Nature of Science FPLC 2006-7
- What is the Nature of Science and How Should We Teach It?
Nature of Science FPLC Description
This year, we came together to finish what was started in 2005-6 academic year  with the initial NOS FPLC. Some group members stayed the same, and some changed. Our goal remained relatively constant: to best understand what does science mean to us within our disciplines and how do we teach it to our students?
Nature of Science FPLC Background
What's already been said?
Different leading educational institutions have been emphasizing the need for students to understand science and how science is done. This urgent tone has been ongoing for the last 30 years. Benchmarks of Science Literacy  discusses some of the past literature, now available online, in which it discusses the importance of students understanding, at all levels, how science is done beyond just knowledge of a specific topic.
The National Research Council, in examing what should be the national standards for grades 5-8, students should be able to distinguish between and explanation & evidence, they should also be building an understanding of how scientists build their knowledge through the public domain and identify how science changes over time. By the 9-12 grade level, students should be able to distinguish scientific thinking from other ways of knowing and be able to distinguish between scientific knowledge (based in observation & experimentation) rather than other explanations of the natural world.
And even just recently (January 2006), in the Project Kaleidoscope Report of Reports II in the Recommendation for Urgent Action, (compling information from nearly 20 different reports that have been issued within the previous 36 months) it recommends for students now in the pipleline, to "give each undergraduate the opportunity for personal experience with inquiry-based learing that brings him or her to a deep understanding of the nature of science, the language of mathematics, [and] the tools of technology."
How do we effectively do this as science and math faculty? How can we support the framework that students may or may not be gaining at the lower levels of their scientific educational process? How do we teach our students the appropriate content and still provide them an opportunity to understand the nature of science? Are we already doing enough at the introductory level or can more be done?
Current Public Opinion & State of Mind
In recent political conversations within our state (and nationally) and common comments from students demonstrate a fundamental lack of understanding as to how science works. Common statements such as, "but it's only a theory," and "I'm no good at math/science," distinguishes fundamental misunderstandings about our disciplines as a whole. Many students that come through our classes are not going on to become scientists, but may help to shape the local  and national conversations that can influence how we teach or do research. Research has supported the notion that if students understand how science works, they are less inclined to have objections to a difference between scientific ideas and their personal religious beliefs (McComas et al, 1998).
What is it about these topics that makes them different from other topics and how do these perspectives persist? What can we as science & math faculty do to change these opinions? Can we make this effectively done within our classrooms to also change their overall opinions about scnece and math? What are we doing that works? What can we improve in the method of delivery to our students or what we teach our students? This is what we hope to explore in the NOS FPLC this coming year.
Where are we now?
Last year, we started our initial exploration of the research body of what is currently known about teaching the nature of science. Many of us tried different, new ideas in our classrooms. We also administed a pre/post test to determine if students from our classes had changed their ideas about the Nature of Science and the Language of Math. These data still nee to be interpreted. We also spent a fair amount of time talking and reading about how each of us in our different discilines approaches doing science and math and looking to come to a common language to define science and math for the purposes of a consistent language for our students. Most importantly, we had a great time getting to know one another and hearing new and dfferent ideas which rejuvenated and empowered us to try new things in our classrooms.
We hope to further refine these ideas so we can have a consistent message to our studnets which are then further clarified thorugh the school assessment instruments. As we area all activly teaching faculty, it would be greatly advanateous if we were able to implement a teaching project into our classroom to see how well we can implement the research into action. Some of the crew from last year will continue on this project, and we welcome the fresh perspectives that will be added this year.
Nature of Science FPLC Members
Kaatje Kraft (Geology) Facilitator , Members: Brad Kincaid (Biology) , Paul Nunez (Math) , Mangala Joshua (Physics) , Ly Tran-Nguyen (Psychology) , Carol Butler Freeman (Geology) , Ann Ewing (Psychology)  , & John Weide (Chemistry)
Nature of Science FPLC Group Goals
- On the first day we all met (August, 2006) we discussed the importance of establishing group norms. Those norms we agreed as the most important for our group to function were:
- Safety & trust
- Collaboration (in which we contribut different perspectives)
- Team Work (in order to get needs to be done)
- Professionalism (so that we take the task given to us seriously and get our work done)
- Enjoyment (including, food, beverage and travel if possible)
- We hope that these norms will help us to acheive the ultimate goal of Empowerment--for both us as faculty (as both teachers and learners), but also for our students as learners.
- As for goals within the project we hope to accomplish the following:
- Synthesize our common (and different) views of NOS which in turn will help us to revisit the scientific inquiry outcomes (college-wide).
- Learn more about (and implement) acitivities/curriculum models and pedagogies that help to achieve student understanding of NOS.
- Implement activities and assess pre & post student learning on NOS.
- Communicate and Disseminate what we find
Completed or Planned Activities/Events timeline
- We will read through the group book, "Just a Theory," as well as other literature to try and gain a common meaning and understanding with the terminology that we use.
- We will work on creating projects to implement in the spring semester.
- We had a social event at the end of the Fall Semester (Kaatje's House, potluck & general merriment).
- Share our projects and recieve feedback from others
- Continue to read the literature as relates to projects or general interest.
- Plan a social event for all the FPLC's (March 1st at Top Shelf, 4-6pm).
- Document our reflections and projects.
Nature of Science FPLC Resources and References
- Abd-El-Kalick, F. & Lederman, N. (2000). Improving science teachers’ conceptions of nature of science: a critical review of literature. International Journal of Science Education. vol 22 (7), pp. 665-701.
- Benchmarks in Science Education & Atlas of Science Literacy,Project 2061, American Association for the Advancement of Science. Now available online: 
- Hipkins, R. (2005). Teaching the ‘nature of science’: modest adaptations or radical reconceptions? International Journal of Science Education. vol 27 (2), pp. 243-254.
- Just a Theory: Exploring the Nature of Science. Ben-Ari, M., 2005, Prometheus Books. 237 p.
- Lederman, N.G., Abd-El-Khalick, F., Bell, R.L., & Schwartz, R.S. (2002). Views of Nature of Science Questionnaire: Toward Valid and Meaningful Assessment of Learners' Conceptions of Nature of Science. Journal of Research in Science Teaching. vol. 39 (6), pp. 497-521.
- The Nature of Science in Science Education: Rationales and Strategies. McComas, W.F. (ed)., 1998, Kluwer Academic Publishers, vol. 5, 365 p. Key Chapters: Chapters 1, 3, & 4.