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Teaching secondary science
Teaching secondary science

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1.2 Scientific knowledge

You may have found that people perceive science as a ‘hard’ subject or one that requires the student to memorise a lot of information. Science has indeed led to a body of knowledge about the natural world, but what is particular about scientific knowledge as opposed to, for example, historical knowledge or folklore?

The nature of scientific knowledge is closely tied to the nature of science itself. Whilst the scientific method seeks to eliminate biases and subjective ideas from its body of knowledge, to view scientific knowledge as ‘fact’ or ‘truth’ would be to ignore the nature of the human beings at the heart of it. In practice, knowledge is constructed through human senses – a process that will always involve an element of subjectivity. So scientific theories are not infallible, and there will always be competing views that require a judgement as to their validity.

Reflection point

What messages about scientific knowledge do you think should be communicated to pupils through school science and why?

Hodson (1998, p. 35) asserted that scientific knowledge is not a collection of facts, definitions and rules, but rather it is a:

network of inter-rated concepts and propositions that stand or fall on their ability to describe, explain, and predict a range of observable phenomena, without being dependent on any single observation.

Hodson argued that students need to be aware of the distinction between theories that are used to explain phenomena and instrumentalist models (imaginary conceptual devices) that are used to predict, calculate and manipulate events. To what extent do you this is a feature of school science?