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Teaching the Nature of Science in Early Childhood Years

June 15, 2012

In an effort to get this blog going again, I invited some of my graduate students to contribute. I believe connecting research to practice is an important task.  I hope readers find the reviews useful.  Please comment, I know they will enjoy reading your comments! 


Article Review by Anna, graduate student at Drake University.

Reference: Akerson, Valarie L., Buck, Gayle A., Donnelly, Lisa A., Nargund-Joshi, Vanasbri, & Weiland, Ingrid S. (2011). The importance of teaching and learning nature of science in the early childhood years. Journal  of Science Education and Technology, (20 )5, 537-549. DOI: 10.1007/s10956-001-9312-5

What is known:

  • Students continue to graduate high school with misconception regarding Nature of Science (NOS)
  • NOS is a key component of science literacy
  • Teachers who are not familiar with NOS through professional development or teacher preparation programs are not teaching it
  • Traditionally there has been some debate about when it is appropriate to begin teaching NOS to students. Researchers involved in this article argue it is never “too early” to begin teaching NOS to students.

What this research adds

  • Study done with kindergarten, first, second, and third grade students in a variety of urban and suburban schools
  •  Teachers taught NOS using contextualized/decontextualized instruction and explicit reflective instruction in order to determine the kinds of NOS understanding young students develop as result of this instruction.
  • Students were given a pre-test and post-test to evaluate their knowledge of NOS, work samples were also used
  • Research shows that young children can begin developing accurate conceptions about NOS
  • There were several different groups of students. The group that was followed for an entire year made the most gains in their understanding of NOS.
  • Some NOS ideas were more accessible than others. This study reports creativity, tentativeness, observation/inference, and empirical nature to be stronger than subjective and social cultural NOS ideas.
  • This study found that the third graders developed more informed conceptions of all NOS aspects.  However, this was identified as a limitation of the study…. Was it the age? Or a time issue (their understanding was built over a longer period of time).
  • Research shows either a combination of contextualized and decontextualized or simply contextualized NOS is effecting at improving NOS conceptions paired with explicit reflection instruction.

Implications for practice:

  • A great resource for teachers!   This article includes a table showing NOS concepts, objectives, and the activities researchers used to teach these concepts. This table would be a great resource for teachers wishing to integrate more NOS teaching into their teaching. The activities include things such as: children’s books, decontextualized activities (Oobleck, think tubes), and hands-on activities with content (creating an environment for meal worms).
  • NOS does not have to be something that is “added on” to the curriculum. Rather, it can be taught in a contextualized fashion with science content that is already being taught.
  • Young children are capable of learning NOS ideas- NOS instruction should start when all instruction begins!
  • Begin teaching more accessible aspects of NOS (observation, inference) and continue to more difficult ones (subjectivity, social cultural NOS).
  • NOS is more effective when integrated throughout instruction (as opposed to doing a unit or mini lesson).
  • Another thought: This article shared some quotes from students as they are developing their NOS ideas….In some cases it is hard to tell where their misconceptions lie. You may think a student “gets it”—– when really they don’t. For example, when asked about scientists being creative, one girl began talking about mixing colors and how they change. While this is creative, and a scientist may do something similar, through further questioning, researchers determined her perception of creativity was tied with that of artists. (Her misconception being artists are creative, scientists are not). 
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