Dr. Salter Earns CSU Research Award

Dr. Irene Salter has recently won a CSU Research Award entitled “Assessing Students’ Understanding of the Nature of Science.”  The project seeks to determine the best way to teach students about the nature of science (NOS).

There is active debate among science education researchers as to how NOS instruction should be approached in a classroom setting -- should you take an implicit approach or an explicit approach. The implicit approach argues that students who engage in doing science through inquiry will develop more sophisticated understandings about NOS. Taken to its fullest extent, this implicit approach is the experience of practicing scientists who, through their immersion in the daily practice of science, come to better understand science as a practice. In contrast, the explicit approach uses hands-on activities that highlight NOS ideas, followed by reflective discussions and writing to draw out the connections to targeted NOS themes. For instance, students might explore a ‘Mystery Box’ to infer its inner workings as a way to trigger discussions about the distinction between observation and inference.

Here at CSU Chico, we have an ideal test-bed to determine whether the implicit approach to NOS instruction has merit. Dr. Salter and Dr. Leslie Atkins co-teach a course for Liberal Studies majors, NSCI 321 Scientific Inquiry, that engages students in authentic, open-ended scientific inquiry in much the same way as practicing scientists do. The aim of this grant is to directly compare the explicit and implicit NOS understandings of students in our course.  We will use case studies of two to three students over the course of the semester as a way to discover whether our implicit approach to scientific inquiry can indeed improve students' NOS understandings.