Teachers’ Understandings on the Nature of Science
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Abstract. This study investigates the conceptions on the nature of science (NOS) among new and experienced teachers in the Philippines. An in-depth analysis of the Likert and constructed responses revealed the participants’ understandings on six NOS themes. Findings suggest that the notions of both groups are generally in the uninformed state and essentially at the same level with each other and those owned by other individuals studied elsewhere. It appears that teaching experience does not contribute to the development of sound NOS views. Naïve concepts emergent from the responses may serve as initial issues in the evaluation of instructional protocols and materials relevant to NOS. Implications in the context of the science education reform efforts in the Philippines are presented.
Scientific literacy is recognized as the most significant goal of science education globally. More specifically, science educators aim to cultivate among learners “the ability to use scientific knowledge to make informed personal and societal decisions” (Lederman, 1998). In the Philippines, this is translated as “science and technology for everyday life” (Tan, 2008) which forms the core of the Science Curriculum Framework for Basic Education, derived from the country’s vision-mission of science and mathematics (S & M) education as follows:
“To have Filipino learners who are critical thinkers, have and are able to use their knowledge in S & M for generating and communicating new ideas, and in making wise decisions to uplift their quality of life, as well as contribute to the creation of a just and humane society.” (BESRA, 2006 cited in Tan, 2008, p.34)
The role of the teacher as a facilitator in achieving this goal cannot be understated. Thus, the major thrust of reform movements in science education is professional development. Locally, these programs have focused mainly on improving the content knowledge of science teachers (Bernardo, 1999). Despite such efforts, an “absence of a strong tradition and culture of science” (Nebres & Intal, 1999) persists in the Philippines. The large percentage of Filipino students who are unable to keep up with matters related to real life remains a major concern (Tan, 2008). It seems that the current tradition in science teaching makes students learn science content without context (Lederman, 1998). Such an environment does not permit a thorough conceptual understanding of science subject matter and will not create a people that can be considered scientifically literate (Zhang, 2005.).
Literature shows that scientific literacy is best manifested by those who possess adequate understandings about the nature of science (NOS). The product of science as a way of knowing brings with it intrinsic characteristics derived from how the knowledge is developed (Lederman, 2006). These qualities make up what is known as the NOS. Some of these were identified as relevant to science education to include among others: a) the distinction between observation and inference; b) scientific knowledge can never be totally objective; c) the relationship between scientific laws and theories; d) scientific knowledge is subject to change; e) science as a human enterprise is practiced in the context of a larger culture; f) scientific knowledge is, at least partially, based on and/or derived from human imagination and creativity, and; g) no single universal step-by-step scientific method captures the full complexity of doing science.
Science teachers’ thorough knowledge of NOS is believed to play a significant role in promoting scientific literacy among the citizenry. While several researches elsewhere have revealed teachers’ inadequate conceptions of NOS (Lederman, 2006), contemporary views of their Filipino counterparts are hardly examined. This study aimed to describe NOS understandings of Filipino teachers. Specifically, it sought answers to the following questions:
1. How do NOS notions of experienced and new teachers compare with each other and with those owned by other groups elsewhere? 2. How adequate are the participants’ NOS knowledge relative to the current acceptable conceptions? 3. What factors could have contributed to the teachers’ NOS understandings?
Results of the assessment may redirect future efforts in professional development and curriculum design to achieve “science and technology for life” the country aims for.
2 Nature of Science
Nature of science involves the history, philosophy, social and cultural impact of science and its relation to other forms of knowledge (Matthews, 1998). It typically refers to science as a way of knowing, together with the characteristics, values and assumptions inherent to the resulting knowledge (Lederman, 2006; Schwartz, 2007). As opposed to scientific processes, NOS looks into the epistemological underpinning of the activities of science rather than the actual methods. As a case in point, to make an inference is a science process, but articulating that inferences are influenced by the scientist’s imagination and creativity is the domain of NOS (Lederman, 1998).
