribution towards clarifying this debate and dilemma by seeking to establish empirically the extent of consensus within the relevant communities about a simplified or vulgarised account of science. That is it sought to determine the characteristics of scientific enquiry and those aspects of the nature of scientific knowledge that should form an essential component of the school science curriculum. Methods The study reported here sought to explore this issue by undertaking a Delphi study with a group consisting of 23 individuals drawn from 5 groups scientists, philosophers, sociologists of science, science educators, and science teachers. Members of the first four groups were recruited on the basis that they held an international reputation in the field, or were Fellows of the Royal Society. Science teachers were selected on the basis that they had either received awards for the quality of their teaching, or had published notable textbooks in the field. As is standard in all such Delphi studies, none of the participants were aware of who the other participants were. 1

6 Executive Summary The study consisted of three rounds. In the first, the participants were asked to answer three open-ended questions about science education up to the age of 16. These were: 1. What, if anything, do you think should be taught about the methods of science? 2. What, if anything, do you think should be taught about the nature of scientific knowledge? 3. What, if anything, do you think should be taught about the institutions and social practices of science? The data from this first round was systematically coded and 30 broad themes emerged in three major categories: - The Methods of Science, The Nature of Scientific Knowledge, and The Institutions and Social Practices of Science. In the second round, a summary descriptor was generated for each theme and returned to the participants together with a selection of supporting comments. Participants were asked to rank the importance of the theme and justify their ranking with written comments. This process led to a reduction in the number of themes to 18 which were again returned to participants for ranking and comment in the third and final round. From this final round emerged 9 themes which were ranked 4 or above (on a 5 point scale) by at least two thirds of the participants, and whose average rating changed by less than 33% between round 2 and round 3. Conclusions and Findings Two major findings emerge from this study: 1. There exists support and broad agreement for nine themes dealing with aspects of the nature of science that school students should encounter by the end of compulsory schooling. The evidence supporting this conclusion is the high degree of consensus concerning these themes and the high stability in the positive ratings of their importance, both within and between groups. 2. Many of the aspects of the nature of science represented by the themes have features that are interrelated and cannot be taught independently of each other. This second conclusion emerges from the copious comments made by many of the participants about the emerging themes. These participants recognised both that the account of science represented by the 9 themes may be limited, and that is difficult to specify such aspects of science clearly and unambiguously. Indeed, from an analysis of the comments of the participants, it is clear that many felt that some of the ideas presented in the theme summaries were intertwined and not resolvable into separate propositions. This finding suggests, therefore, that, whilst the research process has required the separation and resolution of these components in order to weight their significance and import, it should not be taken to imply a consensus that they should be represented and communicated in that manner. 2

7 Executive Summary In addition, four of the themes failed to meet our criteria for inclusion by only a few percentage points. As any criteria for consensus are to some extent arbitrary, we see the data presented in this report not as indicating that some ideas are essential to the curriculum and others are not, but as indicating a gradation of consensus about the significance of various components to an account of science rather than any singular definitive account. Implications To our knowledge, no other similar empirical study has been undertaken. The evidence of the level of consensus we have found within the wider science and science education community about the account of science that should be communicated through formal science education removes one of the major impediments to teaching about science. As several of the components of this account are either absent from existing curricula, or given minimal treatment, the findings lend support to the argument that school science needs to devote more time to teaching about science and less time to details of the content of the scientific canon. This research, therefore, provides a significant body of empirical evidence to buttress the case for placing the nature of science and its processes of enquiry at the core rather than the margins of science education. 3

