English secondary students’ thinking about the status of scientific theories: consistent, comprehensive, coherent and extensively evidenced explanations of aspects of the natural world – or just ‘an idea someone has’.
The Curriculum Journal
Taylor & Francis
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Taber, K., Billingsley, B., Riga, F., & Newdick, H. (2015). English secondary students’ thinking about the status of scientific theories: consistent, comprehensive, coherent and extensively evidenced explanations of aspects of the natural world – or just ‘an idea someone has’.. The Curriculum Journal, 26 370-403. https://doi.org/10.1080/09585176.2015.1043926
Teaching about the nature of science (NOS) is seen as a priority for science education in many national contexts. The present paper focuses on one central issue in learning about NOS: understanding the nature and status of scientific theories. A key challenge in teaching about NOS is to persuade students that scientific knowledge is generally robust and reliable, yet also in principle always open to challenge and modification. Theories play a central role, as they are a form of conjectural knowledge that over time may be abandoned, replaced, modified, yet sometimes become well established as current best scientific understanding. The present paper reports on findings from interviews with 13–14 year olds in England where target knowledge presents theories as ‘consistent, comprehensive, coherent and extensively evidenced explanations of aspects of the natural world’. Student thinking reflected a two-tier typology of scientific knowledge in which largely unsupported imaginative ideas (‘theories’) became transformed into fairly definitive knowledge (such as laws) through relatively straightforward testing. These results are considered in relation to research into intellectual development which indicates that effective teaching in this area requires careful scaffolding of student learning, but has potential to contribute to supporting intellectual development across the curriculum.
nature of science (NOS), scientific theory, learners' epistemologies, models of intellectual development, scaffolding of learning, sociocultural reasoning
External DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/09585176.2015.1043926
This record's URL: https://www.repository.cam.ac.uk/handle/1810/251421