Beyond nature of science: The case for reconceptualising ‘science’ for science education

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Beyond nature of science: The case for reconceptualising ‘science’ for science education
  Science Education International Vol. 25, Issue 1, 2014, 933-111 Beyond Nature of Science: The Case for Reconceptualising ‘Science’ for Science Education   SIBEL ERDURAN *   ABSTRACT: In this paper, I argue that contemporary accounts of nature of science (NoS) are limited in their depiction of ‘science’ and that new perspectives are needed to broaden their characterisation and appeal for science education. In  particular, I refer to the role of interdisciplinary characterisations of science in informing the theory and practice of science teaching and learning. After a brief review on the reconceptualization of NoS from a range of perspectives, namely  philosophy of science, socio-political accounts of science (in the context of colonial science), linguistics and anthropology, I will focus on philosophical and economical characterisation of science, drawing out some implications for science education. A predominant part of my argument will be theoretical in nature with some pedagogical applications in the context of an empirical project conducted in Istanbul, Turkey and co-funded by TUBITAK and Marie Curie Co-fund Brain Circulation Scheme. I will conclude with broader implications of interdisciplinary studies on science for science education research and practice. KEY WORDS: nature of science, interdisciplinary, science teaching, learning I NTRODUCTION   This paper is based on a keynote lecture delivered at the IOSTE Eurasia Regional Symposium which took place at Antalya, Turkey in 2013. The conference took place at the Titanic Hotel. As a concept, the hoteliers took the srcinal Titanic, the ship, to custom the decor and the theme of this hotel. The Titanic can also have various other interpretations from a range of perspectives. Cons ider for instance an engineer’s rendition of the structural features of the ship. Or a historian’s attempt to map out the life stories of the people who perished in the sinking disaster. One would of course also not amiss the Hollywood movie version with the iconic image of young lovers at the edge of the deck. Whichever version of the Titanic you aim to pursue will require a different approach, a nuance in interpretation. A hotelier’s version will borrow some thematic elements, yet it will be different from that of an engineer’s. Yet all of these interpretations rely on the approximation of a particular ship with a wealth * University of Bristol, United Kingdom & Bogazici University, Turkey, sibel.erduran@bristol.ac.uk  Science Education International 94 of history. In this paper based on my plenary at the IOSTE conference, I will treat science in a similar vein in addressing some fundamental questions: What is science? Who should be consulted in answering the question? What should be included of science in science education? In drawing this analogy, I will appeal to the notion of multiplicity in characterisation, and approximation of a nuanced version of science for  particular educational goals. The key area of research in science education that targets the above questions is Nature of Science (NoS). I will argue that contemporary accounts of NoS are limited in their depiction of science, primarily  because of their positivist undertones. Furthermore, I will argue that only do the NoS consensus view is outdated in its characterisation from a  philosophical perspective on science, but also that it is limited in drawing out theoretical perspectives on science that target understanding from a range of perspective including socio-political and economical  perspectives. I will make the case that what is needed for NoS studies to  be more use for science education is an interdisciplinary perspective on science such that the diversity of needs and contexts of the science teaching and learning environments can be met. I will initially provide an overview of what I mean by “interdisciplinary” by briefly drawing on theoretical perspectives on science namely from philosophy of science, socio-political studies of science (e.g. colonical science), linguistics and anthropology. I will focus in on more detailed accounts from  philosophical and economics perspectives to illustrate how these theoretical fields can provide input to improve not only the research but also the practice dimensions of science education. With respect to  philosophical accounts, I specify how they inform domain-specificity of scientific knowledge which can provide a more nuanced take on disciplinary knowledge at the level of the classroom. In other words, I will address the question of the nature of which science? I will also mention what philosophers’ work has shown us about ways of reasoning in science including argumentation which could be targeted in science teaching and learning. With respect to the economics perspectives, I will interrogate science as a financial enterprise, a notion that is practically absent in school science, which results in students not understanding that science relies heavily on economic factors for its execution. C ONTEMPORARY C ONTEXTS OF N ATURE OF S CIENCE R ESEARCH IN S CIENCE E DUCATION   The curriculum reform contexts around the world specify goals for not  just the education of the scientist but also the everyday people such that scientific literacy is achieved for informed citizenship in societies where more and more decisions rely on socio-scientific questions. Take for  Science Education International 95 instances issues such as global warming, nuclear energy and genetic cloning. Science education has the challenge of coordinating goals for  both the scientist-to-be and a scientifically literate citizen. Hence the  public as well as the scientific community are in need of not only the relevant scientific knowledge but also the required reasoning skills and context such that they can make educated decisions on a diversity of contemporary issues. Currently the new wave of science curriculum reform in the USA, in the context of the Next Generation Science Standards (Achieve, Inc, 2013), highlight the shift from just achieving scientific literacy to acquiring scientific proficiency through students’ engagement in scientific practices (National Research Council, 2017). “Scientific practices” are defined as the following:    Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering)  Developing and using models Planning and carrying out investigations  Analysing and interpreting data Using mathematics and computational thinking Constructing explanations (for science) and