The nature of science
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The Nature of Science

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The Nature of Science

This document can be freely copied and amended if used for educational purposes. It must not be used for commercial gain. The author(s) and web source must be acknowledged whether used as it stands or whether adapted in any way.

Download 2.1 ‘Ideas and evidence’ Authored by Keith Ross University of Gloucestershire accessed from date created February 2006

The Nature of Science

Currently this is covered by Sc1: Scientific Enquiry’ of the science national curriculum: Ideas and evidence and Investigative skills.

Here we deal with Ideas and evidence

Some questions to begin with:

1a. What are some of the 'big' ideas of science, and when did they become an accepted part of our understanding?



notice things





search for the truth

have ideas

make theories

test ideas


1b. Arrange these words and link with arrows to show how you think science works

Q2 Starting with children’s ideas

If you wrap a block of ice cream up in a blanket, will it melt faster, slower or at the same rate as the unwrapped one left in the same room at room temperature?

To hold what is

What is the


function of

the wick?

To slow the

rate of burning

What is the

To burn - it's

function of

the actual fuel

the wax?

Q3 Starting with children’s ideas

The Candle

Q4 Draw a scientist

  • Draw a scientist doing something scientific.

  • Draw what you think pupils at age 8 and 16 might draw, then make your own attempt.

Commentary on questions

1a. Big Ideas – compare your list with the topics in the National Curriculum. Scientists have created these ideas over the centuries, and they have been tested by experiment and observation

1b.What is science? Science starts by noticing things, this leads to the creation of ideas which have to be tested by further observation/experiment. By communicating the ideas they can be further tested and become accepted – until they become inadequate and need to be revised or replaced.

2. Ice-cream question

Many children (and adults) have the idea that blankets are intrinsically warm, so the ice-cream will melt faster if wrapped in a blanket.

This is the conjecture or guess.

It is an idea or theory which we then have to test against ‘reality’.

When the experiment is performed many are surprised that the wrapped ice-cream stays frozen longer then the unwrapped one.

3. The Candle

It seems that the wax is retarding the flame - slowing the burning of the wick.

Fatter candles last longer.

But …

Where does the extra energy come from in a fat candle – the wick is the same size?

What about ‘candles’ with ‘liquid’ wax – oil lamps – how do they work?

Children’s ideas can change during teaching, just like scientists’ ideas do over historical time.

Ideas and evidence

  • Practical work by scientists is only a small part of the process of being scientific. The thinking and generation of ideas that give purpose to it all are equally important.

  • The remainder of this presentation looks at the place of practical work in school to ensure that it also has purpose.

The purposes of practical work

  • Science teaching is dominated by practical work.

  • Ensure time devoted to it is well and justifiably used.

  • The rusting workshop that follows allows us to examine the rôle of practical work in secondary school.

Analysis of practical work

  • Avoid 'recipe-following.'

  • Three kinds of practical work (Sutton 1992).

    • Experiencing a phenomenon.

    • Basic skills - equipment, display, techniques.

      • embed new skills into an investigation, but keep it simple.

    • Investigating - fair testing, classification, observation,

  • Identify a purpose for every practical activity.

Practical or word work?

  • “.... there remains a problem of connecting practical work with the discussion and appreciation of ideas. ...” (Sutton 1992)

  • WORD WORK should form the core of a science lesson.

Q4 Draw a scientist

Your views on science

  • Draw a scientist doing something scientific.

  • What is science?

  • What do scientists do in their work?

  • How is science useful?

  • Can science create problems in the world?

  • Why should primary children learn about science?

  • What do children do when they are doing science?

  • What are your feelings about science?

  • This is the sort of picture that will be conjured up by pupils of all ages.

  • Is this the image we want pupils to retain?

The ‘egg-head’ scientist


We are all scientists!

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