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9 Introduction This report presents the findings of an empirical study conducted, using a Delphi technique, to answer the question What should be taught to school students about the nature of science? The study was one of four projects of a funded research network involving the University of York, the University of Leeds, the University of Southampton and King s College London. The principal aim was to develop and improve evidence-based practice in science education (EPSE) 1. This work was funded by the UK Economic and Social Science Research Council as part of the Teaching and Learning Research Programme. As such, the study sought to provide empirical evidence of what the expert community engaged with communicating and teaching science thought was important for the average citizen to understand about science (as opposed to a knowledge of its content) by the end of their formal education. The need for such a study was perceived to lie in the growing arguments for science education to provide a more effective preparation for citizenship (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1993; National Academy of Science, 1995; American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1998; Millar & Osborne, 1998). For, whilst there has been almost global acceptance that formal science education is an essential component of every young person s education, there has been little attempt to develop a curriculum that is commensurate with such systemic reforms. Rather, too often, science courses have been adapted from curricula whose roots lie in programmes that were essentially conceived as foundational studies for those who were to become the next generation of scientists. However, the core status of science can be justified only if it offers something of universal value to all, and not solely to the minority who will become the next generation of scientists (AAAS, 1998, Millar and Osborne, 1998; Fensham, 2000). Traditionally, school science has often given scant and largely tacit treatment to the nature, practices and processes of science with the consequence that most pupils leave school with naïve or limited conceptions of science (Driver, Leach, Millar, & Scott, 1996). Yet, it is knowledge about science which many have argued is essential for the education of the future citizen (Fuller, 1997; Irwin, 1995; Jenkins, 1997; Millar, 1996). This aspiration is problematic, however, as contemporary academic scholarship would suggest that the nature of science is a contested domain with little consensus or agreement about a view of science that might be communicated in school science (Alters, 1997; Laudan, 1990; Taylor, 1996). This study sought, therefore, to test whether it was possible to find any consensus amongst the community engaged with science communication about those aspects of the nature of science that might be communicated successfully to school students. The report is in three parts: The first section considers and reviews the many issues in the burgeoning body of academic literature that surrounds the nature of science and its teaching in school science; the second, and major part, presents the methodology of this study and its findings; the third discusses the conclusions that can be drawn from this work and their implications for the teaching of science.. 1 Further details of the other work of this project can be found on the web site 5

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11 Teaching the Nature of Science Part 1: Teaching the Nature of Science: Difficulties and dilemmas 1.1 Why teach the nature of science? Science education attempts to wrestle with three conflicting requirements what Collins (2000) terms the horns of a trilemma. On the one hand (Collins first horn) science education wants to demonstrate the tremendous liberatory power that science offers a combination of the excitement and thrill that comes from the ability to discover and create new knowledge, the liberation from the shackles of received wisdom, and the tremendous insights and understanding of the material world that it offers. This emphasis is apparent in the arguments of the advocates of the Nuffield courses of the 1960s where school science was to offer pupils the opportunity to be a scientist for a day. More recently, it is can be seen in the aspirations of the American educational reforms where it is explicitly stated that students at all grade levels should have the opportunity to use scientific inquiry and develop the ability to think and act in the ways associated with [scientific] inquiry (National Academy of Science, 1995). Yet its mechanism for achieving such an aim is to offer a dogmatic, authoritarian and extended science education where students must accept much of what they are told as unequivocal, uncontested and unquestioned (Claxton, 1991) Collins second horn. And it is only when they finally begin practising as scientists that the workings of science will become more transparent. Moreover, the emphasis of science education on foundational aspects such as the definition of current, the parts of the body or the names of the planets and their order, rather than the major themes or explanatory theories, such as the origin and evolution of the Universe or the evolution of the species, means that any sense of the cultural achievement that science represents is belittled. As the report Beyond 2000 states: We have lost sight of the major ideas that science has to tell. To borrow an architectural metaphor, it is impossible to see the whole building if we focus too closely on the individual bricks. Yet, without a change of focus, it is impossible to see whether you are looking at St Paul s Cathedral or a pile of bricks, or to appreciate what it is that makes St Paul s one the world s great churches. In the same