A Critical Review of Students’ and Teachers’ Understandings of Nature of Science

Hernán Cofré, Paola Núñez, David Santibáñez, José M. Pavez, Martina Valencia, Claudia Vergara

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

53 Scopus citations


There is widespread agreement that an adequate understanding of the nature of science (NOS) is a critical component of scientific literacy and a major goal in science education. However, we still do not know many specific details regarding how students and teachers learn particular aspects of NOS and what are the most important feature traits of instruction. In this context, the main objective of this review is to analyze articles from nine main science education journals that consider the teaching of NOS to K-12 students, pre-service, and in-service science teachers in search of patterns in teaching and learning NOS. After reviewing 52 studies in nine journals that included data regarding participants’ views of NOS before and after an intervention, the main findings were as follows: (1) some aspects of NOS (empirical basis, observation and inference, and creativity) are easier to learn than others (tentativeness, theory and law, and social and cultural embeddedness), and subjective aspects of NOS and “the scientific method” seemed to be difficult for participants to understand; (2) the interventions most frequently lasted 5 to 8 weeks for students, one semester for pre-service teachers, and 1 year for experienced teachers; and (3) most of the interventions incorporated both decontextualized and contextualized activities. Given the substantial diversity in the methods and intervention designs used and the variables studied, it was not possible to infer a pattern of more-effective NOS teaching strategies from the reviewed studies. Future investigation should focus on (a) disentangling whether a difference exists between the easy and difficult aspects of learning NOS and formulating a theoretical explanation for distinguishing the two types of aspects and (b) assessing the effectiveness of different kinds of courses (e.g., history of science, NOS or informal) and strategies (e.g., hands-on vs. drama activities; SSI vs. HOS).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)205-248
Number of pages44
JournalScience and Education
Issue number3-5
StatePublished - 14 Jul 2019


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