Teaching and Learning about the Nature of Science and Scientific Inquiry with Historical Case Studies and Inquiry Based Learning
Science education striving for students‘ scientific literacy should balance science content knowledge and inquiry skills as well as knowledge about science (NoS) and scientific inquiry (NoSI). By now these goals are pinned down in the standards’ documents for science education in many countries. The better part of today’s science teaching is quite ignorant of these goals and implementation of promising teaching conceptions is poor. Additionally, students seldom relate their activities and experiences in science teaching to elements of professional science, hindering effective learning about NoS and NoSI. Science teachers also do not tend to establish these reflective experiences, be it for the lack of scaffolding skills, the lack of knowledge about professional science and the nature of science or inadequate beliefs about teaching and learning. Teacher-centered, decontextualized teaching and verificationist methods implicitly convey an image of science as static, authoritative and hyperrational. A stronger orientation on learners’ perspectives, dialogical-supportive teaching styles and opening the lessons especially in phases of experimentation are boundary conditions for constructing elaborate views of NoS and NoSI. Additionally, the combination of content, methods and social organization of teaching has to provide resources appropriate for focusing on methods, processes and boundary conditions of professional science and its knowledge construction. There is a long tradition of research on rationales to foster students’ learning processes towards realistic and resilient views on the NoS and NoSI, on the role of methodology, professional activities and societal, historical and cultural boundary conditions of science. This research has highlighted the potential of some teaching conceptions and instructional strategies to reach some of these goals. On the one hand this applies to research-like conceptions of science teaching like inquiry based learning (IBL), on the other hand it applies to conceptions that rely on meaningfully contextualizing science teaching with “real research” like HPSST approaches (history and philosophy of science in science teaching). The effectiveness of these conceptions relies heavily on instructional strategies (e.g. direct questioning, guided discussions or creative writing tasks) which intentionally foster students’ explicit reflection of their activities, cognitions and emotions in the light of that of professional science and scientists. These strategies let students relate and critically reflect exemplary elements of “real science” to their own experience in order to construct knowledge about specific aspects of the NoS and NoSI.
The processes mentioned above can be conceptionalized as creating NoS(I)-learning-opportunities by relating the implicit level of science teaching to explicit aspects of the NoS(I) as well as relating the proximal experiences of students in science lessons to the distalaspects of professional science. This conceptionalization raises some questions, which this study shall explore. One can ask:
To explore these questions, two teaching units (1xIBL,1xHPSST) have been developed, comparable in their content goals as well as NoS(I) goals and learning-opportunities. Both teaching units are on qualitative electrostatics, both units comprise comparable sequences of open and guided explicit reflection on the NoS(I). The HPS unit is characterized by a historic-genetic course, aligning with the research of several scientists of the 15th and 16th century. Students will do experiments on replicates of historical instruments and receive information on the scientists’ social and cultural context as well as on their research methodology. The IBL unit is characterized by structured, moderately guided inquiry sequences. Each unit will focus on NoS(I)-learning opportunities for justification and criticism in science, use and quality of scientific instruments, motives and creativity of scientists, distinctions and similarities between laws and theories, inductive/explorative vs. hypothetico-deductive research strategies. Both interventions will be developed by what is seen as best practice for teaching and learning about NoS(I) within the two different teaching conceptions.
The study is thought as comparative interventional study without control group. The interventions will be taught by the same teacher in two 8th grades in a German gymnasium. Each intervention is sequenced into three episodes. After each episode, a phase of guided explicit reflection on the NoS(I) will take place. The questions, prompts and themes of the accompanying classroom discussions will be parallelized for the two interventions. The duration of these phases should also be equal. Each intervention will be taught to about 30 students. To prepare teacher and students each intervention will be preceded by a short training-episode of HPSST/IBL, lacking the phase of explicit reflection.
Before and after the intervention the students’ physics-related self-concept and their interest in physics will be measured using well established instruments. Likewise, students conceptions and knowledge about the nature of science will be assessed using an open questionnaire including a drawing task and an additional follow-up interview on students’ responses to this questionnaire. Additionally, there are questions probing students’ ideas on similarities and differences of school and professional science as well as on their attitude towards history of science and nature of science in science teaching. All lessons will be videotaped and the students fill out a short questionnaire about their lesson-related motivation after each lesson.
Students’ conceptions and knowledge about the NoS(I) will be analyzed using methods of qualitative content analysis. The main categories will be methodology, sociology and epistemology of science, with a number of appropriate deductive subcategories but also allowing for inductive modification or generation of new categories.
The changes in students’ conceptions and knowledge about the NoS(I) are used to infer plausible learning-opportunities in the preceding interventions. The relating lesson sequences are analyzed using the two dimensions mentioned above: implicit<->explicit and proximal<->distal.
Students in the lower and upper quartiles concerning their physics-related self-concept and their interest in physics will be compared by the amount and the quality of change in conceptions and knowledge about the NoS(I).
For matched pairs (concerning their physics-related self-concept and their interest in physics) of students from different interventions the amount and the quality of change in conceptions and knowledge about the NoS(I) will be compared.