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Nature of Science for Science Educators

Judith Nuņo

COURSE DESCRIPTION:   Nature of Science for Science Educators is a course that focuses on the relation of science as it is practiced to science as it is taught.  The course is designed for science educators and other individuals interested in learning more about the methods and goals of science, the role of scientists and the place of science in society and culture, and the relation among science practice, science teaching, and science learning.  Selections from the works of the major philosophers of science and commentaries about science practice and science education will be read and discussed.  The main goal of the course is to gain basic knowledge about the nature of science and use that knowledge as a guide in designing and developing philosophically appropriate science curricula from a nature of science perspective.  Students will read and critically review classic papers in the history and philosophy of science, determine the reality of the scientific method, investigate how misconceptions about science affect science teaching and learning, study major controversies in the history of science from a nature of science perspective, and evaluate or produce science lesson plans and units centered on nature of science concepts.

Proposed Course Title:             Nature of Science for Science Educators  

Course Pre-requisites             None

Mode of Delivery:                    Distance Delivery via computer   

Platform Software Package:      Blackboard or other appropriate package

System requirements:     

  • IBM or compatible (486/33 CPU minimum) with Windows or MAC or compatible with 6.05 operating system or higher
  • 8 megabytes RAM
  • 20 megabytes free hard disc space
  • modem with a 9600 baud rate minimum
  • Internet access via a web browser 
  • Email
  • Chat and discussion board accessible via Blackboard    

This course is offered online in 10 weekly sessions 

Students are able to access lectures, complete assignments, and interact with their classmates and the instructor via their computers.  

Required Texts:  

  • The Truth of Science: Physical Theories and Reality  by Roger G. Newton
    (ISBN: 0674001818)  Harvard U Press(1997),  272 pages
  •  Great Feuds in Science: Ten of the Liveliest Disputes Ever by Hal Hellman
    (ISBN: 0471350664) John Wiley and Sons, Inc. (1998), 240 pages


  •  A Beginner's Guide to Scientific Method by Stephen S.Carey
    (ISBN:0534528430)Wadsworth Publishing Co.(1998) 152pages

Course Topics:

  • Science Definitions and Conventions
  • Philosophy of Science
  • Scientific Methods and the Role of Falsification
  • Laws, Theories, and Models
  • Scientific Revolutions and Paradigm Shifts
  • Induction, Deduction, Realism, Empiricism and other -isms
  • Observation, Creativity, Scientific Truth, and Objectivity
  • Conceptions and Misconceptions in the Science Classroom
  • Worldviews and Border Crossings in the Science Classroom
  • Science Education~Nature of Science Standards                                                                                

Expected Student Outcomes:

At the end of the course the student will, by participating in online discussions, completing text and online reading assignments, presenting the results of online searches, and writing reports, be able to:

  • define science
  • differentiate among observation, fact, hypothesis, prediction, law, theory,  and model    
  • describe several methods of science
  • discuss the production of scientific knowledge
  • compare/contrast competing views of science and its processes
  • discuss the role of paradigms and revolutions in science 
  • describe in detail one major science revolution
  • describe philosophically valid science teaching models
  • critique science lesson plans from nature of science and/or multicultural perspectives
  • apply national and state nature of science education standards to science lesson plans
  • develop a nature of science lesson or adapt a science lesson according to nature of science and/or multicultural perspectives

Rationale for Offering/Taking/Teaching This Course Online:  

Science, as it is practiced, is both a dynamic and creative process as well as a product or body of knowledge.  Frequently, however,  school science focuses on the body of knowledge aspect without a historical, social, or cultural context in which the knowledge was developed.  This creates the false impression that science is absolute, perfect, and correct, which practicing scientists know not to be true.  Many science educators have never practiced science and teach science as they were taught as a series of facts and concepts, laws and theories, equations and models.  This course is designed to introduce science educators to the dynamic, creative nature of science and enable them to incorporate philosophically sound nature of science concepts into their teaching activities.  This course will use readings from print texts and www resources on the nature of science, including selections from the writings of philosophers of science, web-published nature of science lesson plans, and web-published science education standards.  Web-searches will also be used as one model of scientific processes.

Number of Sessions/Weeks/Hours/Credits:  

  • 1 quarter, 4 units 
  • 1 session per week for 10 weeks

Subsequent Appropriate Courses

  • History of Science Education
  • Science Teaching Methods                                   


  • Reading assigned lectures, textbook chapters, and web readings
  • Responding online to discussion questions and answers regarding session topics
  • Completing 5 homework assignments
  • Completing 4 projects/papers

COURSE EVALUATION:    Grades will be based on the following:

Participation in course sessions = 20 points

  • reading assigned online lectures and textbook chapters
  • participating in class discussion
  • commenting on submissions of other class members
  • reporting progress to instructor
  • asking questions

Completion of homework assignments = 20 points (4 points each)

  • critical review of web reading
  • falsification or scientific method assignment
  • Great Feuds Quiz commentary
  • ~isms activity plan
  • creativity or peudoscience assignment

Completion of 4 Papers or Projects = 60 points (15 points each)

