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Teaching secondary science
Teaching secondary science

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3.1 Practical work and the nature of science

If the traditional practical work so commonly seen in science classrooms is used to support students’ understanding of science content knowledge, how do they learn about the nature of science itself? What would be your response? Students to conduct their own investigations, perhaps? Certainly students can benefit in a number of ways from investigating their own questions. Even teacher-led investigations can support students’ understanding of elements of the scientific process, but investigations seldom give them the full picture. Consider for a moment some of the key features of science that come readily to mind:

  • asking questions
  • hypothesising
  • seeking evidence
  • collecting and processing data
  • critical evaluation
  • developing theory.

This list in itself does not reflect the other dimensions to the nature of science, or the experience of real scientists such as Barry Marshall. These other dimensions include developing a cultural understanding of science, examining the applications and implications of science, argumentation, and the collaborative nature of science. Traditional practical work often fails to provide an understanding of these dimensions, although it may provide critical incidents that can be used as opportunities to convey important messages.