Scientific Worldviews: A Case Study of Four High School Science Teachers
William W. Cobern, Ph.D.
Western Michigan University
Cathleen C. Loving, Ph.D.
Texas A&M University, College Station
Science education researchers have been interested in a number of factors regarding science teachers. They want to know about gender and race factors, preservice education experiences, achievement in a science major, or teacher views on the nature of science. In the past, these researchers have tended not to think of teachers as cultural beings though this is certainly changing in the way that it has become common to think of students as cultural beings and hence to inquire into the influence of student culture on the learning of science. As humans, science teachers are of course cultural beings; and just like their students, they bring a worldview to the classroom. But surely science teachers bring the scientific worldview to the science classroom? Rather than assuming that science teachers bring the scientific worldview to class, the purpose of this research is first to illuminate the enacted scientific worldviews of four typical high school science teachers. Second, we will argue that science teachers ought to show their enacted scientific worldviews in the science classroom as part of an ongoing classroom discourse promoting student understanding that science can be interpreted and made meaningful in various ways by various individuals, including the science teachers.
If a chemist (or high school chemistry teacher) were asked to draw a concept map representing the concept of "salt," one could expect the map to be reasonably complex. The map might first show that "salt" both represents common table salt, which is a white crystalline solid (usually sodium chloride) and a class of chemical compounds formed by replacing all or part of the hydrogen ions of an acid with metal ions or electropositive radicals. The chemist would likely go on to draw the relations of salt to other aspects of chemistry and other sciences. This concept map with its inter-connected parts lends itself to the metaphoric description of an "ecology", that is, a conceptual ecology (Toulmin, 1972) that represents the person's understanding of the concept "salt." Moreover, an ecology in nature can be defined narrowly (e.g., a coral ecology) or broadly (e.g., an ocean ecology) and so with a conceptual ecology. The salt example could be broadened to include the physics of electron motion that contributes to the nature of each element, and to the physiology of salts in biological systems. Science educators such as Hewson and Thorley (1989), Novak (1991) and Thorley and Stofflett (1996) argue that effective learning of science results in a broad, complex conceptual ecology. Hauslein, Good and Cummins (1992) show that science teachers restructure their knowledge with experience and that "both experienced teachers and scientists were found to have well-constructed and ordered cognitive structures" (p. 939) as compared with novice science teachers (also see Fisher, 1986).
If one asks our chemist to continue with his or her concept map, eventually at the broad level of "science" one would glimpse this person's scientific worldview. In the literature, the idea of a scientific worldview dates to at least 1929 and the publication of The Vienna Circle's manifesto, A scientific world-view. Written by Gödel, Hahn, Neurath, and Carnap, the manifesto took the concept of a scientific worldview to be synonymous with logical positivism. In other words, the only meaningful sources of knowledge are logical reasoning and empirical experience (also see Salmon, 1998). More recently, the concept of a scientific worldview has appeared in education documents such as Project 2061.
The concept of worldview, however, comes not from the sciences but from anthropology and philosophy, which inclines one to think that our chemist could make his concept map even broader, much broader than what would typically be considered a conceptual ecology. From a cultural perspective, all of a person's thoughts form a vast conceptual ecology, that is, a worldview (Cobern, 1991; Kearny, 1984). Thus, our chemist could continue and note that "salt" has cultural and metaphoric uses. For example, a sailor is an "old salt." To swear is to use "salty" language. The chemist might recall that Jesus of Nazareth told his followers, "You are the salt of the world."
Thus, what our chemist knows about salt begins at the level of specific conceptual schema that focus on salt as a concept in science, and extends outward in a vast network of interrelated concepts reaching beyond science. That network metaphorically can be thought of as a cognitive ecological system. This system can be viewed narrowly in terms of a concept ecology (nicely represented by concept maps) or viewed broadly to include all cognition. The inclusive system has salient attributes grounded in culture, which as a composite are called a worldview. Given that no person can live his or her life totally within science, the notion of a scientific worldview is more accurately expressed as a scientifically compatible worldview. The point being, different scientists and different scientifically educated people who are known to think scientifically still can have very different worldviews, and often do (see Cobern, 1991, Ch. 5).
