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Science, Science Literacy, & the Nature of Science

Exploration for professional development & reflection on science literacy in a professional educator's knowledge base

Observations provide ideas for us to reason.


This page explores science. Definitions of science, the nature of science, science literacy, science anxiety, and how to create a comprehensive description of what is necessary to be science literate.

What is Science?

Many intelligent people have played around with defining science - some of them more seriously than others.

Browse a few definitions.

I am sure that you can recognize many ideas within these definitions that you would include in your personal definition of science and maybe some that you would not consider.

But, you say! What is the real definition, or the best definition.

Well, from that list my favorite is:

A carpenter, a schoolteacher, and scientist were traveling by train through

Scotland when they saw a black sheep through the window of the train.

"Aha," said the carpenter with a smile,

"I see that Scottish sheep are black."

"Hmm," said the school teacher, "You mean that some Scottish sheep are black."

"No," said the scientist glumly,

"All we know is that there is at least one sheep in Scotland, and that at least one side of that one sheep is black."

Awe come on you say, that can't be it!

Maybe not, but it really gets to the heart of science. Observation.

Everything we know, when doing science must be observable and not only observable, but repeatedly observable for verification. So if you want to get philosophical about science, the place to begin is to philosophize about what is observation, is it real, is it imagined, what makes better observations, and is does every person's observation exist only in their mind.... and so on...

Well, that is too deep for here. Let's assume collective observations, which can be verified, is real.

Enough philosophy get to a definition...

Alas, there is not one. There are many things that science is, and there are many things that science is not.

The most important thing that it is not, is anything that isn't based on verifiable observation.

Philosophy based on beliefs and assumptions, art based on viewer opinions, music based on listener opinions, religion based on personal faith, intuition based on gut feelings, arguments built on assumptions that we are unwilling to change ... and so on!

Conclusions dawn from these are not scientific. That doesn't devalue those opinions or decisions, or put greater value on decisions that are scientific.

It is human nature that decides what to value and what process or processes to use to decide what to believe or not.


Therefore, when we choose to verify, based upon observation above all else, then science is the discipline that has been created and refined for that kind of inquiry.

So, what implications does this have for science educators?

Fortunately or unfortunately it requires study.

A simple definition of science can be useful to point us in an appropriate direction, but unless that definition includes long lists of what science can do, how to do it, what it has created (science knowledge base), and when to use it, then it isn't very helpful for professional educators.

Therefore, we dig deeper, and explore the nature of science and science literacy.

Before you do. Let's see if we can reduce your science anxiety.

Science Anxiety reduction ...

Would you say...

I am very comfortable talking about science and using it to better understand the world?


I could you use more confidence and understanding to use science to understand the world?

More confidence? or Are you a bit curious?

Read through these two surveys, but don't let the first one freak you out!

Science Survey 1 (Anxiety?)

Science survey
SA = Strongly Agree, A = Agree; N = Neutral, D = Disagree, SD = Strongly Disagree
1. I’m afraid of science.          
2. I distrust science.          
3. I find science complex and difficult to understand.          
4. I’m turned on by science.          
5. I’m interested by science.          
6. I’m fascinated by science.          
7. I look forward to learning science.          
8. Science is essential to our society.          
9. Learning science is important for our survival.          
10. I look for opportunities to do science.          


When you have had enough of this first survey move to the next.


Survey 2
SA = Strongly Agree, A = Agree; N = Neutral, D = Disagree, SD = Strongly Disagree
1. I’m afraid of watching different objects or events.          
2. I distrust what I observe.          
3. I find that explaining what I see is complex and difficult to understand.          
4. I’m turned on by new sights and ideas.          
5. I’m interested in seeing everything I can.          
6. I’m fascinated by watching things I haven't seen.          
7. I look forward to learning from and about new sights and experiences.          
8. Really looking at things is essential to our society.          
9. Learning how to see and describe things in our world is important for our survival.          
10. I look for opportunities to do more to see new things to better understand the world.          


If your ratings on the second survey are higher than the first, it is very likely you can decrease your anxiety for science and increase your confidence and positive attitude about science!

All you have to do is simple!

Think of science as - observation or learning from observation.