way, an over concentration on the detailed content of science may prevent students appreciating why Dalton s ideas about atoms, or Darwin s ideas about natural selection, are among the most powerful and significant pieces of knowledge we possess. (Millar & Osborne, 1998:13) The outcome is that science education may, in a non-trivial sense, be science s worst enemy, leaving far too many pupils with a confused sense of the significance of what they have learnt and, more seriously, a potentially enduring negative attitude to the subject itself (Osborne & Collins, 2000; Osborne, Driver, & Simon, 1996). Such an outcome, whilst regrettable, does little harm to the traditional education of the future scientist which demands a lot of routine and rote learning to acquire the basics of the domain. In fact, much of traditional science education can be seen as a test of an individual s ability to sustain endeavour when confronted by the weight and authority of scientific knowledge and its difficulty and complexity a quality which is an essential requirement for the professional scientist. 7

12 Teaching the Nature of Science An inevitable outcome, however, is that such an education ignores or neglects the third horn of Collins trilemma, the requirement to provide its students with some picture of the inner workings of science knowledge, that is, of science-in-themaking (Latour, 1985). Such knowledge is essential for the future citizen who must make judgements about reports about new scientific discoveries and applications of scientific knowledge. Contemporary society, it is argued (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1989; Jenkins, 1997; Jenkins, 1998; Millar, 1996; Millar & Osborne, 1998), requires a populace who have a better understanding of the workings of science that enables them to engage in a critical dialogue about the political and moral dilemmas posed by science and technology, and arrive at considered decisions. Informed use by citizens and society of new developments in science will, for instance, require the ability to judge whether an argument is sound, and to differentiate evidence from hypotheses, conclusions from observations and correlations from causes. Another imperative driving the need to teach more about science is the growing influence of science and technology on our society. For science and technology pose questions which seem to require complex and specialised knowledge that only an elite possess. Yet a core commitment of democratic Western societies is the principle that all people should be able to contribute to the making of significant decisions (Nelkin, 1975) essentially that the plurality of voices matters regardless of expertise. As the European White Paper on Education and Training (1995) argued:..this does not mean turning everyone into a scientific expert, but enabling them to fulfil an enlightened role in making choices which affect their environment and to understand in broad terms the social implications of debates between experts. There is similarly a need to make everyone capable of making considered decisions as consumers. (p28) Within science education, the response has been to argue for a curriculum that recognises the need to prepare pupils to engage critically with such issues, recognising both the strengths and the limitations of science. Millar, for instance, sees one of the major purposes of science education as equipping students to respond to socio-scientific issues and that this requires an understanding of the nature of scientific knowledge (Millar, 1997:101). In the same volume, both Millar and Jenkins (1997) suggest that pupils should be provided with some insight into the difficulty of generating reliable and consensual understanding of the natural world. Likewise, Driver et al. (1996) argue that: Some explicit reflection on the nature of scientific knowledge, the role of observation and experiment, the nature of theory, and the relationship between evidence and theory, is an essential component of this aspect of understanding of science. (Driver et al., 1996:14) Further doubt is cast on the appropriateness of the traditional emphasis on content knowledge in science education for the majority of young people by evidence that the knowledge acquired has an evanescent quality. A number of well-funded surveys have been conducted in the UK (Durant, Evans, & Thomas, 1989), Europe (Miller, Pardo, & Niwa, 1997) and the United States (Miller, 1995). These surveys used a mix of closed questions, true-false quizzes containing items such as Is it true that: lasers work by focussing sound waves?, All radioactivity is man made?, Antibiotics kill viruses as well as bacteria, and open questions. A few of the results from one such 8

