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15. The Research Base

  1. The Role of Research
  2. The Nature of the Research Literature
  3. Research Findings By Chapter and Section
    1. The Nature of Science
    2. The Nature of Mathematics
    3. The Nature of Technology
    4. The Physical Setting
    5. The Living Environment
    6. The Human Organism
    7. Human Society
    8. The Designed World
    9. The Mathematical World
    10. Historical Perspectives
    11. Common Themes
    12. Habits of Mind
  4. References

The references that follow are organized to match chapters and sections of Benchmarks, which in turn mostly match those of Science for All Americans. The list is very selective and includes only those references that met two criteria. One was relevance—some excellent papers were not included because they did not bear on one of the Benchmarks topics. The other criterion was quality—papers, however relevant, were bypassed if they were seen to have design flaws or their evidence or argument was weak. Even then, however, not all relevant and good papers are included. In many cases, a single paper has been used as representative of a number of similar reports.

It will immediately be clear that mathematics and the physical sciences have had the benefit of many more studies than have other fields. Perhaps that is because the subject matter lends itself to research more easily; in the next few years, though, perhaps the attention to cognitive research will increase in all fields.

Research Findings for Chapter 3: The Nature of Technology

There is a very small body of research on student learning about what technology is and how it relates to science and society. Most of this research relies on samples of students outside the United States, and it assesses high-school students' knowledge about the role of science and technology, as well as their attitudes toward the decision making of scientists and engineers in issues of public concern.

Even in middle school, students typically do not distinguish between an engineering model of experimentation where the goal is to produce a desirable outcome and the scientific model of experimentation where the goal is to understand the relation between causes and effects (Carey et al., 1989; Schauble et al., 1991). Some research suggests that students can understand and use the engineering model before they can the scientific model—that is, that students inevitably will think about producing desirable outcomes before they are able to do the more analytic form of thinking involved in scientific inquiry (Schauble et al., 1991).

High-school students do not distinguish between the roles of science and technology unless explicitly asked to do so (Fleming, 1987). This is evidenced, for example, by students' view that science serves the public interest. More generally, some students believe science affects society in more positive ways than does technology. That is partly because students associate science with medical research but associate technology with pollution or weapons. Students appear to understand the impact of science on technology but they do not always appreciate the impact of technology on science (Fleming, 1987).

Preliminary research gives some indication of two student perspectives on risk resulting from the failure of technological systems. In the first perspective, if the risk of failure involves the possibility of widespread harm, it is unacceptable; however, if the risk of failure is to oneself and voluntary, it is considered a part of life and hardly worthy of concern by others. In the second perspective, if the risk of failure involves harm to oneself and benefits to oneself, then it is of primary interest. Harm to others is simply ignored in this perspective (Fleming, 1986a, 1986b).

Some high-school students believe scientists and engineers are more capable of making decisions about public issues related to science and technology than the general public. Students believe that scientists and engineers know all the facts and are not influenced by personal motives and interests (Fleming, 1987; Aikenhead 1987).

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