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Teaching secondary science
Teaching secondary science

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1.4 The nature of science

The way that a teacher teaches science is profoundly affected by their views of the subject. For example, in teaching about particle theory, a teacher might put forward this concept as a fact and use it to explain how it can account for the properties of solids, liquids and gases. Another teacher might emphasise that the particle theory is a model of what matter is like, drawing attention to the way in which this idea developed and how it relates to evidence. Reiss (2002, p. 43) gives the popular view of science as consisting of:

a body of knowledge about the world. The facts that comprise this knowledge are derived from accurate observations and careful experiments that can be checked by repeating them. As time goes on, scientific knowledge steadily progresses.

Reflection point

What views of the nature science do you hold? Do you agree with the popular view given by Reiss? Is science context- and culture-free? Or is scientific knowledge dependent on its cultural and social location? Are you an inductivist [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] or a deductivist? A relativist or a positivist?

Defining the nature of science is contentious. Reiss (2002, p. 49) argued that science is ‘not universal or a-cultural, but a collection of ethno-sciences set in a cultural milieu’. How do you think the work of scientists is affected by wider values, culture and social/political influences?

Activity 5 The ‘Barry Marshall’ story

Timing: Allow about 20 minutes

Barry Marshall, an Australian physician, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2005 for his work with Robin Warren on the role played by a bacterium in the formation of peptic ulcers. In this interview he recounts the story of this ground-breaking discovery.

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How does this account illustrate the view Reiss has of science? How does this support or contradict your views of science?

There is no consensus about the nature of science, and there are debates within and between communities of scientists, philosophers and science educators. We would expect a science education to teach pupils something about science concepts, but we should also expect it to teach them something about what science is, what scientists do, and the status of scientific knowledge. Without this, we exclude learners from the debate and impoverish their understanding of science.