13 Teaching the Nature of Science survey are shown in Table 1. Whilst such findings might be similarly true for the public understanding of great literature, they suggest that such knowledge, if it ever existed, is simply lost through lack of reinforcement or use. Furthermore, such data invite the question of what is the function of science education if so much of its product, for most people, has such an ephemeral quality? Europe 1992 United States 1995 % % Disagree that Antibiotics kill viruses as well as bacteria Indicate that the Earth goes around the Sun through a pair of closed questions Disagree that radioactive milk can be made safe by boiling it Agree that electrons are smaller than atoms Table 1: Percentage of individuals giving specific responses to questions used to determine the public knowledge of scientific concepts (Miller, 1998). Durant, Evans and Thomas (1989) work also examined the public s understanding of the process of scientific enquiry. Whilst more than 50% could identify basic methodological processes necessary for testing new drugs, and interpret the implications of probabilistic statements about inheritance, less than 50% were able to identify the theory of relativity or Darwin s theory as well-established explanations, choosing instead a proven fact as the best description. In this case at least, the lack of understanding can possibly be ascribed to a failure of traditional science education to teach the meta-language of science. Coupled with the changing nature of contemporary society, the outcome of such findings has led to a consideration of what other forms of knowledge and understanding, in addition to content knowledge, science education should seek to develop. Foremost in the literature have been arguments for a greater emphasis on the nature of science and its social practices, and evaluative criteria for judging both its practice and its products Arguments for Teaching about the Nature of Science Whilst knowledge of science entails knowledge of the scientific facts, laws, theories all of which can be seen as the products of canonical science it also entails knowledge of the processes of science and its epistemic base. Matthews (1994) points elegantly to the latter as the missing dimension of science education arguing that: To teach Boyle s Law without reflection on what law means in science, without considering what constitutes evidence for a law in science, and without attention to who Boyle was, when he lived and what he did, is to teach in a truncated way. (Matthews, 1994:p3) Likewise, Ogborn (1988) has argued that science education should consider questions of what is (the ontological question), how we know (the epistemological question), 9

14 Teaching the Nature of Science why it happens (the causal question), what we can do with it (the technological question), and the communicative question (how we should talk about science). The overemphasis on the first of these questions at the expense of the others, particularly the issue of how we know what we know, results in a science education which too often leaves students only able to justify their beliefs by reference to the teacher or textbook as an authority. Horton (1971) makes the telling point that such practice made the child of the developed Western World no different from the young child in the developing world as, in both cases, their teachers were deferred to as the accredited agents of tradition. Any science education which focuses predominantly on the intellectual products of scientific labour the facts of science offers, therefore, only a partial view of science. Moreover, it leaves students, when confronted by new scientific claims, without a functional understanding of the processes and practices necessary to evaluate the claim. And, if science and scientists, as some would wish to claim, are epistemically privileged, it is at best ironic, and at worst an act of bad faith that the science education we offer does little to justify or explain why science is considered the epitome of rationality (Osborne, 2001). Rather, the failure to teach about science runs the risk of producing students who do not even perceive science as rational (Duschl, 1990). The contemporary significance of socio-scientific issues has also led to arguments that school science is an appropriate context for the consideration of issues of an ethical nature (Newton, 1988; Reiss, 1993; Reiss, 2000). For, whilst school science education often seeks to marginalise and keep technology at a distance (Hughes, 2000), such a separation is not one that either the public or students recognise (Irwin, 1995). And, since the funding, application and use of science all involve ethical and value-based decisions, ethics are inevitably and inexorably conflated with science in most cases (Reiss, 2000). Fuller (1997:9) would go further, arguing that most of what non-scientists need to know in order to make informed public judgements about science falls under the rubric of history, philosophy, and sociology of science, rather than the technical content of scientific subjects. Whilst such views are contested by those who would argue that the fundamental character of science is reductionist, value-free and non-reflexive (Donnelly, 2000), evidence would suggest that divorcing the teaching of science from the social and technological context of its application is simply, for must pupils, an unreal and false dichotomy diminishing its relevance and appeal to pupils (Osborne & Collins, 2000). Another imperative driving the arguments for greater attention to the nature of science is the major structural reforms that have occurred in science education globally. The growing reliance of contemporary societies on science has led to a near universal acceptance of the argument that science education should be for all and compulsory (Fensham, 2000), as it is in the UK from age 5 to 16. Yet, as Millar and Osborne (2000:195) argue, the only way that the core and compulsory status of science education can be justified is if the form of science taught can seen to be, providing something of universal value that every young person needs in later life. Faced, however, with the task of centrally defining a curriculum for all, policy makers have predominantly retained the traditional approach to science education and added marginal elements about the nature of science without much sense of coherence and underlying educational purpose (Donnelly, 2001). The outcome has been curricula which are still dominated by content with only scant attention paid to teaching about 10