Hence, one suspects that the ideas about science that constitute a scientific worldview must get interpreted and articulated under the influence of other aspects of a worldview. Thus, inquiring about an abstract notion of a scientific worldview in reference to an actual person is probably less helpful than inquiring about how that person has enacted a scientific worldview.
The importance of such inquiry is suggested by Bodycott (1997), Goodson (1992), Helms (1998), and Romanowski (1998) who argue that teachers are more than their practice as teachers and science teachers are more than science.
Romanoski (1998) gives the example of a student teacher who "informed the class that her views were unimportant and her goal was simply to discuss how the individual political parties platforms differed" (p. 4) but in actuality her:
Romanoski's point is that what the student teacher taught was strongly influenced by what she believed. Proper, Wideen and Ivany (1988), Tobin and LaMaster (1995), Tobin and Tippins (1996) make a similar case in science education.
Our research interest, thus, was not to assume that any teacher ever brings to class an abstract, official concept of a scientific worldview, but to assume that every teacher enacts an individual version of science and of the domain in which science operates. We do believe that if science teachers have some formal study in the nature of science they are more likely to examine their perspectives in light of nature of science scholarly work. The teachers in this study were not selected with those criteria in mind. Hence, we have conducted a case study with four high school science teachers as a way to see what a largely unexamined, but enacted scientific worldview might look like.
The case study with four high school science teachers was part of a larger study that investigated the various conceptualizations of Nature that ninth graders have and the way in which they invoke scientific ideas. The same issue was addressed with the students' science teachers. In the larger study teachers and students were compared and, as expected, science teachers showed that they know more about science than do their ninth grade students. They speak more about science and they speak in more depth about science (Cobern, 2000). The larger study, however, did not attempt to draw inferences about the teachers' scientific worldviews. Hence, it is important to recognize the serendipitous nature of the research reported in this paper. The larger study with students led to the serendipitous discovery of fascinating differences amongst the four science teachers, what we came to call their enacted scientific worldviews, and the student awareness of these differences. We were impressed by the relevance of such teacher differences to notions of a "scientific culture" that science teachers might be thought to inhabit by virtue of their specialized education in science. Our research is limited, however, because the serendipitous nature of the discovery came after it was possible to gain further background information from the teachers that would help us understand how they came to their individual views of Nature and science. Thus, the more limited focus of our report is the illumination of the existence among science teachers of idiosyncratic views on Nature and science. Such idiosyncrasies are telltale indicators of the influence of culture on teachers.
The research methods of the case study are the same as reported previously in this journal and elsewhere (Cobern, Gibson, & Underwood, 1999; Cobern, 2000). In summary form, however, the research method did not ask direct questions about "scientific worldview." Our attempt was to be indirect given that direct questioning, whether in an interview or through a survey, invites people to give what they consider to be the correct or orthodox answers about science. Our interest was to see how science was understood and used when such information was provided in a more voluntary format. Hence, the research series has focused on open-ended discussions about Nature. The guiding (implicit) research question was, to what extent do teachers enjoin scientific knowledge vis-à-vis other domains of knowledge in a discussion about Nature, given that science is unarguably relevant to the topic of Nature, and yet, Nature is a topic that most people do not explicitly associate with science? Responses to direct questions about science are one thing; it is quite another to voluntarily employ scientific knowledge in the absence of any kind of science prompt or cue. Our approach then was to use the interview transcripts as our primary source of data for drawing inferences about the teachers' use of science and understanding of Nature. The teachers' full responses in condensed narrative form may be viewed online.
The four teachers who participated in the interviews were from an upper middle class, semi-rural community in central Arizona. The community itself includes many vocal, active people that consider preservation of the desert ecosystem an important issue. There is frequent talk within the community as well as frequent articles in the local paper about the rapid destruction of the surrounding desert due to an explosion of urban development. People in the community are "outdoors" people. They hunt, ride horses, hike, camp, golf, and ride bicycles. The teachers live in or near the community and are members of the science department in the community high school.
