which is parallel to, but distinct from, scientific inquiry. Although engineers apply scientific concepts and mathematics in their work, they also apply engineering design principles, such as the idea of trade-offs, the recognition that most problems have several possible solutions, and the idea that new technologies may have unanticipated effects. These ideas can also be communicated through experiences in informal settings. As described in Chapter 4, connecting natural types of evaluation to everyday experience—such as posing and answering commonsense questions and making predictions based on observational data concerning interesting phenomena—can support learners in developing an understanding of science. Deepening these experiences to include mathematical and conceptual tools to analyze data and further refine the questions, observations, and experimental design may also result in participants’ developing strong understanding of the practice of science.
The practice of science revolves around the dynamic refinement of scientific understanding of the natural world. New evidence can always emerge, existing theories are continuously questioned, explanatory models are constantly refined or enlarged, and scientists argue about how the evidence can be interpreted. The appreciation of how profoundly exciting this is has attracted some of the best and brightest minds to the practice of science. Strand 4 focuses on learners’ understanding of science as a way of knowing—as a social enterprise that advances scientific understanding over time. It includes an appreciation of how the thinking of scientists and scientific communities changes over time as well as the learners’ sense of how his or her own thinking changes.
Informal learning environments and programming seem to be particularly well suited to providing opportunities for children, youth, and adults to experience some of the excitement of participation in a process that is constantly open to revision. Understanding of how scientific knowledge develops can be imparted in museums and media by creative reconstruction of the history of scientific ideas or the depiction of contemporary advances. Because the stakes can be high and scientists are human, there are many compelling personal stories in science (e.g., Galileo Galilei, Benjamin Franklin, Charles Darwin, Marie Curie, James Watson, Francis Crick, and Barbara McClintock).
Creating and delivering opportunities for participants to assume the role of a scientist can be a powerful way for them to come to understand science as a way of knowing, though learners require significant support (e.g., to stimulate reflection and facilitate knowledge integration) to do so. Engaging in scientific practice can create the recognition that diverse methods and tools are used, there are multiple interpretations of the same evidence, multiple theories are usually advanced, and a passionate defense of data often