  • Law and Theory Paper
  • Scientific Revolution Paper
  • Textbook Analysis or Misconceptions Project
  • Nature of Science Lesson Plan or Lesson Plan Evaluation

Grade Scale:

  • 90~100 = A 80~90 = B 70~80=C
  • Students must achieve a grade of C to pass the course


  • Students should access class at least 3 times per week and participate in discussions in the discussion forums. A minimum of two comments on submissions of other class members is required.
  • Homework assignments may be posted directly in the discussion forum or sent as an email attachment in the appropriate discussion forum.
  • You may email the instructor any time at jdenun@mhs-la.org
  • Email addresses of fellow classmates are located in email section in the communication area
  • The course is setup on Blackboard with the following areas:
    • Announcements are the first thing you see on entering this course. They will keep you up to date on current information and assignments
    • Course Information contains a detailed syllabus for the course, nformation on course texts and readings, and a grading rubric
    • Staff Information contains a Biographical Sketch of the Instructor
    • Course Documents contails mini-lectures about the Topic of the Week
    • Assignments contains information on weekly assignments and projects and due dates
    • Communication provides access to the discussion board, chat and group pages, a student roster, class email addresses, and student webpages
    • External Links provides direct links to web-resources associated with weekly assignments and projects
    • Student Tools provides access to grades, a calendar, a help manual for Blackboard, and an opportunity to change your student information and set-up and edit a personal homepage for the course

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The grand aim of all science is to cover the greatest number of empirical facts by logical deduction from the smallest number of hypothesis or axioms

If we have made [explaining the world using laws and explanatory theories] our task, then there is no more rational procedure than the method of trial and error----of conjecture and refutation: of boldly proposing theories; of trying our best to show that these are erroneous; and of accepting them tentatively if our critical efforts are unsuccessful
...Karl Popper

I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meager and unsatisfactory kind; it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely, in your thoughts, advanced to the stage of Science, whatever that may be
...Lord Kelvin



Text Chapter and Web Readings



Science Definitions and Conventions

  • Newton 1
  • Hellman Introduction
  • Carey1
  • Personal Biography
  • Pre~Test: 
  • Define science, scientific method, fact, observation, hypothesis, theory, law, model
  • Comment/Discuss definitions 


   Philosophy of Science

  • Newton 2
  • Hellman 1
  • http://www.marxists.org/

    The Miniature Library of Philosophy: 
    Click on the author's name:
    • Carnap: Physical foundations of physics
    • Dilthey: Intro to Human Sciences
    • Feyerabend: Aganist Method:
      Outline of an anarchistic theory of knowledge
    • Lorenz: On the virtue of scientific humility 
    • Piaget: construction of reality
    • Poincare: the relativity of space (from science and method)
    • Schelling: Epistemology and physics
  • Critical Review
  • Select one of the web readings and write a critical review of the concepts with respect to the practice of science.
  • Comment on the submissions of 2 other classmates


Scientific Methods and the Role of Falsification

  • Summary
  • Karl Popper's concept of falsification and apply to any current scientific theory with which you are familiar 
  • Description
  • how the scientific method was utilized in the Galileo controversy (Hellman 2)
  • Comment on the submissions of 2 other classmates


    Laws, Theories, and Models

  • Law and Theory Paper
  • find 10~15 definitions of law and theory in the assigned readings (text or web resources), in science texts you use or are familiar with, and/or in the popular literature
  • list the definitions with the source
  • compare/contrast the definitions in a 1~2 paragraph summary

Comment on the submissions of 2 other classmates


  Scientific Revolutions and Paradigm Shifts

  • Great Feuds Quiz
  • Take as many times as you want to get a flavor the Nature of Science
  • Comment briefly on what the quiz taught you about the Nature of Science
  • Science Revolution Paper
  • Choose any of the Great Feuds in Science from Hellman or any other controversy you feel qualifies as a scientific revolution or paradigm shift
  • Analyze the controversy using Kuhn's concepts about revolutions in science or paradigm shifts
  • Decide whether or not the controversy fulfills the criteria for revolution or paradigm shift
  • Comment on the submissions of 2 other classmates


  Induction, Deduction, Realism, Empiricism and other Isms

  • Comparisions
  • Compare any 2 pairs of opposite isms and briefly describe a classroom activity for distinguishing between them
  • Comment on the submissions of 2 other classmates


Observation, Creativity, Scientific Truth and Objectivity
                                Science and Pseudoscience

  • Classroom Activities
  • Design a classroom activity that would illustrate the role of creativity in science
  • Describe the design of a classroom activity that would compare/contrast science and pseudoscience
  • Comment on the submissions of 2 other classmates


                Conceptions and Misconceptions in the Science Classroom

  • Textbook Analysis
  • Choose a law or theory that is normally taught in your discipline
  • Find the law or theory in at least 6 different textbooks or webcourse sites (same or different levels)
  • Compare/contrast the treatment of the law or theory
  • Comment on the correctness or accuracy of the textbook website treatment
  • Discuss how textbooks may enhance science misconceptions
  • Misconceptions Project
  •  Interview 10~20 students or friends about a science concept
  • Determine how many different misconceptions exist about the concept
  • Speculate on the sources of the misconceptions
  • Describe how to teach a lesson to correct the misconceptions
  • Comment on the submissions of 2 other classmates


  Worldviews and Border Crossings in the Science Classroom

Science Education

Nature of Science Standards                          

  • Lesson Plan Evaluation
  • Select two website Nature of Science Lesson plans
  • Evaluate the plans according to Science Education~Nature of Science Standards criteria
  • Suggest improvements
  • Nature of Science Lesson Plan
  • Provide a detailed lesson plan/activity for teaching the Nature of Science
  • Describe how you would evaluate an understanding of nature of science
  • Comment on the submissions of 2 other classmates


So what is the nature of science?