Which, you have probably already figured out.


We should Think of Science as Observation?

Yes, and I think you are already pretty good at making and using observations to understand the world. All you need to do is relate those experiences to science and science literacy, then you can relax and continue to become a better science educator.

Isn't It More Complicated than that?

No. But that doesn't mean it doesn't take time or effort, but it is the place to start.

So get ready to increase your understanding and use of science based on verifiable observation.

Hopefully you should feel better about your anxieties; and are ready to continue your investigation into science literacy.

From science definitions to science literacy

Now, let's tame the powerful question: What is science literacy?

First, a little history. - In 1989 a group of scientists and educators asked that question and compiled a book, Science for All Americans with their answer. A comprehensive descriptions of what science is and introduces science literacy for professional educators to use as a framework to understand what people need to know to be science literate.

Before we head off into the wilderness, on a quest to understand science literacy; let's review a couple of ideas.

First, in science there are no right answers. Science is never done. There are ideas that are more accepted, by the scientific community, than others, but the nature of science is: every idea is open to change.

Second, no matter how much science you know it will never be enough. The information included in Science for All Americans, is a compilation created by an expert panel of scientists, mathematicians, social scientist, and technologists of what they believe every high school graduate should know and be able to do to be science literate; not what a person needs to know to be a scientist, nor is it what a person needs to know to be awarded a science scholarship to a prestigious college or university to study in a science field, but what everyone should know.

More importantly for you, it is what a professional educator should know to teach at any grade level.

The following information and links will help you discover the full power of science literacy and its many dimensions.

Science Literacy Resources

The two organizations whose documents describe science literacy:

  1. AAAS created Project 2061,
  2. NSTA (Natonal Science Teachers Association) created the national science standards.

I have prepared a chart to guide your review of how the four dimensions of all subject areas are related to the dimensions or categories created by AAAS and NSTA.

Three Standard Dimensions - compared

Four Categories Necessary for literacy in any Subject

Why these?

New Framework for K-12 Science Education Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas
Catgories chart
National Science Standards Categories
Project 2061 Categories
1991, 1994
1. Science Inquiry Knowledge &
  • The basic assumptions and ideas used to construct understanding of ideas in a subject or discipline.


Process skills
  • The system of actions, procedures, and, ideas that are used to create knowledge in a subject or discipline.
Scientific & Engineering Practices
  • EP1: Asking questions (science) and defining problems (engineering)
  • EP2: Developing and using models
  • EP3: Planning and carrying out investigations
  • EP4: Analyzing and interpreting data
  • EP5: Using mathematics and computational thinking
  • EP6: Construting explanations (science) and designing solutions (engineering)
  • EP7: Engaging in argument from evidence
  • EP8: Obtaining, evaluation, and communicating information
Crosscutting Concepts
  • CC1: Patterns
  • CC2: Cause and effect: Mechanism and explanation
  • CC3: Scale, proportion, and quantity
  • CC4: Systems and system models
  • CC5: Energy and matter: Flows, cycles, and conservation
  • CC6: Structure and functions
  • CC7: Stability and change
Science as Inquiry
  • Inquiry is the process of investigation to make discoveries.
Unifying Concepts
  • Systems, Order, and Organization
  • Evidence, Models, and Explanations
  • Constancy, Change, and Measurement
  • Evolution and Equilibrium
  • Form and Function
Nature of science
  • world view,
  • inquiry skill,
  • science enterprise
Common Themes
  • Systems
  • Models
  • Constancy S
  • cale
2. Content Knowledge
  • The ideas (facts, concepts, generalizations, principles, theories, and or laws) that are created by doing the subject.
Disciplinary Core Ideas
Physical science
  • PS1: Matter and its interactions
  • PS2: Motion and stability: Forces and interactions
  • PS3: Energy
  • PS4: Waves and their applications in technologies for information transfer
Life Science
  • LS1: From molecules to organisms: Structures and processes
  • LS2: Ecosystems: Interactions, energy, and dynamics
  • LS3: Heredity: Inheritance and variation of traits
  • LS4: Biological evolution: Unity and diversity
Earth's systems
  • ESS1: Earth's place in the universe
  • ESS2: Earth's systems
  • ESS3: Earth and human activity