We consider these teachers to be typical high school science teachers. The concept of "typical", however, does not mean strict objective representation, based on random sampling and a calculated N-value, used as a basis for specific generalizations as is common to quantitative research. The use of "typical" in this research is a common-sense use. These four teachers are not noticeably different from other accomplished science teachers. Are there American science teachers not represented by this group? Obviously there are, in fact, many, but that only means that this group does not represent all American science teachers. It does not make this group atypical. This group is typical in that any of the four science teachers of this study could be found in almost any high school in America today. Our view of generalizing from results follows that of Cronbach (1975) who argued that:
We take the narratives of the present study to be a form of thick description (Geertz, 1973) with the subsequent intent to develop sets of narratives over a series of different locales. Thus, this type of research is like "core sampling" in geology rather than like social science field surveys that canvass broad populations.
Four Science Teachers Talk About Science and Nature
In the teacher narratives, we are looking for how teachers understand science and the domain, Nature, in which science operates, thus providing glimpses of the teachers' scientific worldviews. Below we report each teacher narrative in annotated fashion.
To aid the reader we offer Figure 1, our post-results categorization, of each teacher now. We hope it enhances understanding of the rather extensive commentary and highlights the essence of each perspective. These categories are justified in the Discussion.
Figure 1. Four Enacted Scientific Worldviews
|Mr. Bradford||Mr. Hess|
|Nature is more powerful than the minds of people who are trying to conquer it Nature is really not knowable No one will ever know everything there is to know about Nature and that is part of its appeal; because [Nature] is so mysterious. Not only will nobody ever know everything there is to know about Nature, hopefully no one ever will. To me, the mysterious Nature of Nature is one of its better qualities. Things that are completely discovered are no longer interesting||I think that everything has patterns. We haven't necessarily discovered those patterns, yet I feel that with enough scientific knowledge all things are understandable. I think that the more we understand about matter itself, and the more we know about how to make things, the more predictable Nature will be. Scientific or reductionistic thinking is very powerful. I feel that once we know enough about the minutia of the world, breaking it down by using the scientific method, scientists tearing it apart and analyzing the parts of Nature and seeing how they interact, that we will be able to predict just about anything about Nature Eventually all Nature will be explainable.|
|The Lover of Scientific Mysteries||The Optimistic Reductionist|
|Mr. David||Ms Jackson|
|Nature is orderly and chaotic, predictable and unpredictable - these pairs are sort of needed in order to define each other. Things wouldn't be predictable if you didn't know what unpredictable was. Things wouldn't be orderly if you didn't know what chaotic was. It is sort of a Ying-yang relationship between the two - I would call this just the dualistic Nature of reality Living, mysterious, and exciting. These are terms I most closely associate with in the natural world and how it appears. It's alive. It's mysterious and we don't understand it, and it's exciting... there is a lot that we don't know about it.||I think that Nature is predictable. I think that it is logical. I think that it is explainable. As scientists, we come up with laws of Nature or theories of Nature to be able to predict behaviors and [because of] the experiments that we have done. And we can predict those things because they are orderly, there are certain patterns that we can find, and yet at times they can be very complex. But I think Nature, you can understand it, you can know it, and you can predict it. I feel like we know and awful lot. I feel like, that, even though we don't have all the answers, we have so much, ways of finding out answers. I feel that we know an awful lot. I think we would definitely be up towards the 80 percentile of knowledge.|
|The Scientific Buddhist||The Logical Scientific Pollyanna|
Mr. Bradford is Anglo-American from a middle-class family. He is a second-year biology teacher with a college major in biology. Upon completion of his undergraduate degree, he entered a secondary science teacher education program. He is known among his colleagues as a serious person who speaks quite philosophically. As one would expect of a good science teacher, he readily spoke about science. He offered the following remarks as part of his explanation that, yes, one can have knowledge about Nature.
Clearly, science is the knowledge Mr. Bradford has in mind. His view of science includes the importance of observations, data, and experiments. It is also a very personal view of science as expressed in the last sentence of the following excerpt.
