stand how scientific knowledge is constructed. In this chapter we address how children come to understand both “how we know” in science and “why we believe” scientific evidence.

For more than a century, educators have argued that students should understand how scientific knowledge is constructed (Rudolph, 2005). One rationale that is often invoked, but not empirically tested, is that understanding science makes for a more informed citizenry and supports democratic participation. That is, citizens who understand how scientific knowledge is produced will be careful consumers of scientific claims about public scientific issues (e.g., global warming, ecology, genetically modified foods, alternative medicine) both at the ballot box and in their daily lives.

A second justification among educators is that understanding the structure and nature of science makes one better at doing and learning science (see review by Sandoval, 2005). That is, if students come to see science as a set of practices that builds models to account for patterns of evidence in the natural world, and that what counts as evidence is contingent on making careful observations and building arguments, then they will have greater success in their efforts to build knowledge. Viewing these processes from a distance—not merely enacting them—enhances students’ ability to practice science. Schauble and colleagues (1995), for example, found that fifth grade students designed better experiments after instruction about the purpose of experimentation.

We begin the chapter with an elaboration on science as a way of knowing, sketching the goals of the enterprise, the nature and structure of scientific knowledge, and the process by which it is constructed. This elaboration is intended to provide a sense of the target we have for students’ learning. That is, it represents currently accepted ideas about the nature of scientific knowledge that are important to teach in grades K-8.

Building on this model of science, we first turn to the cognitive research literatures to examine the intellectual resources relevant to this strand that children bring to kindergarten. In an earlier chapter (Chapter 3), we discussed the developmental research on children’s early “theory of mind,” that is, their growing awareness of their own and other’s minds and their understanding of expertise. In this chapter, we first discuss how during the K-8 years, they build on these understandings to develop some initial epistemological ideas about what knowledge is and how it is constructed. Next, we consider how they begin to think about what scientific knowledge is and how it is constructed. In the field of science education, this research is often found under the general heading of students’ understanding of the nature of science. Finally, we consider external influences on students’ understanding of science as a way of knowing, including teacher knowledge, the epistemic model that may underlie the curriculum, and the literature—albeit extremely small—that has been focused on classroom-based interventions in epistemic advancements.



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement