SED 599T--Nature of Science and its Interactions with Technology/Society

Norman Lederman
Oregon State University



The purpose of this course, designed for secondary level inservice teachers and science education doctoral students, is to have each student develop a functional knowledge of the history, nature, and philosophy of science as well as the interactions among science, technology, and society. In addition, each student is expected to apply his/her knowledge to the development of instructional materials designed to communicate such subject matter within the context of secondary science curricula.

Although some attention is given to the nature and history of technology, the primary focus of this course is to develop students' understanding of the nature of science and the development of relevant instructional materials that can be used with secondary students. Instructional materials may focus on the nature of science or be designed to be integrated within a science, technology, and society oriented curriculum. Within the context of this particular course, the nature of science is broadly defined as, "The values and assumptions inherent to science, scientific knowledge, and/or the development of scientific knowledge.



Through an integrated series of readings, discussions, demonstrations, and "hands-on" activities students eventually clarify their views on the values and assumptions that are inherent to science and scientific knowledge. Although the actual list of these values and assumptions is left "open" for student development, the following is quite close to the list developed each year:

1. Independence of Thought
2. Independence of Observation
3. Prizing of Originality
4. Dissent (Freedom)
5. Free Inquiry
6. Free Speech
7. Tolerance
8. Mutual Respect
9. Creativity
10. Tentativeness
11. Amoral
12. Unified View of Reality
13. Parsimonious
14. Testable
15. Empirically Based
16. Culturally and Socially Embedded

This list of values and assumptions is a focal point of the course and its creation is periodically addressed throughout the course. In short, the list is "finalized" about 3/4 (about seven weeks) into the course.

Along with the clarification of the values and assumptions inherent to science and scientific knowledge, the class formally addresses the following characteristics and/or contentious aspects of science (as elucidated in readings) by comparing and contrasting the views of various historians, philosophers, and science educators (e.g., Kuhn, Lakatos, Laudan, Popper):

1. Attempts to "Know" Physical and Living World
2. Creative/Imaginative Act
3. Process
4. Body of Knowledge
5. Tentative/Probabilistic
6. A "Way of Knowing"
7. Has a Subjective Component
8. Paradigm Dependent
9. Empirically Based
10. Culturally Embedded
11. Constructs Reality
12. Paradigms, Programmes, Traditions Coexist
13. Selection Among Paradigms, Programmes, and Traditions is Rational
14. Knowledge is Cumulative
15. Progress is Made as Knowledge Becomes a Closer Approximation of the Truth
16. Successive "Shifts" in Knowledge are Incommensurate


Student assignments/activities involve an integrated set of readings, discussions, demonstrations, and "hands-on" activities. In general, students are assigned specific reading assignments each day and are expected to prepare for class discussions on such readings during the next class meeting. Subsequent class discussions are supplemented with demonstrations, and "hands-on" activities that serve to help clarify aspects of reading assignments or raise additional questions.

A list of suggested readings is included in the Resource Materials section.



Students are evaluated primarily upon the quality of the instructional materials they produce (70%) and three reaction papers (30%) they are required to write for three texts of their choosing. The evaluation scheme for this course attempts to assess students' knowledge of the nature of science as well as their ability to apply such knowledge to the development of instructional materials. In addition (although not graded), students are expected to present a mini-lesson to their peers that exemplifies the instructional materials created. Significantly more weight is placed on the development of instructional materials since the purpose of the course is to facilitate teachers' ability to communicate the subject matter to students. If teachers develop an in-depth understanding of the history, philosophy, and nature of science, but are unable to communicate such knowledge to their students, little has been accomplished in terms of the vision and goals expressed in Science for All Americans and Benchmarks for Science Literacy.



A "mini" version of this course is presented during a four week period of a preservice science teaching methods course. The general framework is the same, but the readings, demonstrations, and "hands-on" activities are necessarily reduced. A particular difference worth noting is that two texts replace virtually all of the readings in the previously described course. These texts are:

Chalmers, (1982). What is thing called science? An assessment of the nature and status of science and its methods (2nd ed.). St. Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press.

Gould, S. J. (1981). The mismeasure of man. New York: Norton.

These texts are considered to be the most accessible for preservice teachers within the context of their teacher preparation program requirements.