ploying survey instruments that probe learners’ views of science outside any specific context of inquiry, the results indicate that even high school and undergraduate students do not develop accurate views about the theory revision and responsiveness to evidence.
Similarly, Driver et al. (1996) interviewed same-age pairs of students at ages 9, 12, and 16 about the purposes of scientific work, their understanding of the nature and status of scientific knowledge, and their understanding of science as a social enterprise. They classified students’ responses about epistemology into three overall levels, with the lowest levels reflecting little acknowledgment of interpretation and successive levels indicating the importance of forms of thinking that do not rely solely on sensory input. The reasoning considered at the lowest level was reasoning grounded in phenomena; at the next, empirical reasoning based on relationships between variables; and finally, the highest level was reasoning that uses imagined models. Like the Carey and Unger studies, Driver et al. (1996) characterized children as moving from perspectives that emphasize unproblematic, sensory-based knowledge in which truth is considered a relatively simple objective to attain, to views in which science is acknowledged to depend on active interpretations of staged events (experiments), mental manipulations, and coherent, connected bodies of knowledge that may include many areas of uncertainty.
Much of this research literature suggests that K-8 students have a limited understanding of how scientific knowledge is constructed. However, it is not clear to what extent one can attribute such limitations to developmental stage, as opposed to adequacy of instructional opportunity or other experiences. In the words of Carey and Smith (1993, p. 243): “Two questions of urgent importance to educators now arise. First, in what sense are these levels developmental? Second (and distinctly), do these levels provide barriers to grasping a constructivist epistemology if such is made the target of the science education?”
Consider first the model of science as a way of knowing underlying the science children experience in the science curriculum, their primary source of information about the nature of the discipline. As noted in other chapters, in the upper elementary school years, the process of scientific knowledge construction is typically represented as experiment, with negligible acknowledgment of the role of interpretation or, more generally, the active role of the scientist in the process of knowledge construction. In the early grades, the typical emphasis on description of phenomenology through the basic science process skills of observation, categorization, measurement, etc., also reflects a distorted image of science, far removed from a constructivist epistemology.
In the same vein, science aspires to construct conceptual structures, with robust explanatory and predictive power, yet this is seldom either explicit or implicit in the K-8 science curriculum. An analysis of science