“[S]cience is fundamentally a social enterprise,” write the authors of the U.S. National Research Council 2011 Framework for K-12 Science Education.
As I described last week, the framework is the basis for the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and both are bolstered with a good measure of systems thinking — including this type of reflection on the role of science itself. In the lingo adopted by the framework and standards, such science-and-society reflections are called understandings about “the nature of science.”
The NGSS nature of science matrix includes eight understandings or themes, along with school-level learning objectives for each of the eight (in Appendix H, pdf). To illustrate, I created the table at top with two of the themes and their associated high school learning objectives. These understandings constitute, in effect, an attempt to delineate the boundaries of scientific ways of doing and knowing.
Whether these learning objectives serve to well and sufficiently characterize the nature of science is of course a matter of opinion. Some critics have emerged, but I’m quite impressed with inclusion of these understandings.
My questions are more about the lack of a clear relationship between the nature of science as a topic area and the three primary topic areas or dimensions: practices, disciplinary core ideas, and crosscutting concepts. These three are represented in the logo and icon, which presents a triangular weaving that is more-or-less like the diagram on the left below, only more colorful and design-y. In this icon, the nature of science is not depicted.
I’m not the only one left wondering what happened. From the public feedback, as described in the framework’s Appendix A: “Many of those who provided comments thought that the ‘nature of science’ needed to be made an explicit topic or idea.”
Suppose that, following this recommendation, the nature of science were considered more explicitly, how might it be positioned in relation to the three dimensions? Below on the right is one suggestion for re-conceiving the icon and clarifying the nature of science as the boundary.
Here’s my rationale, in sum: There is something called science. Science includes ways of both doing and knowing. Scientific ways of doing and knowing, versus other ways, are delineated by something called here the nature of science. Different people will inevitably have different opinions on how to characterize this boundary. But not clarifying that the nature of science in fact constitutes the boundary seems like a missed opportunity.