15 Teaching the Nature of Science science and its history, philosophy and practices. Consequently, as Monk and Osborne (1997) have argued, the history and philosophy of science will continue to remain more talked about than taught as long as the assessment of science continues to focus on the its content rather than the methods and practices of science. The marginalization or non-existence of the nature of science in science education does not mean, however, that children will emerge with no conceptions about the nature of science (Nadeau & Desautels, 1984). For the sin of omission giving insufficient thought and attention to the nature of scientific knowledge and the conditions under which it has been developed simply reinforces a scientistic ideology which Nadeau and Desautels see as a blind faith in the cognitive and moral value of science. Science teachers do not serve simply as purveyors of a store of theoretical knowledge but as a means through which scientific activity is legitimised and given value. Thus, whilst they may think that they are only teaching the content of science, they are implicitly communicating ideas about the nature of science and scientists which may be fallacious. The consequence is that too often science comes to be seen as a final-form product with immutable and definitive qualities (Duschl, 1990; Driver et al., 1996) when, in reality, scientific knowledge is often modified, adapted, or even at times, abandoned. School science, residing solely in the context of justification rather than the context of discovery, simply fails to convey that controversy or argumentation are a normal feature of science (Driver, Newton, & Osborne, 2000; Gross, 1996). Consequently pupils and the future public are perplexed by the failure of scientists to agree on issues raised by science-in-themaking such as the existence of global warming, the transmission of BSE or the effect of genetically modified organisms on the environment. Even the manner in which science is reported and communicated to other scientists, let alone the public, is a misrepresentation of its practice. For scientific writing excises the confusion, doubt, and blind alleys presenting its findings as the linear and formulaic application of a standard method which lead inexorably to its inevitable conclusions (Gross, 1996; Medawar, 1979). Many would argue that the current form of science education is sustained by a set of arcane cultural norms values that emanate from practice and become sanctified with time and that the more they recede into the background, the more taken for granted they become (Willard, 1985). Such cultural norms are distinguished from other rules, not by reference to any lack of authority, but rather by the unconscious force they exert over human actions. Milne and Taylor (1999) characterise such norms as myths narrative accounts of collective experience where the historical and contingent quality of established patterns and beliefs and practices is replaced by an unwarranted sense of naturalness and inevitability. One consequence of this is that the knowledge becomes tacit and the supporting evidence invisible (Barthes, 1972). Hence, the standard view or collective myth within science teaching, is that explicit consideration of the nature of science is not required because it is implicitly incorporated and diffused throughout all contexts. Abd-el-Khalik and Lederman (2000) make the important point that such approaches to teaching the nature of science that assume it can be acquired implicitly, through a process akin to osmosis, is naïve. For the various images of science that have been constructed by the historians, philosophers and sociologists of science are the product 11

16 Teaching the Nature of Science of considerable collective and reflective endeavour. Just as nobody would expect a student to rediscover Newton s laws by observing moving objects, neither should we expect students to come to an understanding of science s nature simply by engaging in scientific practice. The nature of science, therefore, must be explicitly taught as much at its content. Moreover, research would suggest that implicit approaches to teaching the nature of science develop notions that scientific facts or laws are derived unambiguously from empirical evidence; that scientific ideas are unequivocal and absolute; and that scientists predominantly work in isolation in laboratories discovering new knowledge (Mead & Métraux, 1957; Driver et al., 1996). And, as McComas (1998) points out, there is substantive evidence that such a science education generates, or fails to confront, the following myths about science each of which has been challenged by contemporary scholarship Hypotheses become theories that in turn become laws 2. Scientific Laws are absolute 3. A Hypothesis is an educated guess 4. A general scientific method exists which is applied universally 5. Evidence accumulated carefully will result in sure knowledge 6. Science and its methods provide absolute proof 7. Science requires the procedural application of standard routines rather than creative thought 8. Science and its methods can answer all questions 