Te Kete Ipurangi Navigation:

Te Kete Ipurangi

Te Kete Ipurangi user options:

Senior Secondary navigation


You are here:

Aligning science concepts and the nature of science

What is scientific literacy?

Scientific literacy can be described as the capacity to understand scientific concepts and processes and evaluate scientific information and arguments. It also includes the ability to use scientific knowledge to identify questions about the natural world and draw evidence-based conclusions about issues.

Scientific literacy is increasingly necessary to life in modern society. It guides people in making decisions in their personal and working lives and enables informed participation in civic and cultural affairs – for instance, species and population management of fisheries and its effect on Māori fishing rights.

Why align science concepts with the nature of science strand?

The nature of science strand is about the processes of science rather than the body of knowledge which is contained in the contextual strands. Learning isolated facts does not allow students to see science in their world.

Research has shown that experts make sense of new information by drawing on their understanding of scientific principles and theories. They use this understanding to tackle new problems and generate innovative solutions, for example, in addressing growing pollution in Otago harbour, chemists, zoologists and school children have worked together to monitor pollution levels on a regular basis leading to identification of outfall problems.

It is in recognition of this that The New Zealand Curriculum has made learning about the processes of science (in the new Nature of Science strand) central to all science learning.

Towards scientific literacy

When students learn science ideas by engaging in scientific practices they develop a structure for organising the acquisition of new knowledge, for example by making detailed observations, suggesting and testing hypotheses, and putting their explanations up for peer review. This will help them link science processes to a greater number of contexts, and select an appropriate scientific approach when addressing a problem.

Start with the big ideas

Focus on the science ideas that have the greatest importance to students and reflect the school curriculum.

Design programmes that will include both process and content goals so that students acquire skills as they build knowledge.

  • For example: If you are surrounded by farms or wineries then “big ideas” will relate to these contexts. You could start from socio-scientific issues related to pest control, man-managed ecosystems, use of energy, the chemistry of wine-making or effluent control.

Develop these big ideas through investigating in science, communicating in science, and participating and contributing.

Be explicit about the science processes that students are using, such as scientific inquiry, science as explanation, science as argument.

Draw out the nature of science concepts for discussion when your class engages in scientific inquiry or studies the history of science.

Students need to understand that science:

  • is tentative – theory changes over time as new evidence emerges  
  • is empirically based – observations and measurements form the basis of scientific understandings
  • is subjective – based on an individual’s interpretations of evidence and their prior knowledge, and so must stand up to peer review
  • is partly the product of human inference, imagination and creativity – so must have accurate record-keeping
  • is socially and culturally embedded – all cultures contribute ideas and interpretations to science, as shown by historical development of science ideas
  • involves a combination of distinct observations (fact) and inferences (interpretations)
  • describes both the functions of and the relationship between scientific laws and theories – laws describe observations and theories explain them and so one cannot become the other.

Reference: Abd-El-Khalick, F., Bell, R. L., & Lederman, N. G. (1998). The nature of science and instructional practice: Making the unnatural natural. Science Education, 82(4), p. 418. 

These eight ideas are inherent in the teaching and learning needed to develop understanding about science achievement objectives for students.

Be aware that students may find conflict between their prior knowledge and the science ideas to which they are being introduced. They may see these ideas as controversial, even though scientists do not. The goal is to have students understand, not to have them believe.

  • For example, discussions of evolution, systems of classification, or the origins of the universe can draw on the tentative and creative nature of science while developing understandings of the differences between theories and laws.

Learn more:

Last updated December 14, 2012