Among educational concerns, the improvement of science education is a high priority. Scientists working with educators propose that good science education should reflect a realistic understanding of the true nature of science and should also utilize our knowledge of the way children learn.
Nature of knowledge
Andrew Cleminson, of the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, reports that the popular notion that science consists of making inferences from objective observation is an inadequate and distorted view of scientific methodology. Scientists suggest that teachers bear in mind the following:
1. Scientific “knowledge” is tentative and should never be equated with the truth.
2. Observation alone rarely gives rise to scientific knowledge.
3. Science is a very personal, human activity and new scientific knowledge is produced by creative acts of the imagination in conjunction with scientific methods of inquiry.
4. Acquisition of new knowledge is problematic and never easy because it involves the abandonment of previously held beliefs.
5. Scientists are a part of the world they study and, therefore, can never be truly objective observers.
Developments over the past decade have shed new light on how children learn science. Cleminson believes that to improve science education, curriculum designers must clearly understand the psychology of learning as it applies to science. To begin with, it must be remembered that children interact with the world from the moment of birth and intutively develop ideas and concepts to interpret the world. But, as Piaget discovered, many of the intuitive ideas children develop about the physical world are simply wrong.
These misconceptions interfere with the child’s ability to accept and learn from science instruction. It is not a child’s lack of previous knowledge that makes learning so difficult, but rather the conflict between their intuitive ideas and the formal ideas presented in science classes. Cleminson, therefore, recommends giving children an opportunity to express their intuitive ideas. Teachers, he states, must understand and acknowledge these ideas before they present alternative scientific explanations.
Cleminson suggests that confusion and misunderstandings in science classes can be attributed to the differences in meaning between a child’s everyday use of a word and the scientific meaning of the same word. Care should be taken to ensure that students understand the scientific meanings of words. Cleminson reports that curriculum incorporating current ideas about the nature of science and influenced by the psychology of how children learn, is currently being developed.
“Establishing an Epistemological Base for Science Teaching in the Light of Contemporary Notions of the Nature of Science and How Children Learn Science” Journal of Research In Science Teaching Volume 27, No. 5, p. 429-445.
Published in ERN January/February 1991 Volume 4 Number 1