The nature of science in science education: a case study of the development of the nature of science in the National Curriculum for science 1988 – 2010

Williams, James (2019) The nature of science in science education: a case study of the development of the nature of science in the National Curriculum for science 1988 – 2010. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

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Abstract

This thesis is a case study of the educational, political and organisational influences on the development and introduction of the science national curriculum in England and Wales, latterly England only, from 1988 – 2010, with particular emphasis on the inclusion of the Nature of Science (NoS).

The NoS is an important philosophical construct that describes the epistemology of science, that is, science as a way of ‘knowing’. Previous research on the NoS has concentrated on teachers’ and children’s understanding of the concept. There is little published work on how the concept is included and represented in the curriculum and how curriculum reform has affected the development and status of the NoS.

I argue that a lack of understanding of the nature of science as well as a confusion over the so-called ‘scientific method’ has led to a lack of coherence in the science curriculum and, further, that simply teaching children ‘in’ science does not develop the necessary skills or knowledge to be ‘scientifically literate’.
The research was carried out within a post positivist, critical realist paradigm. Methods used include document analysis, a curriculum analysis utilising Posner’s framework and semi-structured interviews.

The case study covers three distinct areas; firstly, there is a consideration of the development of science in the school curriculum over time. It includes recognition and discussion of various education acts, Government reports and other expert science education reports, including notable science curriculum developments leading up to the introduction of the science national curriculum for Science. Secondly, there is an examination of the political influences on the introduction of the national curriculum, followed by an analysis of the various draft and implemented versions of the science national curriculum during the stated period. Finally, there is an analysis of the experiences of a small sample of science teachers focussing on their experiences of science education, their understanding of the NoS, the scientific method and aspects of scientific language.

The case study shows the influence of Government policy over the curriculum. It reveals how a reductionist approach to curriculum review almost eliminated the essence of the subject (the NoS) in favour of a utilitarian model based on knowledge and skills only, which prized science literacy over scientific literacy.

The key findings from this research are:

1. A lack of a properly formed and informed view of the Nature of Science in the science curriculum has the potential to undermine the development of high levels of scientific literacy.

2. The process skills of science, that is how to conduct experiments and investigations, are likely to be seen as a proxy for the NoS if a coherent position on the NoS is not presented as necessary to underpin science teaching.

3. The creation of a curriculum by consensus and in prescriptive detail was ineffective and led to several revisions, which further complicated its implementation nationally.

4. There is a problem with the lack of agreement and consistent definitions of key terms and the concept of ‘the scientific method’, as revealed in the interview evidence, which undermines the teaching and understanding of the nature of science.

The findings from this case study show that a lack of understanding of the NoS potentially undermines the delivery of high levels of scientific literacy. It can also lead to a belief that ‘the sciences’ have a high degree of commonality in how they operate as disciplines and in the reasoning skills applied within the different disciplines to scientific problems. This leads to a lack of coherence in the curriculum as the sciences have distinct features and processes that define how they operate in real life. As a contribution to knowledge, I argue that the teaching of, understanding and delivery of a coherent nature of science should underpin any science curriculum constructed to ensure a greater degree of curriculum coherence and appreciation of the similarities and differences between the scientific disciplines. The nature of science provides an epistemological basis for all the sciences and underpins the scientific methods and language related to ideas and evidence. Furthermore, there should be more attention paid to the language of science and, to separate out the specific language used by science, the prefix of ‘scientific’ should be used preceding key terms such as theory, law, hypothesis, principle etc. This has implications for initial teacher education and training in ensuring that science graduates appreciate the NoS and understand the reasoning and methods used by different sciences to come to answers about scientific questions.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of Education and Social Work > Education
Subjects: Q Science > Q Science (General) > Q0181 Study and teaching > Q0183.3-4 By region or country > Q0183.4 Other regions or countries, A-Z > Q0183.4.G7 Great Britain
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 15 Jul 2019 12:30
Last Modified: 15 Jul 2019 12:30
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/84866

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