Content Ideas
Physical science
  • Materials can exist in different states - solids, liquids, and gas.
  • Some common materials, such as water, can be changed from one state to another by heating or cooling.
Life science
  • Plants and animals have life cycles that include being born, developing into adults, reproducing, and eventually dying.
  • The details of this life cycle are different for different organisms.
Earth science
  • The surface of the earth changes. Some changes are due to slow processes, such soil erosion and weathering, and some changes are due to rapid processes, such as landslides, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes.
Content Ideas
Physical Universe
  • Universe,
  • Earth, processes shape earth,
  • structure of matter,
  • energy
  • transformations,
  • motion,
  • forces of nature
  • Diversity of life,
  • heredity,
  • cells,
  • interdependency of life,
  • flow of matter and energy,
  • evolution of life,
Human organism
  • Human identity,
  • human development,
  • basic functions,
  • learning,
  • physical health,
  • mental health


3. Perspective
  • The relationship of the different dimensions of a subject or discipline to its other dimensions and to its whole as well as the subject's or discipline's relative significance for explaining and understanding the world.
Engineering, technology, & the Applications of Science
  1. ETS1: Engineering design
  2. ETS2: Links among engineering, technology, science, and society


Science and Technology
  • Science in Personal and Social Perspectives
  • History & Nature of Science
  • Science and technology
Nature of science
  • Technology and science, design and systems, issues of technology
Historical perspective
4. Disposition
  • The diposition, attitudes, and values that people have that increase their likelihood of success in the subject or discipline.


  Habits of mind
  • Values and attitude


That is a lot of information.

Yes, it is.

However, It can all be explained by building on what you are good at! Observation.

Let's start with the nature of science (NOS).

It isn't easy, but it is the foundation for science literacy, so open you mind and try your hand at answering a few questions about the nature of science (NOS). Oh... Remember I said I would help you? Below the questions are some suggestions and misconceptions that I believe will help you answer the questions.

Nature of science

What do you Know about the Nature of Science?

To better understand and help others understand the nature of science it is important to continually apply your understanding to ideas related to science and search for the limits to those ideas. These questions were developed for that opportunity.

Focus questions for the nature of science

  1. What is science?
    • What makes science (or a scientific discipline such as physics, biology... different from other disciplines of inquiry such as religion, Philosophy, art.. and even opinion?
  2. What is an experiment?
  3. Is experimentation necessary for the development of scientific knowledge?
    • If yes, explain why. Give an example to defend your position.
    • If no, explain why. Give an example to defend your position.
  4. Is there a function for change in scientific theories. After scientists have developed a scientific theory such as atomic theory, theory of evolution... does the theory ever change?
    • If you believe that scientific theories do not change, explain why and defend your answer with examples.
    • If you believe that scientific theories include a function for change, explain why and defend your answer with examples.
    • If they include a function for change, then explain why people still think it is important to learn theories.
  5. What is the difference between a scientific theory and a scientific law? Use an example to explain your answer.
  6. Science textbooks often represent the atom as a central nucleus composed of
    • protons (positively charged particles) and
    • neutrons (neutral particles) with
    • electrons (negatively charged particles) orbiting the nucleus.
      How certain are scientists about the structure of the atom?
      What specific evidence do you think scientists used to determine what an atom looks like?
  7. Science textbooks often define a species as a group of organisms that share similar characteristics and can interbreed with one another to produce fertile offspring.
    How certain are scientists about this characterization of what a species is?
    What specific evidence do you think scientists used to determine what a species is?
  8. It is believed around 65 million years ago dinosaurs became extinct. Scientists developed hypotheses to explain the extinction. Some scientists suggests a huge meteorite hit the Earth 65 million years ago and led to a series of events that caused the extinction. Other scientists hypothesize of a massive and violent volcanic eruption was responsible for the extinction. How are these different conclusions possible if scientists in both groups have access to and use the same set of data to derive their conclusions?
  9. Some claim that science is infused with social, cultural, political values, philosophical assumptions, and intellectual norms of the culture in which it is practiced. Others claim that science is universal and transcends national and cultural boundaries and therefore, not affected by social, cultural, political values, philosophical assumptions, and intellectual norms of the culture in which it is practiced.
    • If you believe that science reflects social and cultural values, explain why. Defend your answer with examples.
    • If you believe that science is universal, explain why. Defend your answer with examples.
  10. Scientists perform experiments/investigations when trying to find answers to the questions they develop. Do scientists use their creativity and imagination during their investigations?
    • If yes, at what stages of investigations do you believe scientists use their imagination and creativity: planning and design, data collection, after data collection?
    • Please explain why scientists use imagination and creativity. Provide examples if appropriate.
    • If you believe that scientists do not use imagination and creativity, please explain why. Provide examples if appropriate.