But the power of a scientist to investigate Nature is severely limited by the complexity of Nature.
Mr. Bradford further explains the complexity of Nature by tying together the concept of change and diversity. He also makes clear that the complexity and diversity of Nature is the way Nature ought to be.
Another important aspect of Nature is power and, in the long run, the lack of power people have in the face of Nature.
Hence, Mr. Bradford sees Nature more in terms of what is not known and cannot be known.
Moreover, according to Mr. Bradford, the fact that no one will ever know everything about Nature is a good thing. Note again the personal involvement with Nature.
For Mr. Bradford, the importance of science and the understanding of Nature are tied to environmental views. According to him, everyone should study science for the sake of Nature. The destruction we see in Nature is due in part to the fact that this is not happening.
In addition to the attractiveness of mystery, Mr. Bradford finds great beauty in Nature. Again, one sees Mr. Bradford's environmental thinking.
It was not clear what Mr. Bradford's religious inclinations might be since he is reluctant to talk about religion. There are, however, indications that he has religious-like views toward Nature. Clouser (1991) argues that across the variety of religious beliefs, the one common inclusion is a designation for what is eternal. According to Mr. Bradford,
The non-theistic implications of this remark are also apparent in Mr. Bradford's response to people who see the work of God in Nature.
Finally, for Mr. Bradford, environmentalism is of great importance
Mr. Hess is Anglo-American from a middle-class family. He majored in physics and completed a post baccalaureate, secondary science teacher education program. He has had several years of experience as a physics teacher and he is quite emphatic about Nature.
He is equally emphatic about science and the efficacy of science as the process of discovery.
Mr. Hess has a reductionist view of science.
And, he is an optimist.
In the meantime, however, there are challenges, and at first, Mr. Hess appears to acknowledge some limits to science.
But then Mr. Hess begins to hedge on any notion of limitations to science by suggesting that our inability to predict natural phenomena has to do with our lack of knowledge. Lack of knowledge leads to emotional stress.
It is the above passage that Mr. Hess concludes with the statement, "Eventually, however, all Nature will be explainable." It has not happened yet because of, "the extreme, complex, and diverse type of systems that are involved with [Nature]"; but it will happen.
Mr. Hess gives three reasons why this pursuit of scientific knowledge is important. To begin with, knowledge of Nature is intrinsically valuable.
Second, knowledge of Nature is extrinsically valuable, that is, knowledge of Nature is useful.
The third reason for Mr. Hess is the crown of human achievement represented by the development of our practical knowledge.
Mr. Hess is aware that the practical use of Nature places stress upon Nature. However, when asked if Nature is endangered or if it is possible to restore damage already done to Nature, he offered a rather non-environmentalist perspective.
"Protection" according to Mr. Hess,
Mr. Hess finds beauty in Nature, but above all else, Nature is a natural resource.
Clearly, Mr. Hess has an anthropocentric view of Nature. The whole of Nature is weighed in the balance of human importance.
But all of life is not science, scientific knowledge of Nature, and natural resources.
Mr. Hess pulls together his ideas about science, Nature, and the spiritual by saying,
So, there is a part of life in the natural world that is not subject to the scientific method. As a clarification, Mr. Hess says,
In the end, one sees that the things that are sacred and holy are the things that are mysterious, but it is science that removes mystery from Nature. There seems to be a clash here of ideas that Mr. Hess apparently feels obliged to resolve.
Mr. David is an Anglo-American, first year teacher. He completed a biology degree followed by a secondary science teacher education program. From the very start, Mr. David spoke of Nature in terms of the environment that includes humans but not the results of human actions.
Mr. David becomes quite anthropomorphic in his description of Nature. He recognizes this and makes the point that he is speaking figuratively. Nevertheless, he comments that what it means to be "alive" is not that obvious at the molecular level.
Mr. David says that Nature is mysterious; indeed, he goes on to use the Eastern concept of Ying-yang to describe Nature.
Another dualism in Nature for Mr. David is the dualism of diversity and complexity that makes Nature so interesting but causes comprehension of Nature to ever recede before us.
