Formal Science Education and Life-Long Learning

The principal contact with scientific knowledge for many individuals not professionally involved with science is through issues raised in the news media. Is British beef safe to eat? Will the planting of genetically modified crops damage the environment? Is mobile phone use harmful to health?

Individuals may also interact with science in other contexts, e.g. during medical consultations, public enquiries into the safety of a local industrial plant, or court cases involving scientists as expert witnesses. Such contexts also feature questions involving science. What are the chances that our next baby will be a Down's child? What level of dioxin contamination can lead to harmful health effects?

The central focus of this Fellowship is to consider what individuals need to know about science in order to engage with questions such as these, and how formal science education can contribute to the process of enabling individuals to interact meaningfully with scientific issues in their adult lives.

To engage in science related issues individuals are likely to need some appreciation of the key concepts of science, that is knowledge-of-science (e.g. the germ theory of disease, the particulate nature of matter, the genetic theory of inheritance). However, examination of individuals' interactions with science as they engage with scientific questions of the kind identified earlier suggests that they particularly need an appreciation of how science works: how scientists decide which questions to investigate, why scientists do experiments, how scientists assess the quality of data, the role of theoretical models in science and the limitations of scientific knowledge. Such knowledge-about-science is the principal focus of this Fellowship.

The work of this Fellowship is considering the following questions.

  • What kinds of understandings about science enable individuals to interact effectively with science issues in a wide range of settings outside of formal science education?
  • What might a science curriculum designed for continuity in the development of students' knowledge-about-science look like?
  • What features of teaching activities promote the development of students' knowledge-about-science?
  • What are teachers' and students' responses to teaching tasks whose aims include the development of students' knowledge-about-science?
  • What knowledge and expertise do teachers need in order to plan, implement and evaluate teaching tasks which aim to develop students' knowledge-about-science?