Perspectives: Helping Students Understand the Nature of Science by: Deborah L. Hanuscin and Eun J. Lee

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An important goal of science teaching is to help students understand the “nature of science”—what science is and how science works. The nature of science addresses the importance of creativity and imagination in scientific work; how scientists invent explanations for phenomena; the difference between observation and inference; how scientific ideas are subject to change; and how culture and society influence science. By focusing on not just what we know but how we know, teachers are providing students with a robust view of science. This article discusses how to help students understand the nature of science.

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  • on Sun Nov 11, 2018 9:38 PM

A major concern of teachers is getting their students to understand the concepts and lessons that are being taught. When the teacher makes a lesson plan, most of the focus is based on the understanding of the students being taught. For the purposes of STEM, this material will use science to illustrate these points. How can teachers help students to interact more and understanding key concepts as well as, what the potential flaws in the study may be? The National Science Education Standards (Content Standard G) emphasize that students should understand the power and limitations of science, the use of scientific knowledge in decision making, and science as an important part of culture (Hanuscin & Lee, p. 64, 2009). This is a difficult topic to cover because students usually look at science differently from the “real world” and they do not realize that science is life. For example, Biology is defined as the study of life. For this article, fourth, fifth, six graders were observed to see what their understanding was before the inquiry-based instruction was used. Most students have an inaccurate view of the subject of science and what science means to the world. Researchers interviewed fourth-grade students who believed that their textbooks contain unchanging scientific truth and that science has little room for creativity because it is a straightforward procedure. Students also believed that science is based solely on what can be observed directly (Hanuscin & Lee, p. 64, 2009). Many elementary schools in the grades prior to fourth grade teach students science through observation. For example, many students have had the assignment of planting a seed into soil, watering the soil, and placing the seed onto a window seal for the sunlight to shine on the plant. Over time, the plant will appear through the soil and the students learn that plants grow with soil, water, and sunlight. The negative side of that teaching is most of the emphasis is based on observation of the plant’s growth and not on the work done, along with observation that allowed the plant to grow. Also, a plant grows that same way every time and the students can begin to think that all science works that way, but that is not the case. Some plants can grow with no or minimal sunlight. A study was performed on sixth grade students where one class used traditional teaching methods and one class used inquiry-based study. For the study the class that used inquiry-based teaching did so the nature of science instruction. Students in the inquiry-based teaching demonstrated a substantial improvement in their understanding of the lesson than in the class that used traditional methods. At the conclusion of the instruction, students were able to explain that scientists can change their explanations and ideas because of new evidence (Hanuscin & Lee, p. 65, 2009). That can be accomplished by teachers inviting students to express their own ideas about science and scientists, and ask questions like, “What might cause scientists to change their ideas?” or “How do you think scientists determined what dinosaurs looked like if they only had the bones?” (Hanuscin & Lee, p. 65, 2009). These questions can help students understand the concepts and materials, while allowing the teachers to examine their understanding of the materials. A possible criticism of the study is that the design asks for a lot of critical thinking and for the students to ask multiple questions. While this is helpful in some cases because the students can hear different perspectives from their own but that also can be confusing to students that don’t fully understand the lesson or are just being introduced to the new material. Students’ beliefs about science were not related to gender and ethnicity; however, low-achieving and low socioeconomic status students exhibited less sophisticated beliefs about the nature of science than their peers, which could be related to their opportunities to learn science (Hanuscin & Lee, p. 64, 2009). Does this style of teaching help this group of students and why didn’t the article mentioned if these kids were involved and if it were an effective method for the students? The goal of teaching is to help the students grow mentally and continue to develop and this may be a useful way of accomplishing this task. References Hanuscin, D. L., Lee, E. J. (2009). Perspectives: Helping Students Understand the Nature of Science. Science and Children, 64-65. %3d

Joseph Guillory
Joseph Guillory

  • on Thu Sep 27, 2018 6:31 PM

Hanuscin, D. L., & Lee, E. J. (2009). Helping students understand the nature of science. Science & Children, 46 (7), 64-65. This article introduces the responsibility of teachers briefly and tells us that one of the science teaching goals is to help students understand the “nature of science”. Students should learn the nature of science and understand the power and limitations of science. And according to the research, student’s ideas about science are easily influenced by several factors like social images, scientist and school science experience. The author also used many related examples to show that school science experience had a great influence on student’ beliefs about science. This article also tells us that the nature of science should be a purposeful and explicit part of classroom lessons and discussions for students to develop their understanding of science. Some examples show that many younger students do not understand the nature of science, and teachers should find more effective ways to improve their understanding. The last part of the article is about how we can help students learn about the nature of science. In order to teach students in an effective way, the teachers must learn and understand the nature of science first. And the purpose of the science class is to convey information about what science is and how science works. It also introduces various effective ways that teachers can use in the class to help students have a better understanding of the nature of science. In my future class, I will learn and understand the nature of science first and then try to convey information about what science is and how science works. Also, I will use the effective ways like “invite students to express their own ideas about science” to help them develop a better understanding of science.