Nature is a place of great interest for Mr. David.
But Mr. David is aware that this place of natural wonder we call Nature has been altered by humans. Hence, it is important to know as much as possible about Nature so that human behavior toward Nature is "more enlightened."
Mr. David is optimistic about the scientific study of Nature. Such study is intrinsically worthwhile and by itself no threat to Nature.
About how the results of scientific studies are used, Mr. David is less sanguine.
The scientific study of Nature is also important for practical reasons because we are materially dependent upon Nature.
But, self-interest adversely affects Nature. Nature must be protected, therefore, because of our dependence upon the resources of Nature.
There is more to Nature than this, however.
What is Mr. David describing here? Is he expressing vague personal feelings? Is he talking about an important experiential aesthetic aspect of Nature? Are these essentially religious ideas? Mr. David says that he is talking about all these things.
But Mr. David hedges on any commitment to a traditional theistic view of religion and Nature. He places his personal emphasis on scientific ways of knowing.
But there could be something more. Mr. David seems concerned that there must be some purpose in all of Nature - he is not an absolute Darwinian.
However, he wishes not to make too much of a point about purpose.
Mr. David thinks that most everyone shares his aesthetic, quasi-religious view of Nature.
In the end, Nature for Mr. David is,
Ms. Jackson is Anglo-American. She majored in physical science education and she teaches physical science courses at the high school. She has had several years of teaching experience. Ms Jackson was quite clear about how she viewed Nature.
She also adds that Nature is orderly, even though at times it seems complex, and this orderliness of Nature allows science to predict events and behaviors. Scientists express the orderliness of Nature through "laws of Nature."
The orderliness of Nature means that you can approach Nature with logic and in fact "that Nature is not difficult to understand."
Even when Ms Jackson talked about the beauty of Nature, she continued to speak of science and the order and logic of Nature.
She admits that some people do find Nature confusing and even frightening. She attributes these emotions not to any complexity in Nature, but to the frustration people feel over why it is that some suffer at the hands of Nature.
Predictions about Nature, finding out about Nature and studying Nature are "what scientists do. Lots of scientists are doing that." But it is not just scientists.
Ms Jackson at one point mentioned that a scientist uses experiments to study Nature and in the above excerpt, she expresses the idea that one learns by "taking things apart." Science as she understands it must be powerful since Ms Jackson also says,
There are, however, some limitations to our scientific knowledge according to Ms Jackson.
These are not limitations to the power of science but that our domain of knowledge is as yet still limited. In completing the above thought, Ms Jackson shows her optimism for science.
And why do we study Nature? What is the purpose of our investigations of Nature? Ms Jackson has clear answers. For one thing she is personally enthusiastic about science, twice referring to herself as a scientist.
For another reason, science and the study of Nature support the human use of natural resources.
For Ms Jackson, Nature seems to be the domain of resources for human beings and science is the method by which those resources are discovered, extracted, processed and utilized. But, she is not unaware of the pressure these types of activities place on Nature.
Ms Jackson makes the important note that scientists are not to blame for the exploitation of Nature. Indeed, it is the scientists along with people in business and government who find ways to protect Nature.
Science is the tool according to Ms Jackson for insuring the availability of resources for human use. Nevertheless, citizens need to be prepared for making wise decisions especially given the power of science and the wealth of our resources.
She is optimistic both about Nature's capacity and that people will do the right thing; and so she is not particularly concerned for the future.
Yet she admits to a certain ignorance of environmental issues though again she seems not to be overly disturbed.
And she has somewhat of a subjective and religious understanding of Nature that supports what sense of environmentalism she does seem to have.
Her religious sense about Nature contains a teleological twist.
But what she has in mind by purpose is more about natural function than any kind of transcendent purpose. The "destiny" she refers to above seems to be survival of a species.
The idea of survival as destiny is applied to humans as well.
And as if to tie together main currents of her thought, Ms Jackson finishes with:
That is, important to our human destiny to survive.