9. Scientists are particularly objective 10. Experiments are the sole routes to scientific knowledge 11. All scientific data are reviewed for accuracy 12. Acceptance of new scientific knowledge is straightforward 13. Science models correspond accurately with reality 14. Science and technology are identical 15. Science is a solitary pursuit McComas analysis leads him to conclude that it is vital that the science education community provide an accurate view of how science operates to students and by inference to their teachers. The corollary of this statement is the necessity for the scholarly community to define what an accurate view of how science operates is and, furthermore, how should it be taught? Both of which are questions central to the concerns of this research. There are, nevertheless, caveats about expecting too much of the science curriculum or science teachers. Harding and Hare (2000) argue that the arguments of McComas and others ask science teachers to wrestle both with teaching well-established consensually agreed knowledge and, in addition, showing that some scientific knowledge, especially when it is first produced, can be tentative. Science teachers commonly use the notion of truth to describe knowledge that is uncontested and widely accepted. Their intent is not an assertions about any correspondence with 2 The strongest challenge to these ideas is to be found in the work of the sociologists of science see for instance the work of: (Collins & Pinch, 1993; Fuller, 1997; Latour & Woolgar, 1986) and in the work of those engaged in the study of science from a rhetorical perspective: (Gross, 1996; Taylor, 1996). 12

17 Teaching the Nature of Science reality but merely a statement about a reliable and consistent interpretation of the material world. To ask, then, that they also suggest that scientific knowledge is tentative will undermine the world-view in which the science teacher resides. Osborne (2001), from a rhetorical perspective, goes further, arguing that teachers are engaged in a process of persuading pupils of the validity of the scientific world-view. Asking them to suggest that not all knowledge is certain and unequivocal will damage their primary rhetorical task. And, if, as Kuhn (1999) argues, most children are absolutists believing that all assertions can be checked and shown to be either false or true until adolescence, they may be psychologically ill-prepared to deal with a subject that does not offer certain knowledge. Nevertheless, the underlying fallacy of Harding and Hare s arguments is that they are based in a broad acceptance of science education as it is and not as it might be. If science education is to be solely a preparation for future scientists (a view with which we do not concur) then there may be little place for exploring the distinction between tentative and well-established knowledge, how such distinctions are drawn, how evidence is evaluated, or the meta-language that is used to describe science. Moreover, we ourselves, also feel that the formal education of scientists and their work would benefit from a more systematic exploration of the nature of the work that they are engaged in and its historical development. However, sixty years after Haywood (1927) developed a strong case for teaching the nature of science, secondary science education is still in much the same position as it was then, as evidenced by the need for Matthews (1989; 1994). Duschl s (1990) and Hodson s (1993) careful cases for the place of history and philosophy of science (HPS) in science teaching. What then are the pitfalls and obstacles that have blocked the inclusion of the nature of science in the curriculum? 1.3. Why has incorporating NOS in the school curriculum been a failed project? The history of science in school science Given the considerable attention devoted to exploring the significance and relevance of the history, philosophy and nature of science, it remains somewhat of a puzzle, therefore, that its consideration has remained such a marginal feature of most mainstream science education courses. Perhaps the simplest and most telling explanation is Kuhn s (1970) observation that the history of the subject is of no import to the education of the future scientist. For the potential scientist must acquire an understanding of the basic concepts and foundations of the discipline as it is not as it was. His or her concern is investigating the questions about nature that remain extant, not exploring how others have answered their own questions answers which are now well understood and consensual knowledge within the scientific community. Taking from the past, therefore, is only of value if it offers something which is of significance to the present. Even the epistemological question of how such knowledge was unearthed is of little value, as the concerns of today are rarely the concerns of yesteryear, and contemporary methodological tools and procedures have made earlier techniques 13