As promised ... suggestions ...

The Practice and Nature of Science - Analyzed

The following information has accurate and inaccurate information. The inaccurate information is labeled misconceptions since they are often thought accurate. Explain what makes the misconceptions inaccurate.

Scientific knowledge

Scientific knowledge is tentative, empirically based, subjective (theory based), partly the product of human inference, imagination and creativity, embedded in social and cultural contexts.

  • Subjective means based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes, opinions or perspectives of existence. Science never starts with neutral observations.
  • Empirical means based on repeatable verifiable observation or experience rather than pure logic or reasoning to create scientific knowledge.
  • Scientific knowledge is universal and does not vary from one place to another. (misconception)

Scientific practices or nature

Scientific practice is the collection and interpretation of data and the derivation of conclusions. Scientific practices or the nature of science includes the understanding that observations are constrained by our perceptions, and generation of explanations. Both involves imagination and creativity and both depend on theory, perspective, and attitude. While there is overlap between the dimensions of science it is important to know how they fit within the practice or nature of science.

Collection and interpretation of data

Observations are physical sensation as a result of human processes of the senses or extensions of those senses. Observations are the basis of science. They are always filtered by our perceptual understanding and often instrumentation used to to collect them. They are interpreted within elaborate theoretical frameworks and almost always mediated by a host of assumptions that underlie our understanding and functioning of those instruments.

Inference is a result of observation and reasoning about those observations. Objects fall when dropped - observation. Gravity is the inferred force that pulls objects on Earth towards its center. Gravity can only be observed and/or measured by its effects.

There is no universal recipe or scientific method to do science

There is no single scientific method. No single sequence of events that will guarantee infallible knowledge. However, there are processes scientists use that will more likely lead them to repeatable observations and acceptable explanations. Experimental manipulation often claimed as desirable has not always been required. How would a scientist manipulate experiments in astronomy or anatomy? Yet there is much we claim scientific in these areas? Darwin's theory of evolution was not directly tested. It was concluded by observations of fossils, rocks, and differences and similarities of species.

  • Science uses an exact method so the results can be duplicated to prove the right answer. (misconception)
  • Science is objective because of the scientific method. (misconception) Artists are subjective.
  • Science wouldn't exist without scientific method of experimenting. (misconception)
  • Knowledge can only come from precise experiments. (misconception)
  • To have a scientific and valid experiment one should not have bias or any ideas in advance. (misconception)
  • Science has a particular way of doing things, the scientific method. (misconception)
  • Science is different from other subjects in that it follows a rigid set of procedures. (misconception)
  • Experiment is everything that involves the collection of data and not necessarily the manipulation. (misconception)

Knowing the distinction between observation and inference is an essential precursor to understand inferential and theoretical entities and terms of science such as: photon, electron, gene, DNA, atom, magnetic field, gravitational forces, element…

Scientific laws and theories

Laws and theories are tentative.

Laws are quantitative relationships between observable phenomena about how some aspect of the natural world behaves under certain circumstances.

Examples of Laws:
Law of universal attraction between objects f= force of gravitational attraction, G is the gravitational constant, m1 is the mass of one object, m2 is the mass of a second object, and r is the distance between the center of the two masses.

Gravitational force equation

Gas laws Boyle's law relates the pressure of gas to its volume at a constant temperature. Charles Law relates the volume to the temperature. The ideal gas law relates the state of a gas is to its pressure, volume, and temperature.


Gas law equations

Density relates mass and volume. D = m/v

Theory in science is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypothesis, National Academy of Sciences (1999).

