Derivation and Implementation of a Model Teaching the Nature of Science Using Informal Science Education Venues

Article excerpt


This paper introduces a model for using informal science education venues as contexts within which to teach the nature of science. The model was initially developed to enable university education students to teach science in elementary schools so as to be consistent with National Science Education Standards (NSES) (1996) and A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts and Core Ideas (2011). The model has since been used in other university courses and professional development workshops for elementary, middle school, and high school teachers.

Learners experience the Nature of Science (NOS) firsthand and develop their own understandings of NOS through interaction with exhibits and museum patrons. During experiential learning opportunities (Kolb, 1984), learners use the strategy of "using yourself as a learning laboratory" (Burkett, Leard, & Spector, 2003, p. 3) to gather data on how they learn science content information, experience NOS, and construct strategies for teaching science. Through reflection, face-to-face debriefings, and online discussion, learners incorporate experiences into their cognitive structures thereby constructing their own conceptions of NOS consistent with understandings commonly used in the science education enterprise (Lederman, 2003; McComas, Clough, & Almazroa, 1998). Examples are given of learners' statements indicating understanding of the NOS constructed during their work in the museum. The model for science education leaders' use of informal settings with educators learning about NOS is included.

Keywords: nature of science, inquiry, informal science education, education, teacher education


The introduction of National Science Education Standards (NSES) in 1996 focused science education leaders' attention on ways to enable teachers to construct understanding of the nature of science (NOS) for themselves and for students. The need for attention to NOS was reiterated in 2011 by the National Research Council's document, A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts and Core Ideas. A wide range of settings and techniques have been proposed as sites and means by which individuals can learn something of NOS. The model described herein illustrates a way in which museums and similar informal science education venues, also referred to as "free-choice" learning environments, can assist in communicating aspects of the NOS. Informal settings that may be used for this model include natural physical sites (e.g., forests, beaches), human-enhanced (e.g., nature centers, preserves), or human-made (e.g., fishing wharfs, industrial settings, or theme parks). Venues to be considered may also be places in the community specifically designed for education of the pubhe, including museums, aquaria, zoos, libraries, botanical gardens, and natural areas set aside as outdoor classrooms.

The impetus for moving university courses for prospective science teachers to informal science education venues was the students' observed resistance to learning science through inquiry procedures consistent with the culture of science (including NOS) while they were in a university classroom setting. Becoming disposed to, and able to accommodate to, the culture of science (including NOS) were the primary measures of success for use of this alternative venue.

We provide a theoretical base for the role of informal education settings in science teacher education and their potential to contribute to teachers' understandings of NOS. A description of a methods course for teaching science in elementary schools conducted in an informal setting, the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI), is shared. Procedures used in the museum setting discussed here are the basis for a model readily adapted to other informal settings. The model has been successfully used to develop other methods courses; science, technology, and society interaction (STS) courses; and professional development workshops for secondary teachers. …


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