The effects of teaching the nature of science on higher order thinking skills in a freshmen level physical science high school course

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Montana State University - Bozeman, Graduate School


As I have developed as a science teacher, I have become more concerned with helping students learn to "think like a scientist" rather than memorize science content. With the release of the Next Generation Science Standards in April of 2013, I was further inspired to rework the school's current science curriculum to make time for teaching students to think. Over the summer of 2013, I developed a six week Nature of Science unit which used the eight benchmarks published in the Next Generation Science Standards. The Nature of Science focuses on the "how" of science and I thought it would help me achieve my goal of making students become critical thinkers. While it may seem intuitive teaching the Nature of Science may result in better higher order of thinking skills, my project focused on attempting to verify whether students improved in their ability to analyze, synthesize and evaluate scientific information. Prior to the start of the newly developed Nature of Science unit and following it, my freshmen physical science course took a previous year's standardized test (ACT Explore), completed a survey over their higher order thinking skills, developed a scientific experiment from given background during an assignment, and developed a second scientific experiment with the use of a computer simulator and collected data. The surveys provided the opportunity for me to learn about all three of their higher order thinking skills, the standardized tests shed light on their analysis and evaluation abilities, while the students developed scientific experiments provided information over their synthesis skills. The largest gains from the Nature of Science unit were in student evaluation ability. This was evidenced by increases in the ACT Explore Test conflicting view point portion and more students self identifying through the survey of being at a higher level. Student ability to synthesize and analyze scientific information did not seem to change nearly as much. As I look to improve the unit for future years, I will be incorporating more activities which allow students the opportunity to analyze and synthesize scientific information in the context of the Nature of Science.




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