Science theories are systems of explanations that have been created from substantiated repeated observations and through reasoning. Theories can NOT be directly tested. That means theories contain non observable objects or ideas that can NOT be observed. Only indirect evidence can be used to support them and establish their validity. The more indirect evidence collected the greater the confidence in a theory.

Examples of Theories: states of matter, chemical change, evolution, kinetic molecular theory, heat and energy transfer. Kinetic molecular theory is an inferred explanation of Boyle's law. Bohr's model of the atom with orbits of energy levels. Classification theory.

Theories and laws are different kinds of knowledge and one does not become the other. Theories can never acquire the status of "law" since they can never be directly tested and are only supported by indirect evidence and reasoning. Scientific laws do not have a higher status than a theory. Bohr's atomic model and the idea of species are functional theoretical models rather than reality.

Theories go beyond observations. They are made of concepts that are in accordance with common observation or go beyond and propose new explanatory models for the world.

Laws describe something in nature. A theory is an attempt to explain why nature is the way it is. Theories set a framework of a general explanation upon which specific hypotheses are developed. Since theories have things that cannot be observed we deduce consequences from them that could be tested.

  • The image of an atom is a construct with electron microscopes. (misconception)
  • A law has been tested and cannot be changed. (misconception)
  • Scientists reach different conclusions because they were not on earth when the dinosaurs became extinct. The only way to know is to go back in time to witness what happened. (misconception)
  • Scientists are fairly sure about the structure of an atom as they have pictures of them taken with electron microscopes. (misconception)
  • Theories are constantly under going change and can be proven false at anytime. Laws will not. (misconception)
  • A scientific law is a theory that has been proven over time. (misconception)
  • We learn theories so we can continue to add on to our understanding and we don't have to start all over from scratch. (misconception)
  • Theory is untested or requiring additional tests until I can be satisfactorily proved. (misconception)
  • Theories are just one person's views. (misconception)
  • Laws start as theories and can become laws only when they are repeated and proven. (misconception)
  • Science is concerned with facts used to prove theories true. (misconception)

Science is embedded in culture - perspective

Scientists are human. Like all people they interpret the same data sets differently because they use different life experiences and different ways of thinking. Science never starts with neutral observations. Observations are always guided by questions or problems which are created by an individual or collective theoretical perspective. The lack of a scientist being able to communicate or know what theoretical perspectives influences ones questions or problem creations doesn't mean scientists do not have or are not using any. Theoretical perspectives are embedded in the different aspects of ones culture: society, economics, politics, philosophy, and religion.

Culture shapes science beyond what is investigated


Some cultures believe only humans have a spirit or soul, others believe all living things have them, and still others believe even nonliving things do. That surely effects the way a person attributes cause and effect explanations.

After the discovery of hormones effects and possible use for birth control, Gregory Pincus persuaded Dr. John Rock to administer the hormone progesterone for 21 days, followed by a 7-day break. They did so because they knew the Pill would be controversial (perspective - cultural) and wanted it to be seen as a natural process, not something that interferes with the normal menstrual cycle. This strategy worked with the FDA approving the use of the pill for menstrual cycle control in 1957 and three years later for contraception. Rock, catholic, hoped this strategy would cause greater acceptance with the Catholic Church, however the Pope didn't agree.

Biologically there was no reason to constrain administration of the hormone to this time scale. Any time scale could have been used. Now there are pills given for three months daily before a seven day break and also daily pills without any break.

The law of gravity can be calculated by any culture that has a well defined and accurate calculation of time, which we take for granted. We forget how recent it has been that we established ways of determining time accurately to hours, minutes, seconds, and smaller. Along with this technology there must also be cultural acceptance for its use to collect sufficient data to lead to laws and theories for gravity.

Einstein referred to gravity and it's interaction with objects as visualizing a large rubber sheet with objects as proportional masses sinking into the rubber. The gravitational effect on the objects movements through space could be visualized as the different massed objects rolling across the rubber sheet. Each object's motion being changed depending on the indents of all the objects near to where the moving object is rolling. The depth of indents caused by both object's masses. This analogy can only be created or understood in a culture that had experience with sheets and rubber and spheres.

