Fri. Sep 30th, 2022

Understanding the Nature of Scientific Knowledge and Its Importance in Teaching and Learning  

Nasima Shah

Nature of science (NOS) has been defined in different ways by different researchers. According to Bell (2009), “NOS is a multifaceted concept, it includes aspects of history, sociology, and philosophy of science. It is also called epistemology of science, the characteristics of scientific knowledge, and science as a way of knowing”. The other most frequently quoted definition of nature of science in literature has been given by Lederman (1992) in which he states that NOS refer to the epistemology of science, science as a way of knowing or the values and beliefs inherent to the development of scientific knowledge.  These both definitions highlight the historical, experimental, practical, social and philosophical aspects of the development of science and scientific knowledge. This understanding of scientific knowledge hasn’t been discussed in school science explicitly, that is the reason that science is being taught as a ‘body of knowledge’ that has been developed by scientists by using a so called ‘scientific method’.

Different research studies on teachers’ and students’ understanding of science also show inadequate conceptions of them. In most of these studies teachers and students are found to possess wrong concepts regarding science. Thus as teachers and learners of science we have to develop our understanding regarding the following aspects of science so that we will be able to use it as informed learners of science.

Scientific knowledge is based on empirical evidences. This is the first aspect of NOS and as science students every one of us has to understand it. The empirical NOS mean that science is based on evidences or empirical data. Science is derived from observation of the world around. Scientists rely on experimental or observational data to produce scientific knowledge.

Scientific knowledge is Tentative yet reliable. Scientific knowledge is tentative and changes on the basis of new evidences but at the same time it is durable and reliable. On the basis of new evidences and re-conceptualization of the prior knowledge it can be changed in future. At the same time it should be kept in mind that by the advent of new knowledge a previously exiting knowledge cannot be labeled as useless or discarded thing. Because it provides a basis for the researchers to explore further in the field and creates avenue for new knowledge.

Scientific method

All the researchers of science agreed that there is no single universal method of doing science or solving scientific problems. Scientist used a number of other approaches in their investigations about scientific knowledge. They use observations, argumentation, experimentation, imagination, creativity and inferences. Sometimes ‘chance discovery’ has led the creation of new avenues in science like the discovery of Bouncy Principle by Archimedes and Radioactivity of Uranium metal by Madam Currey.

Laws and theories

According to the science educators laws and theories are the two distinct form of knowledge and there is no hierarchical relationship among them. According to Bell (2009) scientific law is a description of relationships or patterns in nature and they are often denoted in mathematical terms whereas, scientific theory is the explanation of the natural phenomenon. They both have been widely supported and accepted by the scientists. There is no any hierarchical relationship among them. And no any scientific theory can be changed into a scientific law.

Influence of social and cultural aspects of science

To a greater extent scientific questions asked and observations made are influenced by the social and cultural context of the researchers. The researcher’s experiences and anticipated expectations regarding any phenomenon affect the scientific knowledge which he or she produces. Contribution to science has been made by the people world over; they are doing it long ago and will do it in future. Therefore, their feelings, exposures and social contexts will influence the nature of scientific knowledge.

The above mentioned aspects of NOS are very important to be understood by the teachers and learners of science, so that they can be able to develop a comprehensive understanding of it. This will also help us to learn science and scientific knowledge beyond the realm of textbooks. Since most of the textbooks are found to have misconceptions regarding science, they work as an array to carry on erroneous ideas among learners.  These textbooks present science as a body of factual knowledge developed by scientists under controlled conditions. They also promote the pseudo-hierarchical relationship among theories and laws, which is a major misconception found among learners.

 In conclusion it can be said that these sorts of wrong concepts regarding science create uncertainty among learners, because the way science actually works is very different from the way it has been presented to us through most of the textbooks and other academic materials. Therefore, as teachers and learners of science  we need to develop our understanding regarding NOS first so, that we can be able to inculcate them in our students.

The contributor, having M.A/M.Ed degrees, is a trained science teacher in one of the public schools of Gilgit-Baltistan.

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