18 Teaching the Nature of Science irrelevant. For the interdependent relationship between science and technology leads to new technologies which open new windows and approaches to enquiry. Thus the chemical determination of composition by assaying and weighing is replaced by the techniques offered by infrared, Raman and mass spectrometry. Visible wavelength telescopes become just one of a plethora of different means of observing the universe, from long baseline radio interferometry to X-ray satellites. Whereas biology was a science concerned with the study of living organisms and their classification, it has, instead, become a science dominated by molecular biology and genetic determinism. Even a small field of enquiry devoted to the search for gravitational waves has moved on from the use of large aluminium bars to long base line interferometers. Given such substantive methodological changes, the history of science offers few insights, if any, into how the scientist of today should proceed. The glittering prizes that science offers will not be won by redeploying yesterday s technology but through the invention of innovative approaches to questions that emerge from a good understanding of the discipline as it is, not as it was. A different argument is advanced by Brush (1969) in a seminal article entitled Should the History of Science be rated X? Brush s thesis is that much conventional teaching about the history of science is neither good science nor good history. It is not good science, as taking from the past is only of value if it offers something which is of significance to the present which it rarely does. Moreover, it is not good history, as the myths and anecdotes that feature in science textbooks commonly reinforce a Whig interpretation of the history of science which presents the past in terms of present ideas and values, elevating in significance all incidents and work that have contributed to our current understanding, rather than attempting to understand the social context and the contingent factors which were significant to its production. For example, very crudely the Whig view would portray Fleming s discovery of penicillin as the brilliant perception of an exceptional scientist of a fortuitous event. A more realistic account would demonstrate that it was contingent on (a) problems of current interest in medical research and Fleming s existing bacteriological research interests, (b) the weather at the end of July in 1928 which happened to be sufficiently cool to allow the mould to grow, and (c) the presence of a laboratory beneath which was investigating moulds and that even then, its beneficial application was delayed for ten years before other researchers explored ways of producing the mould in commercial quantities. Practically without exception, science texts are simply not written with the intent to convey any of the latter type of information on the context of discovery which the professional historian of science would consider essential. Brush argues that the failure to teach history appropriately may inhibit the development of a critical mind by presenting the present as the inevitable, triumphant product of the past. Since science education is an attempt to cultivate scepticism towards all dogmatic and singular interpretations of events, such a simplistic approach to the teaching of its own history would run counter to one of its essential aims The context of science education Reichenbach s (1938) distinction between the context of historical discovery and the context of epistemological justification offers some insight into why HPS is often ignored in school science. In the context of discovery, ideas are tentative, if not speculative, and presented in language which is interpretative and figurative (Sutton, 1995), often using new metaphors (Eger, 1993). The central concern of most science 14

19 Teaching the Nature of Science teachers, in contrast, is the transmission of the products of the context of epistemological justification - that is a narrow focus of what we know rather than how we know. Gallagher (1991), in looking at prospective and practising secondary school science teachers knowledge and beliefs about the philosophy of science, provides a recent reminder that, for its teachers, science is perceived as an established body of knowledge and techniques which require minimal justification. Such teachers often work from weak evidence, use inductive generalisations (Harris & Taylor, 1983), and renegotiate classroom observations and events to achieve a social consensus (Atkinson & Delamont, 1977), persuading their pupils of the validity of the scientific world-view (Ogborn, Kress, Martins, & McGillicuddy, 1996). Gallagher comments that, even if science teachers consider the history of science for inclusion in the curriculum, it is generally only in terms of humanising science for the purpose of fostering positive attitudes to science, rather than for the purpose of understanding the nature of science. For many teachers of science, only the development of an understanding of science concepts and the nature and methods of science are essential to an education in science. The rest lies beyond the boundary of what we now know, which, as Haywood recognised in 1927, is the criteria that curtails science teachers incorporation of HPS into their schemes of work The nature of science teachers Another fundamental difficulty identified by a variety of authors is that many science teachers, themselves the products of such an archetypal education, are invariably left with a range of misconceptions or naïve understandings of the nature of science. Various authors have argued, with respect to content knowledge, that one of the necessary conditions of effective teaching is a good knowledge and understanding of the content to be communicated (Shulman, 1986; Osborne & Simon, 1996; Turner- Bissett, 1999). Likewise, it follows that teaching about the history, philosophy and nature of science requires a good knowledge and