We are so acclimated to our culture it is almost impossible to step outside it.

  • Science is about facts and is not influenced by cultures and society. Atoms are atoms no matter in what part of the world they are observed. (misconception)

Science is tentative and not absolute

Scientific knowledge can be reliable and durable, but it is never absolute or certain. All of its knowledge including facts, theories, and laws are subject to change. Change as new evidence is available. Nothing is ever absolutely "proven". It is impossible to test every possible instance or to even be aware of what they or the future might be. If an idea could be "absolute" or "proven", then how much knowledge would need to be collected before it could be claimed "absolute" or "proven"? How many experiments would need to be done? Logically for something to be certain or true not one single occurrence can violate the explanation. This would include every past, present, and future instance, of which we have no knowledge. Since, future events, at least are not provable, there is no information that can have absolute "proven" status. No law, hypothesis, or theory.

Take the idea of what constitutes a species. A set of organisms that interbreed and produce fertile offspring. Even this information becomes clouded and can't always be used to distinguish species. Some organisms are asexual. Some of which have differences between organisms that are so wide it is difficult to determine where differences between organisms stop and differences between species begins. Another example is the acceptance of wolves in a species separate from dogs. Yet these two species are able to interbreed successfully. Even less clear are the distinctions between subspecies?

Further, species is a category that is decided by the definition people give to it. While the idea of a species breeding with only itself is common as a distinction it doesn't always hold up. Different species - polar bear and brown/grizzly bear can have hybrid offspring. As well a mule is a hybrid offspring of a female horse and a male donkey, yes the other way around is a hinny, many plant hybrids have also been created by cross breeding of different species and these hybrids can't reproduce.

Yes we could use a blood test or DNA test to compare a sample from a known species to a sample from an unknown species. In some cases there will be evidence to strongly support one species classification over all others. However, take the hybrid examples for the mule and Polar/Brown bear. When the testing is done and you know the parents are of two different species, then in which species do you put the offspring? Huh?

It is a human decision that can be claimed - arbitrary. Not determined by the evidence one way or another. How can a person be sure that the line between two species is drawn accurately? Could it not be moved a little closer one way or another and still make sense? Does it really matter if we ever agree exactly where? Should a mule be in the species horse, or donkey, or a species by it self? Whoa! (pun intended) If you're thinking by it self, remember we started with the definition of a species being able to reproduce with its own kind, then a mule can't have their own species. So would you put the hinny and the mule in the same species? What if each would resemble a different species (donkey or horse) more because of the sex differences of parents?

So it seems we are backed into a corner. What is the problem and is there a solution? The problem is to recognize that classification is arbitrary and the selection of category definitions limits what is placed within each category. Again these are based on human decisions as to what constitutes a separation between categories. In this case the definition of species is to determine categories and the separation of living things into those categories, for which the categories do not precisely fit the real world observations. In fact it could be argued there is no fit because of all the diversity among living organisms on Earth. So because our need to classify may be part of our human nature, we tend to do it. And from that tendency we find having a classification system is helpful in thinking and communicating scientifically. However, we must be careful to recognize its limits and use it as it has value.

  • In the past it was not certain about the species, but now it is possible to know what animals belong to what species. (misconception)
  • Science is right or wrong. It isn't a field of study with a lot of opinions or personal views. It is fact based. (misconception)
  • Science uses concrete facts that have been proven, observed, can be repeated, and seen by someone else to get a right or wrong answer. (misconception)
  • Science demands right and wrong answers. (misconception)
  • If you get the same results over and over and over, then you become sure that your theory is a proven law, a fact. (misconception)

Science is imaginative and creative

Science strives to ask questions and is fueled by a desire to answer those questions and with the acceptance of science as not absolute, opens the door to continual expansion of understanding. This creation of understanding requires a very creative and imaginative process to create a wealth of possible questions to pursue and plausible explanations for data collected in the pursuit of understanding.

