2006 Philadelphia Annual Meeting (22–25 October 2006)

Paper No. 7
Presentation Time: 3:25 PM


BICKMORE, Barry R.1, THOMPSON, Kirsten R.1, GRAHAM, Charles R.2, GRANDY, David A.3 and TOMLIN, Teagan1, (1)Department of Geological Sciences, Brigham Young University, S-389 ESC, Provo, UT 84602, (2)Department of Instructional Psychology and Technology, Brigham Young University, 150 MCKB, Provo, UT 84602, (3)Department of Philosophy, Brigham Young University, 4086 JFSB, Provo, UT 84602, barry_bickmore@byu.edu

A number of national scientific organizations have pressed for inclusion of the nature of science (NOS) in science curricula. Without a sound knowledge of the NOS, people usually view science as a series of facts that scientists “discover,” and others memorize in school. This is an easy way to teach science, but it leads to various social problems. For instance, if science is viewed as purely factual, but ambiguities or uncertainties in a particular theory (e.g., biological evolution or global warming) are made public, people tend to view such theories as “junk science.” In addition, at a time when we are desperately in need of more scientists, science as “the facts” is probably the most boring possible way to present it to students. It is especially important that the NOS is not taught in elementary schools as “the facts,” since most scientists choose that career path by age 11. Therefore, in addition to the empirical NOS, we need to teach the tentative and creative NOS in such a way that common misconceptions can be overcome. We have created a method for teaching the empirical, tentative, and creative NOS in introductory college science classes, and tested it in an earth science class for elementary education majors. Here, science is presented as a form of “storytelling” that follows particular rules, such as reproducibility of observations, predictive power, naturalism, uniformitarianism, and so on. This presentation clearly separates “the facts” (i.e., observations) from “the stories” (i.e., hypotheses and theories,) which are creative products of scientists' minds. Throughout the semester, this framework gives the teacher opportunities to ask which parts of the information presented are “the facts,” and which are “the story” woven around the facts. Quantitative and qualitative assessment of the effects of the program show that it helps the students to 1) better understand the NOS, 2) be more accepting of scientific theories, since they do not have to accept them as completely true or false, and 3) understand better why scientists exclude the supernatural from consideration.