What can be said about these science teachers and their scientific worldviews? What can be said about Mr. Bradford? He talks like a scientist when he talks about the concepts of science such as the laws of physics and the rain cycle, or about observation, data collection and the importance of controlled experiment. He is personally committed to involvement with science and Nature, neither are abstract entities for him. He refers to scientists as people who "live" in Nature. Mr. Bradford talks about scientific knowledge but then goes on to say how complex Nature really is and that we will never "know everything there is to know about Nature. Nature is mysterious, and that is one of the principal things Mr. Bradford likes about Nature. Students commonly hear him talk about the mysteries of Nature and how science attempts to solve those mysteries. Mr. Bradford is a lover of scientific mysteries. Solutions to Nature's mysteries are important because knowing more about Nature will help us do less damage to Nature. Mr. Bradford makes no mention of traditional religious themes but his views of Nature have a semi-religious, earth cult quality to them. Nature "will always be here"; all organisms including humans share the same purpose, survival. He is an aesthetic person drawn to Nature by its beauty, and his values draw strongly from environmentalism.
What can be said about Mr. Hess? Like Mr. Bradford, most people would say that Mr. Hess talks like a scientist - probably more so since Mr. Hess is so strongly positive about the virtues of science. His comments about nature are focused and have an explicitly scientific emphasis. The method of science is analytical reductionism. It is not uncommon for students to hear Mr. Hess say that science proceeds by "taking things apart." Mr. Hess is a realist, and according to him, the patterns and order observed by scientists in Nature are actual attributes of Nature. Science is powerful and Mr. Hess expects that science will eventually triumph over Nature. Nature is understandable; humans will understand all. Mr. Hess is an optimistic reductionist. Not surprisingly, Mr. Hess values scientific understanding for its own sake; but he also has a distinctly utilitarian bent. Science is valuable because it extends human control over Nature; and, human need trumps aesthetics and environmentalism. Although Mr. Hess recognizes a role for religion along with science in understanding Nature, he keeps his religious views separate from his scientific views. One has the impression that he would be sympathetic to Stephen Jay Gould's (1999) "non overlapping magisteria," or NOMA. Science and religion are important but separate.
What can be said about Mr. David? Like his colleagues, he too appears to have a scientific worldview. Mr. David talks about the material make up of Nature, about heat and energy, dynamics. About living organisms he says, "when you look down to the molecular level, it really is just non-living, material molecules that are organized in complex ways." Mr. David has scientific curiosity; he wonders how things in Nature work. He is optimistic about scientific knowledge; it is "hopeful and peaceful"; it has the power to "enlighten." With scientific knowledge we can make better decisions and protect the environment. Nature, however, is complex, and Mr. David resorts to an anthropomorphism to make this point: "Nature is alive." Nature is composed of dualities that Mr. David describes using the Buddhist concept of Ying-yang. It is not uncommon for students to hear Mr. David talk about the complexities of Nature in terms of dualities. Even his description of scientific work involves a cycling between complexity and order: One studies the complexities of Nature to find patterns (complexity reduced); the patterns allow predictions; the predictions fail because Nature is more complex than previously thought (complexity increased). Scientific knowledge is powerful, yet there is mystery. And, Mr. David has an "instinctual connection to the sacredness of Nature." There is something about Nature that transcends the physical. He says his ideas are religious, emotional, and philosophical, "all three!" Mr. David is a scientific Buddhist.
And, what can be said about Ms Jackson? She clearly identifies herself as a scientist: "I am a scientist," she says; and later, "as scientists, we come up with laws of Nature or theories of Nature." Scientists do experiments that lead to knowledge about Nature and the ability to make accurate predictions about natural phenomenon. Why? Because events in Nature are orderly; they have patterns that can be learned. Nature can seem to be complex, but it is actually "not difficult to understand." I think that [Nature] is logical. I think that it is explainable." In her science classroom, she likes to emphasize her view that Nature is just not that difficult to understand. Ms Jackson finds beauty in Nature for its own sake, but she also finds science beautiful. Indeed, her concept of beauty in Nature is interwoven with her attraction to science: "Because of the physics and the refraction of light, you can understand a beautiful sunset." And while Ms Jackson supposes that there are limits to scientific knowledge, she readily suggests that we are already at the "80 percentile of knowledge." She is aware, however, that scientific knowledge has led to the exploitation of Nature, though not by scientists: "scientists come up with stuff and then later on somebody [else] finds a use for it that could be harmful, but that is why you need to protect it." Ms Jackson is a very logical, scientific Pollyanna.