2.1 Understanding the Nature of Science
The history of science reveals its evolution and revolutions through time, thus, current scientific knowledge cannot be considered complete and final (Kokkotas & Piliouras, 2005). Views gradually evolve as science grows, and understanding of the universe increases (Smith & Sharman, 1998). These are reflected in the way the scientific community has defined the phrase “nature of science” during the past (Lederman, 1996), which consequently led to the change of direction in science education (Kokkotas & Piliouras, 2005). Since the early 19th century, it has been hoped that science teaching would have beneficial impact on the quality of culture and personal life by virtue of students not only knowing science but also by internalizing something of the scientific spirit and knowing and appreciating something of the nature of science (Matthews, 1998). It is contended that “when people know how scientists go about their work and reach scientific conclusions and what the limitations of such conclusions, they are more likely to act thoughtfully to scientific claims and less likely to reject them out of hand or accept them uncritically (Smith & Sharman, 1998). In education, teaching NOS appears to have a positive effect on science performance (Thye & Kwen, 2003).
Five justifications are further presented in order to appreciate the importance of understanding NOS (Lederman, 2006): a) Utilitarian – understanding NOS is necessary to make sense of science and manage the technological objects and processes in everyday life; b) Democratic – understanding NOS is necessary for informed decision-making on socio-scientific issues; c) Cultural – understanding NOS is necessary to appreciate the value of science as part of contemporary culture; d) Moral – understanding NOS helps develop an understanding of the norms of the scientific community that embody moral commitments that are of general value to society; and, e) Science learning – understanding NOS facilitates concept learning in science.
All these support the claim that NOS is a unifying theme that permeates across the discipline of science (Lederman, 1998; Schwartz, 2007).
2.2 Nature of Science and Science Education
Today, scientific literacy has been equated with knowledge of the nature of science (Matthews, 1998; Morgil, 2009; Salmorin, 2007; Schwartz, 2007; Thye & Kwen, 2003; Zhang, 2005). It was no longer just an internal matter for students who are to pursue science studies, but it became hoped-part of the education of all citizens (Matthews, 1998). New Zealand, United Kingdom and the National Academy of Science’s education standards in the US have in fact explicitly included the teaching of NOS in their respective national curriculum (Taber, 2008).
Several characteristics of scientific knowledge has been identified in literature, but the following are considered relevant to education: a)
empirical; b) tentative; c) inferential; d) creative; e) theory-laden; f) social and cultural; g) myth of scientific method; and, h) nature and distinction between scientific theories and laws (Abd-El-Khalick, et al., 2007; Crowther, et al., 2005; Lederman, 2006; Schwartz, 2007; Smith & Scharman, 1998; Thye & Kwen, 2003). Values of science have also been listed to include: a) theories that have the largest explanatory power; b) predictive power; c) fecundity; d) open-mindedness; e) parsimony; f) logical coherence in their explanations; and, g) skepticism (Smith & Scharman, 1998). One of the assumptions of science is that there is an underlying predictability in the universe, an order, which science seeks to describe in a maximally simple and comprehensive manner by constructing theories (Smith & Scharman, 1998; Thye & Kwen, 2003).
In a number of countries, knowledge about NOS characteristics has been assessed both among students and teachers. Generally, epistemological beliefs about NOS are either traditional or constructivist (Zhang, 2005) and inconsistent with current accepted notions (Kokkotas & Piliouras, 2005; Lederman, 2006). In Turkey, students’ misconception about NOS has occurred at early stages of education (Morgil, 2009). Pre-service teachers’ in Singapore possess NOS views which are certainly nowhere near the level of sophistication required for effective education of NOS in particular and scientific literacy in general (Thye & Kwen, 2003). Teachers of all grade levels continue to struggle with developing contemporary conceptions of NOS (Schwartz, 2007). In the Philippines, a survey among 60 teachers revealed the following misconceptions about the nature of science and ways of acquiring scientific knowledge: a) science is a body of knowledge, hence the emphasis of science teaching is on the transfer of knowledge rather than the acquisition of skills; b) scientific knowledge is absolute, and; c) knowledge is created simply by collecting data (Tan, 2008).
Although arguments are primarily intuitive with little empirical support (Lederman, 2006), teachers’ in-depth and functional understanding of the NOS appears to impact the quality of science instruction (Matthews, 1998), thus, a prerequisite to any hopes of achieving the vision of science teaching and learning specified in various reform efforts (Lederman, 1998). Understanding teachers’ belief structure is therefore essential toward improving their professional preparation and teaching practices (Zhang, 2005).