  • When you collect data you want to be objective not creative. (misconception)
  • Science is more tedious and repetitive for the purpose of getting new data. (misconception)

Summary of the Nature of science

The nature of science has these common characteristics:

  • Science requires observable and verifiable data (empirical evidence); both which can be quantitative and qualitative descriptions of the natural world.
  • Science is tentative, not absolute. Subject to change. Change based on new evidence and or new ways to evaluate existing evidence. This is not a weakness, but strength in that it suggests there is always more to know.
  • Science is subjective. People's backgrounds influence what they investigate, what they observe, and how they interpret the evidence.
  • Therefore, scientific knowledge comes from both observations and the inferences made about both of them.
  • Science is creative imagination. Imagination used throughout the process: in the questions asked, the investigations performed, and in the explanations made of the findings.
  • Science is influenced by social and cultural values of scientist and scientific communities as their values guide the questions ask in asked, the research conducted, and the explanations given. All which have the potential to advance or impede scientific progress.


Fitting these ideas into a professional educators knowledge base

I imagine the thinking you did responding to the nature of science questions was pretty deep. Congratulations!

The information is pretty good for an overview of what science is and what a person needs as a foundation to be science literate. However, as an educator we should revisit these ideas and the dimensions of science literacy as we make decisions on what and how to include ideas when planning and teaching.

Therefore, it is essential to learn the dimensions of science and how they fit in the process of science along with the content created with this process. To do so you can use NSTA or AAAS as a source or my working collection of concepts and misconceptions in my science knowledge base that I use for planning and teaching.

To help understand how the four dimensions fit with information in these different documents and for you to organize science and select dimensions and subdimensions to guide your decision making, can refer to the comparison of dimensions above as well as the diagram or model in the science knowledge base. This information an be used to create a comprehensive diagram or list of dimensions or categories for the science information that learners need to know to be science literate.

After you do, you can review your list or diagram and try it out by seeing if you can categorize these ideas for science literacy within the dimensions and categories that will become your knowledge base.

While this can be complicated, remember science is based on observation and all scientific knowledge is about how to observe better and different ways to use our observations as evidence to explain and verify (cause and effect) how the world works.

So, science, grows from observation, thinking and reasoning about observations, and using them to determine future observations. Anyone reading this, has been doing that successfully for many years and has the ability to succeed in becoming an outstanding science educator. The connection to science is learning how the processes of science are derived from the different ways of using or reasoning with observations.

Science is NOT the information needed to build a rocket, or the results from decoding the human genome, or an explanation of nuclear physics and black holes. Science was and still is being used to create understanding in these and other areas, but everything that you know about the world and can use to explain what will or may happen before it happens, you learned by doing science, whether you knew it or not.

The way that you grew to understanding repeatable events is the same science used by scientists in all sciences even at the most advanced levels and in the most advanced topics. Too often people think science is complicated and used only to understand advanced science topics, or one has to be able to understand science topics at an advanced level to be able to do and use science. However, they are mistakenly confusing science (viewing and doing) with the ability to comprehend secondary written reports of somebody else's observations and explanations. Understanding information presented in written form, is reading comprehension and when it is presented orally it is listening skills. Both, valuable tools for learning secondary information, but not for doing science

Before we get back to our focus questions, I suggest a bit of an aside about observation:

While we focus on observation as central to science and science literacy, let's rview some of its power with teaching, learning, and motivation.

Observation can be critical to use as a mediator with learners. Since observation is a great motivator it can be used to access the inherent curiosity of learners to understand what they see or have seen. Further all the ways of understanding begin with personal observations. It is the learners' personal observations based on their abilities to use visual spatial reasoning to interpret their observations to them act on them with their current developmental level of mathematical-logical reasoning to create their understanding. If we focus our attention on the possible observations learners are using to create their understanding we can use them to make decisions on what questions, tasks, and suggestions we choose to facilitate learning.

The information so far relates to: What is science and science literacy? Which is important to know for professional development along with other focus questions:

  1. What is science and science literacy?
  2. How do people learn?
  3. How is learning facilitated?
  4. How do we know what students know?
  5. How do professional educators improve professionally?

That might be used as a model and cycle to reflect on and organize what you know into a document that summarizes and connects information to be reviewed and used to plan and reflect on your practices?

As you review and discuss ideas for these questions consider how the information relates and can be used to plan and reflect for you, your students, and your peers learning. For example you might create a generic model of ideas, their connections to students, and mediators for decision making.

