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Understand Your Role in Science Education

Changing Attitudes About Science

You can play a key role in improving the public's attitude toward science.

Processes of Science

Students think of science as "hard," "cold" and isolated from humanity. We need help in dispelling these ideas. You can make a difference by your interest in improving science education through personal contact with students. Science material appears "hard" because of the unfamiliar vocabulary and symbols, and perceived higher level thinking processes necessary to comprehend the concepts. There appears to be a need for a systematic approach to learning written scientific material. One systematic approach to the comprehension of complex reading material is to follow a series of steps to extract meaning from the scientific content.

  • Ask questions about the reading material.
  • Seek to clarify what has been read.
  • Summarize and organize the information with the students.
  • Allow students to make predictions to test understanding.

A more systematically designed and explicit instruction is often needed to help students learn scientific knowledge that they can use reliably and flexibly. This means that information needs to be analyzed in adequate detail to ensure that the student learns the desired kinds of knowledge and thought processes.

Small group activities provide important opportunities to develop problem-solving skills and concepts in ways that are not possible in most large groups or even in individual instruction. A small group in a science class can wrestle with ways to solve a problem or brainstorm, share, and evaluate competing ideas. The data, real or simulated, can be presented to a class, shared and discussed in small groups. The group can collaborate in interpreting the data and in raising questions about inferences, errors in measurement, meanings, and applications. The post-lab discussions can assist in developing understanding and problem-solving skills.

A class may be divided into smaller groups to accommodate task sharing. An investigation itself can be broken into component tasks to be shared by different members within these groups. This task sharing can enable a science class to address more complex and realistic problems that may enhance the relevance of school science. Relevant material helps attract and retain students in science. Learning the scientific method provides students with useful tools for life.

One such tool is systematic problem solving. Most students find this difficult, however. To overcome such difficulties, one needs to identify and then describe clearly a general problem-solving method. Consider the following:

  1. Determine initial problem description.
  2. Consider a method or procedure of attack.
  3. Consider the assumptions.
  4. List possible solutions.
  5. Determine the most appropriate solution.
  6. Consider the limits of applications.
  7. Predict extensions of investigations.

These steps help the student design a solution. Instructors should ask more provocative questions and tantalize the students with unexplained demonstrations to encourage this process. Both patience and persistence are main ingredients in the search for the solution.

With the transition into the information age, science will be increasingly encountered in everyday life. Students must be exposed to basic scientific principles and laws, which will help them to understand the issues of human survival. They must experience the process of science that will help them learn how to make science related choices and decisions. The dynamic nature of science must become increasingly evident. The students need to understand that the constant growth of science effects change in other fields.

This can be illustrated by the integration of science and other disciplines. Science education must also combine exposure with inquiry to prepare students to respond intelligently to the explosion of scientific information that they are exposed to daily. Students must understand that true science is rather like a treasure hunt because the scientist does not always know what will be found or when it will happen. The process is both exciting and frustrating.

Gain Public Trust Through Understanding

People have a paradoxical attitude toward science. They are put off by what they perceive as the know-it-all attitude of scientists and their impersonal delivery of information, and yet insist that scientists solve every problem that exists. Most people believe that with enough money and effort all problems can and will be solved.

Scientists must gain the trust of the public by generating a clear understanding of the processes of science. Mistrust evolves from the public lack of understanding. For example, the public asks the question: Why is AIDS so hard to cure? The answer is not as simple as the question.

The public has lived through the cure for polio and therefore believes that science should be able to cure AIDS. Viruses cause both diseases. They do not realize that the HIV virus is more difficult to stop than the polio virus. The public does not understand that HIV is difficult to stop because it can mutate in a matter of hours, whereas other organisms mutate over a period of years.

This is an example of the misunderstanding of the process and nature of science. It is this process that the scientist can best address. Using examples that are in the public eye can make high school science courses relevant. An emphasis on the process of investigation will help students transfer their knowledge to other situations as the need arises.

Last updated: April 19, 2012