3 Exploring NOS Understandings
Recognizing the role of NOS understandings in developing scientific literacy, a number of researchers developed various questionnaires which were made available for exploring current views on the subject. Authors continue to modify existing ones or develop new sets to increase validity of findings. The most meaningful assessments obtained thus far are those employing open-ended items accompanied by follow-up interviews (Liang, et al., 2008). Most popular among these are the Views of the Nature of Science (VNOS) questionnaire Forms A, B, C, D (Abd-El-Khalick, et al., 2007) requiring constructed responses. However, considering that NOS is not an explicit component of the science curriculum in the Philippines, the use of these instruments in this particular study may not generate valuable information to adequately assess the teachers’ views on the subject. A more appropriate tool, the Students’ Understanding of Science and Scientific Inquiry (SUSSI) developed by Liang, et al., (2008), was thus adopted.
3.1 The SUSSI Instrument (Liang, et al., 2008)
SUSSI combines both quantitative and qualitative approaches to assess views about the development of scientific knowledge. The instrument was based on the conceptual framework presented in the NOS literature, and the most current national science education reform documents. The form used in this study is a product of extensive testing, revisions and expert reviews. It targets six NOS themes: Observations and Inferences, Tentative Nature of Scientific Theories, Scientific Laws vs. Theories, Social and Cultural Influence on Science, Imagination and Creativity in Scientific Investigations, and Methodology in Scientific Investigations. Each theme consists of four categories in Likert statement, involving both the most common naïve ideas and informed views, and an open-ended question. The dilemma of constructed responses being influenced by the Likert statements was avoided by asking the participants to support their responses with valid examples.
3.2 The Participants
Two groups of teachers participated in the investigation. The first included 17 recent graduates of Bachelor in Elementary Education and Bachelor in Secondary Education. All of them have satisfied six units of general science courses as a prerequisite for their degrees. During the study’s data gathering phase, they were reviewing for the Licensure Examination for Teachers (LET), a national board examination they need to pass to qualify them for a teaching position in Philippine schools. Thirteen experienced teachers of science compose the other set – five from the elementary, three from the secondary and five from the tertiary. Their teaching years range from four to 47.
3.3 Data Analysis
Analysis of the data proceeded according to the method developed by Liang, et al. (2008). For the Likert portion, the 24 categories were classified into two groups: positive or negative items. The statements marked as ‘+’ represented views consistent with the current National and International Science Education Reform documents, whereas the items with ‘-‘ signs represented common student naïve understandings of NOS that are not consistent with the Standards documents. For each of the ‘positive’ Likert items, student responses were assigned with numbers ranging from one to five (from ‘strongly disagree = 1’ to ‘strongly agree = 5’). The scores were assigned in a reverse order for each ‘negative’ Likert item. A score > 3 in a category is labeled “Informed” However, the teachers’ views on a given theme were classified as “Naïve” if none of the four responses received a score > 3 within each theme; the respondents’ views were classified as “Informed” if all four responses received a score >3 within each theme.
For the open-ended questions, a constructed response is labeled “Informed”
if the participant makes claims consistent with the selected responses and provides valid examples. Classifying the answers as “Naïve” was not carried out due to the large percentage of forms with missing explanations, restated or rephrased Likert statements, inconsistent claims and absence of appropriate illustration.
Analysis of the Likert and constructed responses revealed that the understandings of the participants on NOS issues relevant to education are in the uninformed state. They exhibited most naïve notions on the difference between scientific laws and theories and methods of science. Tables and narratives support these key results.
4.1 Profile of NOS Understandings
Table 1 presents the profile of NOS understandings among the participants.
Table 1. NOS understandings by theme, by type of response and by group Theme| Likert Responses| Constructed Responses|
| % Informed| % Naive| % Informed|
| Ea| Rb| E| R| E| R|
1. Observations and Inferences| 0| 25| 0| 0| 8| 0| 2. Tentativeness of Scientific Theories| 33| 50| 0| 0| 15| 0| 3. Scientific Laws vs. Theories| 8| 0| 18| 29| 0| 0| 4. Social and Cultural Embeddedness| 17| 0| 18| 12| 8| 0| 5. Imagination and Creativity| 46| 50| 18| 12| 15| 0| 6. Methods of Science| 8| 0| 0| 12| 0| 0|
a – Experienced teachers
b – Recent graduates
Prior to further analysis, the data were cast for the Kolmorogov-Smirnov two-sample one-tailed test. Statistics revealed that NOS understandings between the two groups of teachers were essentially the same at α = 0.05 and 0.01 for both sets of responses. This permitted data pooling into Table 2. Overall, a very low percentage of the participants possess informed NOS views based on the two sets of responses.