It won't take long as you add ideas to your web until you have quit a bit of information.

Here is another sample with additional information in a slightly different arrangement.

If the amount on the initial page increases you can move groups of information to different sheets of paper and use arrows to indicate pages with additional information. Or if you use an electronic format, these pages can become links. For example.The category facilitating science literacy can be linked to more specific information on another page.

The sample is a first draft of general pedagogical information. While in most situations general information is applicable to all subject areas specific science education information can be added.

Documents that use and include this kind of information are science education position paper, a professional portfolio, and curriculum documents.

Final questions to think about:

Is it more important the teacher is right or the learner?

Is it more important learners value the teacher's knowledge or their own?

Six areas for for consideration of educators

  1. Purposes of education 
  2. Consideration of learners 
  3. Intended learnings 
  4. Instructional experiences to facilitate learning (teach) - activities, procedures, methods, strategies, ... 
  5. Classroom environment and atmosphere 
  6. Assessment 

It would be nice if all six areas could be considered simultaneously. However, since humans focus on one idea at a time each is studied singularly. However, keep in mind they are not isolated. All are constantly interacting in the classroom.

Your adventure continues with your quest to implement your understanding of science and science literacy to facilitate science literacy in other learners.


Science Definitions

Science is the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.
Origin [Middle English denoting knowledge, from Old French, from Latin - scientia, from sciens, part. of scire, to know.]

Oxford American Dictionaries

Science alone of all the subjects contains within itself the lesson of the danger of belief in the infallibility of the greatest teachers in the preceding generation . . .
As a matter of fact, I can also define science another way:
Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.

Richard Feynman, The Pleasure of Finding Things Out

Religion is a culture of faith; science is a culture of doubt.

Richard Feynman, Nobel-prize-winning physicist

Real science is always more like auto mechanics - getting the damned thing to work - than is dreamed of by philosophers in their texts on scientific method.

Michael Ruse

I think that we shall have to get accustomed to the idea that we must not look upon science as a "body of knowledge", but rather as a system of hypotheses, or as a system of guesses or anticipations that in principle cannot be justified, but with which we work as long as they stand up to tests, and of which we are never justified in saying that we know they are "true".

Karl R. Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery

Science is a wonderful thing, if one doesn't have to earn a living at it.

Albert Einstein

A carpenter, a schoolteacher, and scientist were traveling by train through Scotland when they saw a black sheep through the window of the train.

"Aha," said the carpenter with a smile, "I see that Scottish sheep are black."

"Hmm," said the school teacher, "You mean that some Scottish sheep are black."

"No," said the scientist glumly, "All we know is that there is at least one sheep in Scotland, and that at least one side of that one sheep is black."

From a lecture in one or more of my science classes

Science is the process of "finding out." It is the art of interrogating nature, a system of inquiry that requires curiosity, intellectual honesty, skepticism, tolerance for ambiguity, and openness to new ideas and the sharing of knowledge.

Roberta H. Barba

To do science is to search for repeated patterns, not simply to accumulate facts.

Robert H. MacArthur, Geographical Ecology

The real purpose of the scientific method is to make sure Nature hasn't misled you into thinking you know something you don't actually know.

Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

The stumbling way in which even the ablest of the scientists in every generation have had to fight through thickets of erroneous observations, misleading generalizations, inadequate formulations, and unconscious prejudice is rarely appreciated by those who obtain their scientific knowledge from textbooks.

James Bryant Conant (1893-1978), Science and Common Sense

Contrary to popular belief, scientists are not detached observers of nature and the facts they discover are not simply inherent in the natural phenomena they observe. Scientists construct facts by constantly making decisions about what they will consider significant, what experiments they should pursue, and how they will describe their observations.

Ruth Hubbard and Elijah Wald, 1993

The nature of science which is in essence:

“epistemology of science, science is a way of knowing, or the values and beliefs inherent to scientific knowledge and its development. ”

Lederman 2007, P. 833

Science is the use of evidence to construct testable explanations and predictions of natural phenomena, as well as the knowledge generated through this process.

National Academy of Sciences and Institute of Medicine 2008 p. 10

Back to - What is science?






Dr. Robert Sweetland's notes
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