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Science capabilities for a functional understanding of the nature of science

Rosemary Hipkins and Ally Bull

This article begins by making the case that the New Zealand curriculum component known as the Nature of Science (NOS) has generally not, thus far, achieved its stated intent of helping students think differently about science and its relevance to their lives. We argue that NOS components in curricula have tended to become positioned as additional content to be learned, at least partly as a consequence of well-meaning curriculum support initiatives that aim to build teachers’ own NOS knowledge. The result is that NOS is added to an already overburdened curriculum, potentially making science even more abstract and inaccessible for some students than it already is. Having outlined the nature of the problem, we then describe a recent initiative that endeavoured to address the NOS challenge in a different way. We began by asking how a NOS focus might contribute to changes in teaching and learning that more deliberately focus on supporting students to build their science capabilities so that they can become the informed citizens that The New Zealand Curriculum (NZC) identifies as the overarching goal for science learning. This curriculum initiative introduces science capabilities as a set of ideas for teachers to think with. The capabilities were derived from the intersection of the generic key competencies in NZC, the NOS strand from the science learning area, and the NZC purpose statement for learning science, which emphasises citizenship. However, as we outline in the final section of the article, it is proving very hard to expand views of learning as content acquisition to include the participatory sensibility that the addition of capabilities implies. The idea of capabilities makes intuitive sense to teachers but using them as classroom prompts to think more deeply about NOS with their students is still a work in progress.

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