Table 2. NOS understandings by theme and by type of response Themes| Likert| Constructed|
| % Informed| % Naive| % Informed|
1. Observations and Inferences| 10| 3| 3|
2. Tentativeness of Scientific Theories| 33| 0| 7|
3. Scientific Laws vs. Theories| 3| 27| 0|
4. Social and Cultural Embeddedness| 7| 17| 3|
5. Imagination and Creativity| 40| 17| 7|
6. Methods of Science| 3| 7| 0|
In the Likert statements, Theme 5 (Imagination and Creativity) obtained the highest percentage of informed teachers while Themes 3 (Scientific Laws vs. Theories) and 6 (Methods of Science) registered the lowest. Their naïve views, especially with Theme 3, were also manifested in the Likert responses. Although trends are parallel, the performance of the participants with the open-ended questions is even more dismal. None of them displayed adequate notions for Themes 3 and 6.
However, the teachers appear to own informed views from the perspective of majority of the Likert categories as exhibited in Table 3.
Table 3. NOS understandings by Likert category
Themes and Categories| %Informed|
1. Observations and Inferences|
A. Scientists’ observations of the same event may be different because the scientists’ prior knowledge may affect their observations.| 73| B. Scientists’ observations of the same event will be the same because scientists are objective.| 23| C. Scientists’ observations of the same event will be the same because observations are facts.| 13| D. Scientists may make different interpretations based on the same observations.| 90| 2. Tentativeness of Scientific Theories|
A. Scientific theories are subject to on-going testing and revision.| 90| B. Scientific theories may be completely replaced by new theories in light of new evidence.| 90| C. Scientific theories may be changed because scientists reinterpret existing observations.| 80| D. Scientific theories based on accurate experimentation will not be changed.| 40| 3. Scientific Laws vs. Theories|
A. Scientific theories exist in the natural world and are uncovered through scientific investigations.| 7| B. Unlike theories, scientific laws are not subject to change.| 30| C. Scientific laws are theories that have been proven.| 10| D. Scientific theories explain scientific laws.| 57|
4. Social and Cultural Embeddedness|
A. Scientific research is not influenced by society and culture because scientists are trained to conduct pure, unbiased studies.| 33| B. Cultural values and expectations determine what science is conducted and accepted.| 60| C. Cultural values and expectations determine how science is conducted and accepted.| 57| D. All cultures conduct scientific research the same way because science is universal and independent of society and culture.| 27| 5. Imagination and Creativity|
A. Scientists use their imagination and creativity when they collect data.| 73| B. Scientists use their imagination and creativity when they analyze and interpret data.| 63| C. Scientists do not use their imagination and creativity because these conflict with their logical reasoning.| 60| D. Scientists do not use their imagination and creativity because these can interfere with objectivity.| 63| 6. Methods of Science|
A. Scientists use different types of methods to conduct scientific investigations.| 66| B. Scientists follow the same step-by-step scientific method.| 23| C. When scientists use the scientific method correctly, their results are true and accurate.| 30| D. Experiments are not the only means used in the development of scientific knowledge.| 63|
Ninety percent of the teachers are aware that a similar set of observations may generate different interpretations, and theories are continuously being tested, revised or even changed. On the other hand, nearly everyone erroneously believed that theories have always existed and uncovered through scientific investigations. Many also held unacceptable notions on such categories as laws are theories which have been proven, observations are facts, scientists are objective, and existence of a universal step-by-step scientific method.
4.2 Uncovering NOS Understandings
Some of the teachers elaborated their marks in the Likert items through illustrations and/or accompanying explanations. These constructed responses further revealed their existing conceptions on certain NOS categories and thus, presented unedited, in italics.
4.2.1 Theme 1 – Observations and Inferences
Contradictions in the beliefs of the teachers are quite observable in Theme 1. Majority of the participants recognized that scientists can come up with diverse observations and interpretations of the same event. One of them identified the causes of variation.
They are different because each scientist has a different point of view, they have different personality.
However, most of them also believed that scientists are objective with one teacher supporting this naïve view.
must not be BIASED.
4.2.2 Theme 2 – Tentativeness of Scientific Theories
Nearly all of the participants are convinced of the idea that theories are changeable, although only one constructed response would demonstrate this.
