In this weblog entry, I will explore the “big ideas about science”. These ideas identify what science is and describe its characteristics. The NGSS refer to them as understandings about the nature of science (NOS). Because science is both a body of knowledge and the process by which that knowledge is developed, the NOS describe the characteristics of scientific knowledge, and give the principles and ideas that describe science as a way of knowing.
This excerpt, quoted from the framework acknowledges the importance of NOS instruction.
“......Understanding how science has achieved this success and the techniques that it uses is an essential part of any science education ……….. there is a strong consensus about characteristics of the scientific enterprise that should be understood by an educated citizen.”
Pages 78 and 79 of the framework contain many other statements about NOS instruction, such as this excerpt:
“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.”
The framework describes the content for K-12 science education and has three dimensions: scientific and engineering practices (SEPs), cross-cutting concepts (CCs), and disciplinary core ideas (DCIs). These dimensions are the foundation upon which the architecture of the NGSS are built.
Although the framework acknowledges the importance of the nature of science, it is not one of its dimensions. In comments on drafts of the NGSS, state leaders and the public wanted the inclusion of NOS in the new standards to be more explicit. In response, the NGSS writers included eight major themes or categories related to understandings about the nature of science. These are not a fourth dimension of the standards, but extensions of other dimensions.
The basic understandings about the nature of science are:
1. Scientific Investigations Use a Variety of Methods
2. Scientific Knowledge is Based on Empirical Evidence
3. Scientific Knowledge is Open to Revision in Light of New Evidence
4. Scientific Models, Laws, Mechanisms, and Theories Explain Natural Phenomena
5. Science is a Way of Knowing
6. Scientific Knowledge Assumes an Order and Consistency in Natural Systems
7. Science is a Human Endeavor
8. Science Addresses Questions About the Natural and Material World
The first four themes extend understandings most closely related to dimension 1 (science and engineering practices) and the last four themes extend understandings most closely related to dimension 2 (crosscutting concepts) of the framework. NGSS Appendix H includes appropriate learning outcomes for each of these themes.
Although NOS is not a dimension per se, explicit instruction with these learning outcomes is an important part of NGSS three-dimensional learning. Integrating the practices(dimension 1) and crosscutting concepts (dimension 2) deepens student understanding of the core ideas of science (dimension 3). By learning about the NOS, students know not just what the core ideas are, but also how these ideas have been arrived. Students who know not just the conclusions of science stated in the core ideas (“what we believe”), but also understand “how we know” and “why we believe” scientific evidence, have a more comprehensive view of science than if they learned the three NGSS dimensions alone.