Also in wide use are handbooks, specific to particular engineering fields, that provide detailed information, often in tabular form, on how best to formulate design solutions to commonly encountered engineering tasks.
“Statistical Inference Enables Bad Science; Statistical Thinking Enables Good Science”
As such, every science or engineering lesson is in part a language lesson, particularly reading and producing the genres of texts that are intrinsic to science and engineering. Students need sustained practice and support to develop the ability to extract the meaning of scientific text from books, media reports, and other forms of scientific communication because the form of this text is initially unfamiliar—expository rather than narrative, often linguistically dense, and reliant on precise logical flows. Students should be able to interpret meaning from text, to produce text in which written language and diagrams are used to express scientific ideas, and to engage in extended discussion about those ideas.
From the very start of their science education, students should be asked to engage in the communication of science, especially regarding the investigations they are conducting and the observations they are making. Careful description of observations and clear statement of ideas, with the ability to both refine a statement in response to questions and to ask questions of others to achieve clarification of what is being said begin at the earliest grades. Beginning in upper elementary and middle school, the ability to interpret written materials becomes more important.
Early work on reading science texts should also include explicit instruction and practice in interpreting tables, diagrams, and charts and coordinating information conveyed by them with information in written text.
Throughout their science education, students are continually introduced to new terms, and the meanings of those terms can be learned only through opportunities to use and apply them in their specific contexts. It follows that to master the reading of scientific material, students need opportunities to engage with such text and to identify its major features; they cannot be expected simply to apply reading skills learned elsewhere to master this unfamiliar genre effectively.
Students should write accounts of their work, using journals to record observations, thoughts, ideas, and models. They should be encouraged to create diagrams and to represent data and observations with plots and tables, as well as with written text, in these journals. They should also begin to produce reports or posters that present their work to others. As students begin to read and write more texts, the particular genres of scientific text—a report of an investigation, an explanation with supporting argumentation, an experimental procedure—will need to be introduced and their purpose explored.
Furthermore, students should have opportunities to engage in discussion about observations and explanations and to make oral presentations of their results and conclusions as well as to engage in appropriate discourse with other students by asking questions and discussing issues raised in such presentations. In high school, these practices should be further developed by providing students with more complex texts and a wider range of text materials, such as technical reports or scientific literature on the Internet.
Moreover, students need opportunities to read and discuss general media reports with a critical eye and to read appropriate samples of adapted primary literature [ 40 ] to begin seeing how science is communicated by science practitioners. In engineering, students likewise need opportunities to communicate ideas using appropriate combinations of sketches, models, and language. They should also create drawings to test concepts and communicate detailed plans; explain and critique models of various sorts, including scale models and prototypes; and present the results of simulations, not only regarding the planning and development stages but also to make compelling presentations of their ultimate solutions.
Understanding how science has achieved this success and the techniques that it uses is an essential part of any science education. Although there is no universal agreement about teaching the nature of science, there is a strong consensus about characteristics of the scientific enterprise that should be understood by an educated citizen [ ]. For example, the notion that there is a single scientific method of observation, hypothesis, deduction, and conclusion—a myth perpetuated to this day by many textbooks—is fundamentally wrong [ 44 ]. Scientists do use deductive reasoning, but they also search for patterns, classify different objects, make generalizations from repeated observations, and engage in a process of making inferences as to what might be the best explanation.
Thus the picture of scientific reasoning is richer, more complex, and more diverse than the image of a linear and unitary scientific method would suggest [ 45 ]. What engages all scientists, however, is a process of critique and argumentation. The ideas that survive this process of review and criticism are the ones that become well established in the scientific community. Our view is that the opportunity for students to learn the basic set of practices outlined in this chapter is also an opportunity to have them stand back and reflect on how these practices contribute to the accumulation of scientific knowledge.
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For example, students need to see that the construction of models is a major means of acquiring new understanding; that these models identify key features and are akin to a map, rather than a literal representation of reality [ 13 ]; and that the great achievement of science is a core set of explanatory theories that have wide application [ 46 ].
Understanding how science functions requires a synthesis of content knowledge, procedural knowledge, and epistemic knowledge. Procedural knowledge refers to the methods that scientists use to ensure that their findings are valid and reliable. It includes an understanding of the importance and appropriate use of controls, double-blind trials, and other procedures such as methods to reduce error used by science. As such, much of it is specific to the domain.
Epistemic knowledge is knowledge of the constructs and values that are intrinsic to science. Students need to understand what is meant, for example, by an observation, a hypothesis, an inference, a model, a theory, or a claim and be able to readily distinguish between them. An education in science should show that new scientific ideas are acts of imagination, commonly created these days through collaborative efforts of groups of scientists whose critiques and arguments are fundamental to establishing which ideas are worthy of pursuing further.
Ideas often survive because they are coherent with what is already known, and they either explain the unexplained, explain more observations, or explain in a simpler and more elegant manner. Thus any new idea is initially tentative, but over time, as it survives repeated testing, it can acquire the status of a fact—a piece of knowledge that is unquestioned and uncontested, such as the existence of atoms. Scientists use the resulting theories and the models that represent them to explain and predict causal relationships.
When the theory is well tested, its predictions are reliable, permitting the application of science to technologies and a wide variety of policy decisions. In other words, science is not a miscellany of facts but a coherent body of knowledge that has been hard won and that serves as a powerful tool.
Engagement in modeling and in critical and evidence-based argumentation invites and encourages students to reflect on the status of their own knowledge and their understanding of how science works. And as they involve themselves in the practices of science and come to appreciate its basic nature, their level of sophistication in understanding how any given practice contributes to the scientific enterprise can continue to develop across all grade levels.
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Simplicity in the Philosophy of Science | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
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