A good classic example of changing theories is Dalton’s Atomic Theory. Two of his postulates ere revised due to more evidences.
Some supported the tentativeness of theories, by using “just” and “only” as descriptors.
… the Big Bang theory…It is just a theory and not a law so therefore there can be another possible way on how the earth was formed.
Scientific theories, since they are only theories, they may be changed through rigid and thorough restudying and researching…
Several responses maintained the idea of fixed theories.
Theories are not changed because (scientists’) observation are correct.
Scientific theories do not change simply because there are so many evidences that supports it like the concept on Cell theory.
Others explicitly equated theories with facts.
After a hypothesis has been formulated, conducts experiments to test whether it is correct or not. The result of the experiment may then lead to experimental truths. These truths are called facts or theories.
Scientific theories are generalized statement of facts.
Theories are facts which are studies thoroughly based on observations.
One appeared to be unaware of the meaning of a theory, illustrating its tentativeness by citing the solar system as an example.
For many years, Pluto has been considered one of the planets in the solar system, but with the advancement of technology allowing further studies, scientists have found that it is not so.
* 4.2.3 Theme 3 – Scientific Laws vs. Theories
Among the themes, Theme 3 has the lowest combined percentages in terms of Likert category, and therefore, the most challenging. The numerous uninformed constructed responses further attested to this.
Category A obtained the least percentage of informed views among all categories in all themes. Nearly everyone supposed that scientific theories are born with the universe and the scientists’ job is to discover them. Only one participant challenged the statement.
This sounds like scientific theories were already in the natural world before man existed. Aren’t scientific theories ideas of man to explain the natural world?
The succeeding three categories earned the most number of constructed responses, all of them demonstrating uninformed notions on the difference between theories and laws. Most of the participants agreed with the statement that scientific laws do not change. Two examples were cited to this effect.
Laws are more permanent. Example is the law of conservation of mass. It is true and no one has changed it.
Newton’s Laws of motion is widely accepted and is that “obvious” or observable such that no one dares to contradict it.
Eight constructed responses, five of which are presented, supported the naïve view that laws are universally proven which makes them permanent while theories are not.
Scientific theories are subjected to be changed while laws are already proven and are accepted worldwide. Theories have not enough basis or proofs…
Scientific theories still need to be proven with evidences and can be changed while scientific laws are already proven.
Scientific theories needs to be proven, they are temporary answers to certain questions. Scientific laws are already proven with the help of facts and investigations.
Scientific theories are more subject to changes than scientific laws. Scientific laws are more universal thus, they have undergone tedious, numerous and exhausting investigations.
Scientific theories are subject to change and are not proven unlike scientific laws they are already tested and are not subject to change.
Many also thought that a theory can be elevated into a law.
If the theory is tested many times and is generally accepted true, it becomes a valid scientific law.
Laws are theories that have been proven
Scientific theories that are universally true and have a high degree of predictability become laws or principle
Theories make up law.
A few likewise displayed naïve notions on the nature of theories and laws.
Scientific theories are opinions and beliefs while scientific laws are factual and have a strong basis.
Just like in setting fact from an opinion, scientific laws are more concrete like facts and scientific theories may change depending upon the views of people just like an opinion.
Theme 4 – Social and Cultural Embeddedness
Most of the participants presume the independence of science from culture.
Society and culture does not affect scientific research because scientists are trained to conduct pure and unbiased studies.
Scientists should not be biased. He shouldn’t allow judgment to be influenced by his values and expectations.
One of the teachers however thinks otherwise.
I think a person’s values/culture affects whatever he thinks or does. It’s their way of life. Even though science tells there is no bias in scientific researches, I think there is. And how one interprets may vary according to his beliefs.
Another cited a specific case to defend the previous claim.
Christians do not agree with researches on human cloning.
4.2.5 Theme 5 – Imagination and Creativity
The importance of imagination and creativity in scientific undertakings was affirmed by the participants in the Likert responses. However, many failed to demonstrate these understandings in the constructed responses. Only two correctly cited some examples of science knowledge developed through imagination and creativity.
Galileo used his imagination to come up with explanations to certain phenomenon, say the pendulum in the Sistine Chapel
Kekule imagining a snake biting its tail which made him come up with the benzene ring; Einstein came up with his theory of relativity by imagining himself riding the head of beam of light; Watson and Crick’s double helix DNA structure is graceful creativity
Some participants however consider them important only in certain aspects of constructing knowledge.