designing solutions (for engineering)  Engaging in argument from evidence Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information  (NRC, 2012, p.42). These features of scientific practices relate to the epistemic goals of science education. NoS research literature in science education similarly has been addressing aspects of ‘science’ from an epistemic perspective. This line of research has a long standing presence in science education. For example in a study conducted on selected publications from 1990 to 2007, NoS emerged as a key theme in science education research (Chang, Chang, & Tseng, 2010) with considerable number of volumes dedicated to the topic (e.g. Koseoglu, Erduran & Tasar, 2010). Some researchers (e.g. Lederman et al., 2002; McComas, 1998; Lederman et al., 2002) have argued for a “consensus view” on the nature of science which have the following characteristics: (a) Tentativeness of Scientific Knowledge, (b) Observations and Inferences, (c) Subjectivity and Objectivity in Science, (d) Creativity and Rationality in Science, (e) Social and Cultural  Embeddedness in Science, (f) Scientific Theories and Laws, (g) Scientific  Methods.  The references to argument, evaluation and communication of information, however seem to be a distinct emphasis in NRC that are not captured in consensus NoS accounts, at least not explicitly. Recently some authors have been challenging the consensus view of  NoS from a range of perspectives. Allchin (2011) has argued for the  Science Education International 96  promotion of nature of whole science in science education, infusing in science teaching and learning a whole set of context specific accounts of science including the social aspects of science. Duschl & Grandy (2012) have pointed out that there are different approaches to the characterisation of NoS and that there has been a marked omission of a model-based view on science in science education. Irzik & Nola (2013, 2011) have outlined a “family resemblance approach” on NoS illustrating a comprehensive account on science that target a systemic consideration of the epistemic, cognitive and social systems of science. In this climate of evaluation of NoS accounts in science education, one can also look at the very premises of the consensus view to understand its theoretical rationale. A key feature of the contemporary accounts of science is its positivist undertones. Consider the contrast in Table 1 that outlines some of the key tenets of logical positivism as it emerged in the Vienna Circle in the 1920s and 1930s through the work of Hempel, Oppenheimer, Carnap and so on, versus the contemporary consensus accounts of NoS as represented in science education research. Table 1. Tenets of logical positivism and the consensus view of NoS. Logical Positivist ‘Science’  Consensus view of NoS Hypothetico-deductive method of science, quantification Scientific methods Objectivity-subjectivity Subjectivity and Objectivity in Science Knower-knowledge, observer-observed dichotomies Creativity and Rationality in Science Data through sensory experience Social and Cultural Embeddedness in Science Scientific progress Tentativeness of Scientific Knowledge Scientific Theories and Laws The emphases in the consensus NoS accounts of some of the key aspects of logical positivism is striking. Consider however some of the more updated version of ‘science’ through the critiques of logical  positivism. We have learned, for instance, through Tho mas Kuhn’s work that some key tenets like progress and method can be far from how the logical positivists envisaged them to be. With the notions of paradigms and paradigm shifts as well as incommensurability, Kuhn has pointed out that the logical positivist notion of progress can be scrutinised. Furthermore, within the positivist accounts, as also is the case in the consensus view of NoS, the notion of neutrality of scientific claims as devoid of bias and individual subjective prejudice had led to the dichotomy of objectivity and subjectivity, and the separation of scientific  Science Education International 97 fact from subjective interpretation. It is worthy to note that earlier depictions of objectivity was grounded on individually-centred accounts (e.g. Bacon) where no significance was placed on interactions among scientists. Subjectivity was based on individual psychological bias and  prejudice that interfered with objectivity of science. More contemporary accounts of science as represented in the work of Longino, for instance have reshaped the way that we think about objectivity and subjectivity whereby the social articulation and evaluation of scientific claims are paramount to the establishment of objectivity in science: “  Empirical adequacy and accuracy (treated as one or separate virtues) need further interpretation to be meaningfully applied in a context of theory choice. Those interpretations are likely to import the socio-political or practical dimensions that the search for a purely cognitive criterion seeks to escape. At the very least the burden of argument falls on those who think such an escape possible.”  (Longino, 1995, p. 395)  Numerous examples exist in the literature that put into question the logical positivist accounts of objectivity in science. The 19th century notions of evolution of humans claimed skulls and posture of European races were more developed than Negroes (Gould, 1981). Persons of African descent were deemed inferior intermediaries on an evolutionary scale as ‘proven’ by science. Similarly, female skulls, skelet al anatomy and physiology were taken by male scientists as evidence of women’s ‘natural’ role in society, legitimising social relations and privileging males (Schiebinger, 1990) “ When we detach a factor from the contexts in which it naturally occurs, we are hoping to achieve understanding of that factor's precise contribution to some process. But by taking it out of its natural context we deprive ourselves of understanding how its operation is affected by factors in the context from which it has been removed. This is, of course, a crucial aspect of experimental method. I suspect that it's not (or not always) the decontextualization that is to be deplored, but the concomitant devaluation as unimportant or ephemeral of what remains. ”  (Longino, 1995, p. 395) A further example of the contemporary frameworks that challenge the tenets of logical positivism is the socio-political contexts of science, including what is often called “colonial science”. The European colonial  powers in extending their ambitions around the world have used science as a point of power in making it clear to the natives what they lacked. For
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