Here we have four science teachers who by ordinary accounts are good science teachers with good science credentials. They customarily talk and act like science teachers; surely, they each have a scientific worldview. Yet, they can be so different: The lover of scientific mysteries, the optimistic reductionist, the scientific Buddhist, and the logical scientific Pollyanna. Of course, what they all have are elements of what the American Association for the Advancement of Science, among others, say is constituent of a scientific worldview. Those elements, however, are embedded in some quite different cultural frameworks. Do the differences matter? We think so. Alsop and Watts (1997, p. 648) argue that, "a person's engagement with scientific knowledge must fit with his or her self-image and lifestyle, to enable them to act with confidence and self-direction." These are four teachers who do "act with confidence and self-direction", and as Alsop and Watts suggest, we think this is due to their obvious personalizations of science. What they have enacted is not the scientific worldview, but a personalized scientific worldview. Moreover, teachers' personalized scientific worldviews are going to be evident in their classrooms at a level beyond that of their ideas about the nature of science (NOS). NOS research has clearly established that simply having NOS knowledge does not mean that teachers will make NOS part of their science teaching (Benson, 1989; Lederman, 1999; Lederman, Schwartz, Abd-El-Khalick, & Bell, in press). In contrast, a teacher's personalized scientific worldview is the actual cognitive milieu in which the teacher holds scientific ideas, providing the medium for the expression of those ideas.
We further suggest that the teacher's communication of science in the classroom, under the influence of a personalized scientific worldview, can have subtle and serious repercussions with the students. Ann was a ninth grade student in a science course taught by Mr. Hess, the optimistic reductionist. She and Mr. Hess provide a case in point. In an interview, Ann used significant aesthetic and religious elements to describe the natural world:
When Ann was asked about her science class with Mr. Hess, she made it quite clear that the class was not about the natural world, as she understood Nature. Nature in her view is something friendly that you can joyously be part of. What impressed her about the science class were incidents such as Mr. Hess's warning that they would be handling dangerous chemicals during the course. It is no surprise then to find that Ann was not particularly fond of the class and would have preferred to be taking something else. One might be tempted to dismiss this young lady's aversion to dangerous chemicals as temporary and solely a result of insufficient conceptual understanding. She does not yet understand that there is danger in Nature, but with proper understanding and technique, this danger need not be viewed as a threat. From a cultural perspective, however, Ann's aversion can be seen as rooted in an aesthetic sense of Nature that contrasts with Mr. Hess's matter-of-fact, reductionist ("tearing it apart") approach to science and Nature. The result is that Ann's engagement with science (as per Alsop & Watts, 1997) in Mr. Hess's classroom amounted to a poor personal fit; and Ann's worldview showed little change for having been in Mr. Hess's classroom, though in fact she got a good grade. Since all four of the science teachers took turns teaching sections of the ninth grade physical science course, one has to suspect that Ann would have had a more meaningful encounter with science had she taken the course with the Lover of Scientific Mysteries or the Scientific Buddhist.
Of course, it is not reasonable to think that schools could match students and science teachers in this way. What science teachers can do, however, is be more reflective about how they personally understand science (what is my personalized scientific worldview?) and more explicit with their students about the various ways that people understand science - that there are in fact multiple enacted scientific worldviews amongst the scientifically educated. It is reasonable for science teachers to recognize that learning science often involves students in acts of cultural border crossing (Aikenhead, 1996; Cobern and Aikenhead, 1998; Aikenhead and Jegede, 1999), borders derived from the ternary interaction of student culture, teacher culture, and the culture of science.