Imagination and creativity are utilized by scientists in drawing out scientific design of their experiments. During the actual execution of scientific experiment, imagination and creativity are no longer necessary.
Scientists use imagination and creativity when they are inventing things… But when it comes to collecting data, I think they should not use their imagination and creativity because these will affect the outcome of their observations.
Some dismissed the role of imagination and creativity in science processes altogether.
Collection of data do not need imagination and creativity. Scientist just use all senses (physical) to get the data.
Scientist do not use their imagination and creativity because they interpret data according to what they observed.
4.2.6 Theme 6 – Methods of Science
Majority of the participants thought that there is a single, universal, and sequential scientific method followed by all scientists. Some of the constructed responses directly point to this notion.
They use a single scientific method but they use different methods in acquiring data to solve their problems.
Scientists start their work using the universal scientific method,
Scientists use the same method for it is time-tested process that has proven its validity though there may be some variations, the essential steps are not left out.
The scientific method follow or use the same steps. The techniques may differ but the steps are the same.
Others recognized that there are other ways to conduct research.
There are some experiments that require the step-by-step procedure, chronological order of the scientific method, some do not.
Scientists my follow the scientific method if it is necessary or it is required, but may use different type of method depending on his experiment.
…but other scientists used different type of method appropriate to the problem.
…such methods include experimentation and observations (like Darwin for his evolution)
Science education in the Philippines is currently undergoing major transformation. Recently, it has reinvented its concept of scientific literacy to read “science and technology for everyday life”. A group of philosophers and educators in science advocates that a clear understanding NOS promotes scientific literacy. This initiated substantial researches on NOS knowledge among students and teachers in many countries but remain uncommon in the Philippines. Recognizing the role of teachers of science in achieving the goal of the discipline, assessment of their understandings on NOS characteristics relevant to education in the local setting will likely give greatest impact as an initial effort toward this end.
5.1 Positioning Teachers’ Understandings
The high percentage of uniformed views manifested by both groups in the Likert and constructed responses suggests that the Filipino teachers possess traditional NOS knowledge despite difference in teaching experience. This empirically proves the prediction of Thye and Kwen (2003) that “it would not be surprising at all to find the NOS views of practicing teachers with at least ten years of experience at the uninformed state”. A review of initial studies (Abd-El-Khalick & Lederman, 2000) regarding the effect of background and academic variables on teachers’ NOS understandings reveals a similar finding. Teaching experience may then be regarded trivial in the development of acceptable NOS conceptions. It is argued that the science learned in the classroom gives the greatest and lasting impact to the views held about its nature (Taber, 2008). The findings give the impression that both groups experienced identical science classrooms. It would seem that they are imparting science to students the way they were taught.
This study thus situates the Filipino teachers in the same level with various groups identified to possess inadequate NOS views elsewhere, e.g., Turkey (Morgil, 2009), Singapore (Thye & Kwen, 2003) and the US (Liang, et al., 2008), among others. A Kolmorogov-Smirnov test shows that the NOS views of this set of Filipino teachers and the American pre-service teachers in Liang, et al. (2008) are equivalent. The outcomes are therefore not surprising, but nonetheless disturbing. How governments respond to the results will spell out the difference. Most countries have embraced the significant role NOS plays in the development of scientific literacy evident in the conduct of numerous researches in various aspects of the field. NOS is even explicit the science curriculum of some educational systems. On the other hand, science educators in the Philippines have yet to appreciate its characteristics and value. The disparity between the participants’ belief structures vis-à-vis the acceptable ones should stimulate an active deliberation among these people regarding the place of NOS in the Philippine science curriculum.
At the outset, the apparent inconsistency in the percentage of informed participants based on the Likert responses between Tables 2 and 3 is suggestive of the teachers’ incoherent NOS understandings. Percentages in each category reflect the collective marks of the participants in that particular category. Thematic scores depend upon how a teacher fared in all categories under a theme. A teacher is considered “Informed” on a theme if marked “Informed” on all categories under that particular theme. It is thus very possible that categories reflect high percentages of informed views but relatively naïve from the theme standpoint. Most of the constructed responses confirm these irregularities.
