REFLECTING ON THE PRACTICES

Science has been enormously successful in extending humanity’s knowledge of the world and, indeed transforming it. Understanding how science has achieved this success and the techniques that it uses is an essential part of any science education. Although there is no universal agreement about teaching the nature of science, there is a strong consensus about characteristics of the scientific enterprise that should be understood by an educated citizen [41-43]. For example, the notion that there is a single scientific method of observation, hypothesis, deduction, and conclusion—a myth perpetuated to this day by many textbooks—is fundamentally wrong [44]. Scientists do use deductive reasoning, but they also search for patterns, classify different objects, make generalizations from repeated observations, and engage in a process of making inferences as to what might be the best explanation. Thus the picture of scientific reasoning is richer, more complex, and more diverse than the image of a linear and unitary scientific method would suggest [45].

What engages all scientists, however, is a process of critique and argumentation. Because they examine each other’s ideas and look for flaws, controversy and debate among scientists are normal occurrences, neither exceptional nor extraordinary. Moreover, science has established a formal mechanism of peer review for establishing the credibility of any individual scientist’s work. The ideas that survive this process of review and criticism are the ones that become well established in the scientific community.

Our view is that the opportunity for students to learn the basic set of practices outlined in this chapter is also an opportunity to have them stand back and reflect on how these practices contribute to the accumulation of scientific knowledge. For example, students need to see that the construction of models is a major means of acquiring new understanding; that these models identify key features and are akin to a map, rather than a literal representation of reality [13]; and that the great achievement of science is a core set of explanatory theories that have wide application [46].

Understanding how science functions requires a synthesis of content knowledge, procedural knowledge, and epistemic knowledge. Procedural knowledge refers to the methods that scientists use to ensure that their findings are valid and reliable. It includes an understanding of the importance and appropriate use of controls, double-blind trials, and other procedures (such as methods to reduce error) used by science. As such, much of it is specific to the domain



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