It may be that one of the most powerful determiners of views on nature come from the language of the textbooks teachers choose. Ostman (1998) noted that in examining various science texts there was a preponderance of what he calls "mechanistic" or "classical" use of important terms. He became convinced there were several "nature" languages. Thus students' conceptions of science, nature and their relationship can be influenced by the way concepts are described in texts. Water is an object and it is explained in relation to its basic components. On the other hand Killbourn (1998) introduces us to an "organicist" root metaphor--language that might "argue for the kind of talk in the curriculum that would enable students to have a better metacognitive purchase on how they are being socialized to construct reality" (p. 2). Here phenomena and events are described as part of a larger whole. It does make sense that if all the major concepts one learns in science class are presented largely in isolation of the "big picture" at what point during the year does the word "nature" even enter the vocabulary of the teachers or the students--maybe never.
It is interesting to examine the origin of the "Western" view of nature. For example, what happened to the 19th century American movement known as transcen-dentalism? Literary giant Ralph Waldo Emerson saw nature as both spiritual and material with man included; Poet Walt Whitman extended transcendentalism so that not only the soul of man was an integral part of nature "but the body " even some of its private parts. "I celebrate myself" Both transcendentalism and an unabashed mixing of religion and science with nature are expressed in an early 20th Century children's book, Fairyland of Science by Arabella B. Buckley (1919). She writes "We are all groping dimly for the Unseen Power, but no one who loves nature and studies it can ever feel alone or unloved in the world." but even the little child who lives with nature and gazes on her with open eye, must rise in some sense or other through nature to nature's God".
The notion that we must have a view of nature separate from ourselves may be a false dichotomy. Yet often the separation of both nature and science from the self is all part of the stereotypical Western view of nature. This modern emphasis succeeded in affecting views of nature coming out of Taoist or Buddhist countries like China when they first began sending their young people to study in the West around 1912 (Slay, 1999). There may have been elements of transcendentalism and other holistic notions of the relationship between nature and science existing in the West, but clearly science education did not suggest that, nor did the public promotions of scientific advancements. In a blurb on the back cover of Natural Acts: A Sidelong View of Science and Nature (Quammen, 1985), David Rains Wallace credits the book with handling well the" tricky and ambiguous territory where nature, science and humanity overlap."
The Nobel Laureate in physics, Leon Lederman, has become much involved with school science education. He argues that,
An important implication of this popular view is that science teachers have a scientific worldview. Our research, however, provides evidence in support of an alternative: Although one can verbally describe an abstraction called the scientific worldview, amongst human beings there is no single scientific worldview. There are only enacted interpretations. Moreover, enacting the abstract notion of a scientific worldview is subject to a myriad of cognitive forces within each individual person. Hence, one can almost say that there are as many scientific worldviews as there are people who both know something about science and who consider science important. Recognizing that science teachers are cultural beings, just as is any human, will allow for a more open classroom discourse on the many legitimate ways that people come to think about science. Rather than contributing to a false sense that "one ideology fits all" who are scientifically literate, students will thus be afforded a more valid opportunity for a personal, culturally relevant experience with science.
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About the Authors...
Bill Cobern has an undergraduate degree in biology and chemistry from the University of California, San Diego, and a doctoral degree in science education from the University of Colorado, Boulder. His area of research is the cultural and philosophical study of science and science education. He has published in the NARST monograph series, the Journal for Research in Science Teaching, Science Education, Science & Education, the International Journal of Science Education, International Science Education, The Science Teacher, the Journal of Science Teacher Education, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, West Africa, and the Benin Journal of Education. He is the section editor for Culture and Comparative Studies for the journal Science Education, and the book series editor for the Science and Technology Education Library, Kluwer Academic Publishers.
Cathleen C. Loving is an assistant professor in curriculum and instruction at Texas A&M University. She received a B.S. degree in biology at Pennsylvania State University and an M.A.T. degree in biology from Duke University. She taught high school biology for a number of years before returning to the University of Texas at Austin for a Ph.D in science education. She has particular research interests in the relationship between conceptions of the nature of science and science teaching, as well as elements of scientific inquiry such as conceptual change and model-based reasoning.
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