5.2 Teachers’ Understandings vis-à-vis Informed Views
Under Theme 1 – Observations and Inferences, the teachers held naïve views regarding objectivity in science, and difference between observations and facts. While science seeks to be objective (Liang et al., 2008; Smith, 1998) and unbiased (Smith, 1998), subjectivity is nonetheless inevitable (Liang, et al., 2008). The individuality and mindset of the scientist account for subjectivity (Abd-El-Khalick, 2007; Lederman, 1998) during the development of questions (Liang, et al., 2008), observations (Lederman, 1998) and interpretations (Crowther, et al., 2005).
Equating “observations” with “facts” is rather inaccurate. Observations are descriptive statements about natural phenomena that are “directly” accessible to the senses (or extensions of the senses) and about which several observers can reach consensus with relative ease (Lederman, 1998). When an observable phenomenon has not been refuted and is verifiable, i.e., given the same conditions, and regardless of the observer, outcomes are in agreement with each other, then, it is considered a scientific fact (Scientific fact, n.d.).
The constructed responses in Theme 2 – Tentativeness of Scientific Theories are not reflective of the high percentage of informed views registered in the respective categories. The phrases “just a theory” and “only a theory” give the impression that theories are mere guesswork, and have not undergone judicious process. This idea is inconsistent with how scientists use the term. In science, theory is a logically consistent explanation of a phenomenon which is well-supported by a wealth of interconnected threads of evidence (Smith & Scharman, 1998). Moreover, accurate experimentation does not warrant the permanency of a scientific theory, contrary to the ideas by many of the teachers. Substantiating the statement are two characteristics which science values (Smith & Scharman, 1998). First, science places a high value on theories that have the largest explanatory power. The greater the number of diverse observations that can be explained by a theory, the more likely it is to be accepted by the scientiﬁc community. Second, science values predictive power. Science privileges theories that can be used to make accurate predictions about future events or the outcomes of studies not yet performed. Thus, theories with limited scope and significance will likely be replaced, even if strongly supported by evidence. They evolve over time.
The unacceptable views demonstrated by the teachers in Theme 3 – Scientific Laws vs. Theories were most overwhelming and parallel with the performance of the American pre-service teachers in the study of Liang, et al. (2008). Nearly everyone believed that theories are uncovered, instead of the correct notion that they, as with the rest of scientific knowledge, are constructed (Liang et al., 2008). Theory development involves the invention of explanations about the natural world. Theories therefore serve as functional models rather than faithful copies of reality (Lederman, 1998).
Knowledge of laws which have stood the test of time (Crowther, et al., 2005) may have lead to the participants to believe that laws do not change. Furthermore, their claim that laws are proven and theories are not is an inadequate notion. It is asserted that scientific knowledge, including hypothesis, “facts,” theories, and laws, can never be absolutely “proven”. This holds irrespective of the amount of empirical evidence gathered in the support of one of these ideas or the other. To be “proven,” a certain scientific law should account for every single instance of the phenomenon it intends to describe at all times. It can logically be argued that one such future instance, of which we have no knowledge whatsoever, may behave in a manner contrary to what the law states (Lederman, 1998).
The hierarchical relationship between theories and laws, with the latter having a higher status, is a false belief (Abd-El-Khalick et al., 2007). Theories and laws are different kinds of knowledge and one cannot develop or be transformed into the other. Statements or descriptions of the relationships among observable phenomena are called laws; theories are the inferred explanations for these occurrences. Both are legitimate products of science. Theories do not become laws even with additional evidence (Liang, et al., 2008). Rather, they explain laws (Lederman, 1998).
Theme 3 has the most number of constructed responses. Theories and laws are probably very familiar science constructs since they are common themes encountered across the curriculum. Yet, they are also the most misunderstood. If not corrected, these naïve ideas will continuously beleaguer the science classroom and be quite detrimental to the country’s quest for scientific literacy.
The participants are generally unaware of the social and cultural embeddedness (Theme 4) of science, i.e. it affects and is affected by the context in which it is being practiced. The values and expectations of the culture determine what and how science is conducted, interpreted, and accepted (Lederman, 1998).
The failure of the participants to support their Likert scores in Theme 5 – Imagination and Creativity with sound constructed responses is indicative of their inadequate knowledge on the matter. The history of science has demonstrated the role of imagination and creativity (Lederman, 1998) throughout the whole process (Liang, et al., 2008) of generating scientific constructs, e.g. discovery of laws and invention of theories (McComas, 1998). Rationalizing an analogous result, Thye and Kwen (2003) blamed science classrooms for advocating the sole use of the scientific method to solve scientific problems instead of providing opportunity to explore alternatives.
