Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Nature of Science

Mrs. Smith blogs at and discusses the nature of science. She takes seven aspects of the nature of science from Lederman, NG and JS Lederman. (2004) Revising Instruction to Teach the Nature of Science. The Science Teacher. 71: 36-39.

These are important enough to repeat here. Here is one great thing about the Internet. You don't have to go read The Science Teacher to get these significant nuggets of information.

1) "Students should be aware of the crucial distinction between observation and inference."2) "Students should understand the difference between scientific laws and theories."3) "All scientific knowledge is, at least partially, based on and/or derived from observations of the natural world."4) "Although scientific knowledge is empirically based, it nevertheless involves human imagination and creativity."5) "Scientific knowledge is at least partially subjective."6) "Science is socially and culturally embedded. [It] affects and is affected by the various elements and contexts of the culture in which it is practiced."7) "Scientific knowledge is subject to change."

She does a nice job of explaining each, so I won't repeat the effort. I'd like, however, to point out that understanding the nature of science is one of the seven America's Lab Report goals for science laboratory experiences and is one that is best satisfied by students performing investigations in the real world, not in simulations.

Three of those goals (mastery, teamwork, interest in science) are well handled outside of a lab setting. Good labs simply add to them.

One goal (practical skills) can mostly be done outside of labs. The single exception is the skill of operating lab equipment. That's not really a part of learning science anyway.

The remaining three goals are best accomplished in a lab setting. They are developing scientific reasoning, understanding the nature of science, and understanding the complexity and ambiguity of empirical work. America's Lab Report explains that the last goal can only be accomplished well within true science lab experiences as it defines them. That definition clearly excludes simulations.

Simulations are great learning tools, if done well and integrated into the curriculum well. They do not work as substitutes for science lab experiences. Student scientific investigations will not be scientific if their object is made up.

Of course, students must prepare for real investigations, and various exercises can help them do so. Among these are simulations and other activities.

You can still do virtual labs that provide access to data from the real world and do some hands-on labs too. But, please don't call a simulation a science lab. Thank you.

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