Enhancing school science

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Contemporary society requires more and more people with a higher level of science education, yet an enduring problem for the sciences has been the poor image that the subject has amongst young people. Too often it is taught in a way that requires students to memorise an ever-expanding body of ‘final form’ knowledge. As a result many students ‘leak’ from the STEM pipeline and are lost to science.

Initial work suggested that too much emphasis is put on details rather than the grand ideas. In addition, it is not enough to present simply what we know, and school science needs to address how we know what we know and how it came to be. The Evidence-Based Practice in Science Education project – an ESRC-funded collaboration between King’s College London and the Universities of York and Southampton – conducted a Delphi study of scientists, science educators, science teachers, philosophers and sociologists to identify what aspects of the nature of science should be taught to all students. It identified 8 key features including the range of scientific methods, the analysis and interpretation of data, and the limits to certainty in science.

Alongside this work, Professor Jonathan Osborne and Professor Shirley Simon at King’s College London have been funded by the ESRC to train teachers to use a pedagogic approach which enables their students to engage in argumentation.They evaluated this work and found that both teachers and students improved the quality of their scientific argumentation. This work laid the foundations for a programme of research that has influenced the teaching of science across the globe. Being able to identify what evidence does and does not support a scientific claim is now a competency tested by the OECD PISA test of scientific literacy used to evaluate the performance of 15-year old students in 72 countries every 3 years, and engaging in argument from evidence is now a core feature of the US curriculum.

www.nuffieldfoundation.org/twenty-first-century-science/rationale

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