In Theme 6 – Methods of Science, the teachers’ adherence to the belief that a step-by-step scientific method exists is a common mistake (Crowther, et al., 2005). Textbooks are the most important source of this misinformation (McComas, 1998). At the present time, no definite scientific method which guarantees the generation of valid knowledge is recognized (Abd-El-Khalick, et al., 2007). Rather, scientific knowledge is constructed and developed, not just through the scientific method, but in a variety of ways including observation, analysis, speculation, library investigation and experimentation (Liang et al., 2008)
5.3 Teachers’ Understandings and NOS Views in the Philippines
Aside from those previously mentioned, one most important factor which may have contributed to the teachers’ inadequate NOS notions is the science education sector’s misplaced view about the concept. In the Table of Specifications for the Licensure Examination for Teachers, NOS is a subject listed under the specialization “Physical Sciences” enumerating the following competencies (Gayon, et al., 2009):
* Distinguish between qualitative and quantitative observations on objects or phenomena * Apply a scheme for classification
* Identify the hypothesis that underlies an experimental design * Select appropriate tools and procedures in conducting investigation and/or solving problems * Identify variables involved in an investigation
* Interpret data accurately in an appropriate table, chart or graph * Draw conclusions based on the available data
* Make predictions based on conclusions from scientific experimentation * Evaluate the social implications of controversial science and technology issues
To this, Judith Lederman, an expert on NOS studies, remarks:
The competencies …are not at all what we or most others would view as NOS issues. They primarily address scientific inquiry – are actions students should be able to DO….they do not in any way describe the nature of scientific knowledge.
Further scrutiny of the documents reveals that a subject “History and Philosophy of Science” is listed under the specialization “Biological Sciences” with the following competencies (Morano, et al., 2009) detailed below. The last two appear to be NOS issues.
* Point out the major advances in science which had beneficial/harmful impacts on humans and the environment
* Trace the development of scientific knowledge
* Explain how social and cultural factors influence the nature and growth of scientific knowledge
On the other hand, General Education, which is taken by all prospective teachers regardless of field of specialization, includes a section on Science (Andoy, et al., 2009). The competencies focused mainly on inquiry and process skills and did not explicitly mention anything about NOS. However, one seems to resemble a characteristic of NOS, i.e. “Identify scientific traits and attitudes exhibited in various situations”.
The foregoing reveals the problematic state of NOS in the Philippines. The recognition given by philosophers and educators of science in other countries on the important role NOS plays in the development of scientific literacy has not been accorded by their counterparts in the Philippines. If they do, NOS should have been explicitly expressed as a common theme permeating the Philippine science curriculum. Every discipline in the natural sciences, e.g., physical, biological and general science, should therefore be assessing for relevant NOS competencies. These are not evident at the present time. The situation is further complicated by the apparent inadequacy in the NOS conceptions among those who oversee science education. 6 Implications
An in-depth study of Filipino teachers’ views revealed their inadequate notions about relevant NOS issues in particular and the challenging state of NOS in the Philippine science education in general. The most logical approach to address the dilemma is by putting NOS in its rightful place in the science curriculum. The process must be initiated with a restructuring of NOS beliefs in which the findings of this study may serve as benchmark.
To be given equal concern is the teacher preparation program for both science and non-science majors. Teachers on out-of-field assignment are prevalent in the country’s science classrooms. A sound NOS knowledge for all pre-service teachers might be an excellent initiative towards a society well-informed in science.
The inadequacies in NOS among the experienced teachers should be dealt with even sooner. Professional development which concentrated mainly on improving content knowledge has not been contributing much toward scientific literacy. A blend with NOS knowledge might prove successful.
Developing acceptable NOS conceptions should be through explicit and insightful instruction rather than just a mere instructional outcome (Lederman, 2006). Being explicit does not mean direct instruction, but allowing the learner (student, pre-service or experienced teacher) to experience the processes involved in coming up with scientific knowledge and reflect on them. The professional development model developed and implemented by Project ICAN (Inquiry, Context and Nature of Science) would be a superior benchmark for such undertakings (Lederman & Lederman, 2004). The characteristics where notions are generally naïve as identified in this study are will be excellent starting materials.
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