understanding of the body of scholarship that exists about these subjects. Consequently, during the past 15 years there have been several attempts to ascertain the extent, depth and nature of science teachers knowledge and understanding about the nature of science (Brickhouse, 1991; Hodson, 1993; King, 1991; Kouladis & Ogborn, 1989; Lederman & Zielder, 1987; Mellado, 1998). The main picture to emerge from this research is that science teachers have no consistent view about the nature of science and that, in the light of contemporary scholarship, most of views they hold could be termed inadequate (Abd-El-Khalick & Lederman, 2000). A significant proportion of teachers, for instance, have no recognition of the tentative nature of some scientific knowledge and others hold positivist or empiricist views of the nature of science. Koulaidis and Ogborn (1989) also found distinctions between teachers from the separate scientific disciplines and that student teachers hold somewhat different views from those of experienced teachers. Moreover, several studies have now consistently shown that there is little relationship between teachers declared conceptions of the nature of science and the manner in which they present the subject in the classroom (Brickhouse, 1991; Duschl & Wright, 1989; Hodson, 1993; Lederman & Zielder, 1987). The best explanation for this finding would appear to be that teachers actions are dominated by the exigencies and imperatives of managing classroom learning and not their own philosophical stance towards science. Coupled with the eclectic and heterogeneous nature of teachers views, it is perhaps 15

20 Teaching the Nature of Science not surprising that incorporating more of the nature of science into the curriculum is seen as a substantial task. For the findings of these studies invite the questions of whether a) it is possible to establish amongst the science education community some common consensual understanding about the salient and significant features of the nature of science that should be communicated to students, and b) whether it is then possible to teach this understanding effectively The contested nature of science Abd-el-Khalick and Lederman (2000) argue that the body of work on teachers conceptions of the nature of science simply shows a failure of science teachers own education to develop a valid understanding of NOS. But what would such a valid understanding be? The one feature that emerges from an examination of the scholarship in the field of history and philosophy of science is that, if its intent was to establish a consensual understanding of the foundations of the practice of science, then it might be best characterised as a failed project (Taylor, 1996). Baconian notions of science as a process of empirical observation and inductive generalisation have always been open to the criticism that no singular set, or sets of data, can establish that any generalisation is universally true. The logical positivists attempted to take this further by demanding that all statements were either logically deducible or verifiable by observation, anything else being mere speculation, thereby offering a means of proving the truth of scientific statements. However, the weakness of this position was perhaps best illustrated by Mach s use of it to deny the atomic hypothesis. Popper s work on conjecture and refutation shifted the emphasis from verification to falsification, and was a significant change in focus in developing our understanding of how science proceeds by arguing that scientists are engaged in the endeavour of trying to refute rather than prove theories. However, this view, in turn, is subject to the criticism that the historical record shows that scientific theories are not abandoned simply because of one observation which does not fit and, furthermore, that scientists do not strive to falsify their theories. Lakatos offered a significant development of Popper s ideas by suggesting that scientists work with an inner core of basic assumptions or theories, and that these are surrounded by a protective belt of auxiliary hypotheses or assumptions. Only data that directly contradicts the theoretical and empirical assumption that contribute to the hard core of working theories are capable of challenging well-established ideas. However, it is perhaps to Thomas Kuhn (1962), and his interest in what the historical record had to say about the practice of science, that we owe the greatest revolution in our understanding of the nature of science. Kuhn s work distinguished between periods of normal science, in which there is a set of basic commonly-agreed assumptions about theory and methods, and scientific revolutions when all the fundamental assumptions of a given field were questioned, precipitating a crisis. Kuhn s incidental achievement was to shift the focus from the nature of the knowledge itself to the means by which it was produced as a social community. One result was an explosion and growth of work in the field of the sociology of scientific knowledge (SSK) (Bloor, 1976; Feyerabend, 1975; Gross, 1996; Latour, 1993; Latour & Woolgar, 1986; Taylor, 1996; Traweek, 1988). This programme of work was notable for its interest in the causes of beliefs, that is the means by which the scientific community were persuaded of the validity of a scientific argument, rather than the belief itself, and in addition, its strongly relativist view of the nature of 16

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