3.1.6 (F) Creativity
Pupils should appreciate that science is an activity that involves creativity and imagination as much as many other human activities and that some scientific ideas are enormous intellectual achievements. Scientists, as much as any other profession, are passionate and they (and their work) rely on inspiration and imagination.
Rank these six themes with respect to their degree of importance to those learning about science. The experts in this study were asked to rate the merits of each theme in terms of why it should be explicitly taught within the curriculum. Do you suspect that your ranking will differ from that favoured by the science education ‘experts’ involved in the study?
All six themes attracted significant levels of support; they were ranked C, F, E, A, B, D. Indeed, of all 18 themes identified, C was given the highest priority. Participants commented that this was ‘the core process on which the whole edifice of science is built’ and ‘what defines science’. But like me, you probably found the exercise difficult; all seemed worthy of inclusion by some measure. (Also, drawing up a comprehensive list of themes of this type is far from easy; I'll have more to say about how ‘creating and using models’ is a key aspect of scientific methodology, though this aspect does not feature prominently in the study of Collins et al.)
Two further issues confound any quest to define ‘the scientific method’. First, how might one express within any such description the role of imagination and intuition in doing science – equivalent to an unspoken craft element within scientific practice? (It is striking that a high priority was attached by the experts to the explicit teaching of the loosely-defined process of creativity – this was ranked second of all 18 themes in the study just described.) Guy Claxton quotes from a survey of Nobel laureates in physics, chemistry and medicine; few of them doubted the importance of intuition in their research. One such laureate in medicine, Michael Brown, recalls:
As we did our work, I think, we almost felt at times that there was a hand guiding us. Because we would go from one step to the next, and somehow we would know which was the right way to go. And I can't really tell how we knew that.
(Claxton, 1997, p. 73)
Secondly, as Robin Millar (2002) points out, it is far from self evident that a scientific approach is useful or appropriate in most decisions in the ‘real-world’. In Millar's words ‘not only can no one describe the scientific method in detail, but it is also far from clear that a scientific approach is useful or appropriate in most situations of practical decision-making. There is no universal algorithm for “finding out”, or even for “weighing up the pros and cons”’ (p. 124).
All this indicates just how problematic teaching the ‘nature of science’ is likely to prove in practice. This is not an avenue we can explore in greater detail here but there's no shortage of publications showing just how elusive success in this area has proved to date, for reasons that are a mix of the philosophical and the pragmatic.
If you are interested in taking this further, the references of Millar (2002) and Donnelly (2001) are useful starting points.