Zihan Shao
Zihan Shao

  • on Tue Dec 05, 2017 9:38 PM

The development of students' opinions about learning science is based on their understanding of the nature of science. According to Akerson and Abd-El-Khalick (2005), students in fourth grade believe that knowledge from textbooks would not be changed forever. The more they know about science, they will get to know that science still has room for creativity. Conley and colleagues (2004) also found that fifth-grade students prefer and pay attention to the "right" answer. They regarded scientists as omniscience who know everything. "The nature of science must be a purposeful and explicit part of classroom lessons and discussions for students to develop their understanding."Akerson and Volrich (2006) helped first-grade students improve their understanding by using examples. They could explain that science can be changed owing to new evidence At the last paragraph of this article, the author offered some suggestions about how to teach science as teachers. Obviously, teachers should comprehend the content themselves and analyze what is important to teach. Then, using some instructional strategies can be effective. For instance, ask students to draw what they think about science and communicate with them. If students can infer what is the procedure of the changing information they got from textbooks. They will be more interested in how science can affect the world and what will happen in future Teachers also can encourage students to have a group discussion of the nature of science with classmates. Therefore, they can have critical thinking and be able to express their ideas about science. As has been stated, students should understand the nature of science and learn science efficiently with the assistance of teachers.


  • on Fri Nov 11, 2011 11:20 AM

This article supports the need for teaching about the nature of science through research. This is important for a teacher to understand but more importantly if one believes that teaching the nature of science is important, these authors provide ideas for ways to incorporate and address nature of science in an elementary classroom. Five very specific suggestions are provided and would be helpful for the teacher who wants to develop the understanding of the nature of science in their students.

Adah  (San Antonio, TX)
Adah (San Antonio, TX)

  • on Tue Jun 14, 2011 8:49 PM

This article highlights the importance of teaching the "nature of science." It contains key information such as how the media can play a vital role in the students' ideas about science as well as the actual school's science experiences (i.e. textbooks). Some students may believe that science never changes and that it is merely a procedure. They may not view science as a hands-on, inquiry-based subject. In the article, the teacher showed students how science can change by having them do inquiry based activities themselves. The teacher asked questions comparing their inquiry-based lesson how actual scientists "do science." This is something that we as educators need to realize : students will not fully understand what science is unless they actually do science. Students need to do hands-on activities so that they don't have the misconception that students had in this article about science never changing and being the same. The article also states that research has proven that just doing science is not enough; in depth discussions also need to take place in order for students to understand. During discussions, teachers should emphasize that science can be exciting by using creativity. In addition, the article states that educators must have a clear understanding of the specific content they are teaching and encourage students to write, draw, or discuss their own ideas about science and scientists. This article is a helpful reminder.


  • on Mon Jun 13, 2011 10:45 PM

This article discusses the gap young students have in their understandings and comprehensions of what science entails. Researchers posed various questions to different groups of fourth and fifth graders. They found that the majority of students believed that their textbooks contained “unchanging scientific truth and that science has little room for creativity…” (p. 64). Young students are continually bombarded by images from the media of science and scientists that promote misconceptions and myths about the nature of science. One example comes from an interview of fourth grade students who believed that science is based solely on what can be observed directly. Students also have misconceptions that scientists are always right and that science is not a continuum! According to the article, we constantly learn from the past and make educated guesses about the future. Science is ever changing. We are continually trying to disprove in order to prove an idea or theory. This dichotomy must be understood in order to promote the necessary creativity and imagination needed to invent explanations for phenomena that are not directly observed. Science is at a point where inference has become the backbone of understanding. When teaching the nature of science, modeling is not enough. It must become a “purposeful and explicit part of classroom lessons…for students to develop their understanding” (p. 64). Students need to grasp the idea that science is tentative. The answers scientists have now are based on past and present research and are considered reasonable yet cautious. This means that scientists understand that future research could disprove what is already known. Students tend to think that what is known is not going to change. This creates an enormous barrier to freethinking. It is important for students to understand that the science process never stops; thus, the nature of science.

John Randolph
John Randolph

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