The Nature of Science

Scientific observations are facts, trends, and relationships that an individual notices by utilizing their senses.  Let us consider a student who wants to determine the properties of orange juice.  By using their five senses, the student can recognize the properties of the orange juice.  But what if the student wishes to determine if the orange juice is acidic?  In order to do that, the student will have to make an inference.  Inferences involve utilizing what we have observed along with our previous knowledge to generate conclusions.  The student might know that acidic solutions taste sour.  By tasting the orange juice and comparing it to what is already known, the student can infer that the orange juice is most likely acidic.  In short, observations are simply the properties of a natural object recognized via the senses while inferences are conclusions that are based upon a synthesis of observations and prior knowledge.

A scientific law is “a statement or description of the relationship between observable phenomena” (Lederman, Abd-El-Khalick, Bell & Schwartz 2002).  Scientific laws detail what is occurring and have the ability to predict what will occur if a variable in the relationship is changed.  A scientific theory can be defined as a “well-established, highly substantiated, internally consistent systems of explanations.”  Scientific laws seek to explain the “why” behind observed natural phenomena.  Students often believe that the two ideas are part of a distinct hierarchy but laws and theories are each independent entities.  Laws describe the “what” of the natural world while theories describe the “why.”

The nature of science has been refined over time into eight aspects that have been adopted by most K12 curricula.  The first aspect is that science is a way of knowing.  Science knowledge is the understanding of natural system and the processes that are used to increase and refine this knowledge.  The second aspect is that scientific knowledge is based upon empirical evidence.  Scientific exploration is based upon evidence that is acquired through careful and rigorous observation.  The third aspect is that science is a human endeavor.  Scientific knowledge is a product of the imagination and creativity of individuals combined with their ability to infer.  The fourth aspect is that scientific investigations use a variety of methods.  Experimentation and investigation does not follow one specific framework but instead draws from a variety of methods and tools to increase our scientific knowledge.  The fifth aspect is that science addresses questions about the natural world.  Scientific knowledge provides observational data on what can occur in the natural world and can raise questions upon ethical or social lines that cannot always been answered by science.  The sixth aspect is that scientific knowledge is open to revision in light of new evidence.  A scientific theory is not absolute and can be changed in the face of new evidence.  The seventh aspect is that scientific knowledge assumes an order and consistency in natural systems.  This is the idea that scientific laws discovered on Earth are constant throughout time and space.  The final aspect is that scientific laws, models, and theories explain natural phenomena.  Theories and laws explain the “what” and “why” in observed natural phenomena as was discussed in detail above (NGSS 2013; Lederman, Abd-El-Khalick, Bell & Schwartz 2002).

One of the main issues to teaching NOS is the lack of time due to the number of required standards.  My solution is to combine NOS topics with content unit goals in order to illuminate to the students the real-world connections and importance of the nature of science.  Another issue that can potentially be blamed is the inability to make the aspects understandable to students.  In order to combat this, I will clearly illustrate to students how the principles of the NOS influence what is being learned.  A third issue is that it is difficult to assess whether or not your students understand the aspects of the nature of science.  Because these aspects are more theoretical, it can be difficult to create an objective standardized exam to assess nature of science understanding (Lederman, Abd-El-Khalick, Bell & Schwartz 2002).  I would try to assess my students understanding by utilizing movements in science such as the development of the theory of gravity or the development of the heliocentric model of the solar system and asking my students to relate them to the aspects of science.


Works Cited

Appendix H – Understanding the Scientific Enterprise: The Nature of Science in the Next

Generation Science Standards. (2013). Retrieved September 10, 2015.

Lederman, N., Abd-El-Khalick, F., Bell, R.L., & Schwartz, R.S. (2002). View of Nature of

Science Questionnaire: Toward Valid and Meaningful Assessment of Learners’

Conceptions of Nature of Science. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 39(6): 497- 521.

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