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Portraits of science

What image of science is portrayed by your teaching? If you were to ask your students what science is, what would they tell you? Would they say that science is about learning the facts in order to pass the test? Would they tell you that they can use science to help make sense of the world? Might they even tell you that science is the process of constructing explanations based on evidence and agreed upon by the community?

Your students learn what science is through the learning activities you do together. If students read science textbooks and answer questions from a book, they begin to think that science is about learning the facts and then displaying their knowledge on a test. If students engage in activities that require them to use scientific concepts to explain everyday (and unusual) phenomena, they learn that science knowledge is useful for understanding their world. If students conduct inquiry, develop arguments based on data and defend their arguments to their classmates, they may begin to understand how scientific knowledge is constructed.

Use the questions below to consider what portrait of science your students are seeing in your classroom:

Portrait #1: Science as facts and concepts Check below if you answer yes to the question.
1. Do you present science ideas, facts or concepts and then have students watch a demonstration or do an activity that confirms that concept?  
2. Do your students spend more time learning explanations than engaging in experiences?  
3. Do your students learn only the conclusions of major scientific studies, rather than also learning about the experiences, patterns, pitfalls and arguments that led to those conclusions?  
4. Do you teach students problem-solving procedures rather than allowing students opportunities to develop their own problem-solving strategies?  
5. Do you rely on appeals to the authority of science to persuade your students that scientific explanations are correct?  
Total number of ‘Yes’ answers to this section:


Portrait #2: Science for understanding phenomena Check below if you answer yes to the question.
1. Do you engage your students with relevant phenomena (either first-hand or vicariously)?  
2. Do you try to elicit your students’ ideas about phenomena and try to understand their thinking?  
3. Do you challenge your students’ ideas, help them test their ideas or otherwise create dissatisfaction with ideas that are not scientifically based?  
4. Do you offer students new, scientifically-based ideas in ways that help them see how the science ideas are plausible and fruitful?  
5. Do you provide your students with opportunities to reason scientifically about phenomena and use scientific ideas to explain other similar phenomena?  
Total number of ‘Yes’ answers to this section:


Portrait #3: Science as the social construction of knowledge Check below if you answer yes to the question.
1. Do you engage students in wondering and questioning about the world?  
2. Do you engage your students in activities to find out what happens and/or carefully and systematically record what they see?  
3. Do your students learn the whole story behind the development of scientific concepts, including the data, methods, patterns, pitfalls, arguments and counter-arguments?  
4. Do your students develop techniques, gather data and build arguments from their own experiences?  
5. Do you engage students in opportunities to present their own arguments or explanations, challenge others' ideas, develop replies and reach a community consensus about data and claims, based on empirical evidence?  
Total number of ‘Yes’ answers to this section:

Questions to discuss together:

1. Based on your answers to the above questions, which portrait(s) of science do you think your students see the most in your classroom?

2. Which portrait(s) of science would you like your students to see in your classroom?

3. You will not want to try to change the portrait(s) of science your students see overnight. However, you can begin to take some small steps towards changing the portraits. What three steps do you think you could begin to take to help your students see the portrait(s) you would like them to see?

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