  • Class Evaluation
  • Final Definitions

Bibliography and Supplemental Reading

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Web Resources and Readings

  • Nature of Science Sites
  • Scientific Method Sites
  • Science History and Controversies Sites
  • Misconceptions Sites
    • http://www.usnews.com/usnews/issue/000508/nycu/park.htm
      Voodoo science
    • http://www.skeptic.com/01.4.olson-witches.html
      Spirits, witches, and science: Why the rise of science encouraged belief in the supernatural in 17th century England.  Richard Olson
    • Misconceptions about Evolution http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-misconceptions.html
    • Defining "Science" in a Multicultural World: Implications for Science Education (SLCSP #148) W. W. Cobern http://www.wmich.edu/slcsp/148.html
    • Bad Science~Misconceptions http://www.ems.psu.edu/~fraser/BadScience.html
    • Science Misconceptions Research and Some Implications for the Teaching of Science to Elementary School Students. ERIC/SMEAC Science Education Digest No. 1, 1987. http://www.ed.gov/databases/ERIC_Digests/ed282776.html
    • "Science Myths" in K-6 Textbooks and Popular culture http://www.eskimo.com/~billb/miscon/miscon.html
    • Studying the Study of Science Scientifically David L. Hull http://members.nbci.com/jdenuno/
  • Evolution Sites
    • Sacramento Freethought Website H. Kocol Lecture on Science and Religion with definitions of scietific method, theory, assumptions of science and religion, etc http://www.rthoughtsrfree.org/writers/hkocol.htm#scientific method
    • Darwin's Ship...Sacramento Freethought WebSite http://www.rthoughtsrfree.org/writers/dwnship.htm
    • Science, Philosophy of Science, and Statistics E. F. Connor http://www.evsc.virginia.edu/~jhp7e/EVSC503/readings/philsci.html
    • Grounds for Learning Elementary School Nature of Science Projects and Activities http://mvsd.neiu.k12.pa.us/trail.htm
    • Brief history of education and science education at The Future of Education J. Chandler http://www.dana.edu/~dwarman/xjc.htm
    • Beyond Discovery: Nature of Science stories of discovery and controversy http://www4.nationalacademies.org/beyond/beyonddiscovery.nsf/web/summaries?OpenDocument
  • Dinosaur Extinction Theories
    • http://www.town.morrison.co.us/dinosaur/extinction/other.html
    • http://www.town.morrison.co.us/dinosaur/extinction/index.shtml
    • http://unmuseum.mus.pa.us/deaddino.htm
    • http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/diapsids/extinction.html
    • http://filebox.vt.edu/artsci/geology/mclean/Dinosaur_Volcano_Extinction/index.html (volcano~greenhouse theory vs impact theory)
    • http://www.cotf.edu/ete/modules/msese/dinosaur.html
    • 101 theories about extinction
    • 1979 article by Berkeley Scientists about Meteor Theory Evidence
  • Plate Tectonics
    • http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Olympus/9858/main.htm
    • http://www4.nationalacademies.org/beyond/beyonddiscovery.nsf/web/seafloor
    • Developing the Theory http://pubs.usgs.gov/publications/text/developing.html
    • Historical Perspective http://pubs.usgs.gov/publications/text/historical.html#anchor9508964
    • Wegener http://pubs.usgs.gov/publications/text/wegener.html
    • Standard and alternative continental drift models....simulation http://goodfelloweb.com/nature/terra/terra.html
    • Interactive and Informational Continental Drift Site http://www.clearlight.com/~mhieb/WVFossils/continents.html
    • Continental Drift and Evolution http://www.abcnews.go.com/sections/science/DyeHard/dye13.html
    • Contnental Drift Cam http://www.en.com/users/danp/pixs/cams/cd-cam.htm
    • Graphic-Intense Lecture on historical development of Continental Drift from other geological views.... http://www.geo.lsa.umich.edu/~crlb/COURSES/270/Lec4/Lec4.html
    • Plant distribution and Continental Drift http://daphne.palomar.edu/wayne/cntdrift.htm
    • Middle School Great Continental Drift Mystery Unit...nature of sci http://www.yale.edu/ynhti/curriculum/units/1991/6/91.06.05.x.html#a
  • Standards and Assessment Sites
    • Rubrics http://facstaff.uww.edu/libmedia/PBL/1998/KettleMoraine/class%20homework/web.htm
    • Readings on Performance Assessment and links to Sample Performance Tasks http://cstl.semo.edu/waterman/bookmarks/scied320.htm

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