ENSI RATIONALE FOR TEACHING
THE NATURE OF SCIENCE
The ENSI program was intended to assist high school Biology
teachers in the improvement of their teaching of evolution by
emphasizing how evolutionary theory represents the nature of
scientific thinking. It was realized from the beginning that
an accurate understanding of evolution should be the integrative
core of any good Biology course, and that every effort should
be made to remove all obstacles toward that goal. To do this,
the many myths and misunderstandings about both science and evolution
that even many Biology teachers have would need to be corrected.
With respect to the nature of science, that topic should be
addressed first, taking teachers beyond the simplistic "scientific
method" (which is about all most texts ever present), and
bring out more clearly just what modern science is actually about,
including its limitations.
Further, it is only within such a framework that the nature
and strength of the evidence for large-scale evolution and the
force of the underlying processes can adequately be understood.
Within a nature of science framework, the real nature of evolution,
and how it provides the most useful framework for understanding
all of modern biology, medicine and agriculture can be explored.
Within such a framework, teachers (and students) must be provided
a chance to discover and explore their present understandings
of science and of evolution: what ideas they hold, where they
are weak, and where they are strong.
An introductory unit on the nature of modern science, especially
in Biology, is at the heart of the ENSI approach. One of the
overriding goals of science teaching today should be to help
our young people become scientifically literate.
An integral element to the entire ENSI program was the active
involvement of the teachers in the learning experience, in such
a way that those same experiences would be used in their classrooms
to bring their own students up to speed. To do this best, the
lessons must have clear concepts and objectives, and they must
be completely student-centered. Student-centered activities can
model how science is done. There must also be assessments (and
evaluations) which effectively measure the level of learning
achieved, and these were modeled in the ENSI project.
One profitable approach toward these goals is to examine a list
of popular myths about science: "What Science Is Not",
and then take a closer look at what science IS. This would be
followed with a number of student-centered activities which would
illustrate these elements of the nature of science. These experiences
generally fall into three overlapping categories: the Realm of
Science, the Basic Processes of Science, and the Social Context
After laying this ground work, evolution could be introduced
in a similar fashion: "What Evolution Is NOT", followed
by what evolution IS. (In this respect, evolution should be presented
as a scientific concept). As in the nature of science unit, a
variety of interactive experiences serve to provide a personal
knowledge of some of the major aspects of evolution, especially
its underlying science.
Once both evolution and the nature of science have been introduced,
both should become the major themes which permeate the entire
course. Everything in Biology which follows can and should be
clearly related to evolution and the nature of science. This
revisits the concepts and terminology and helps students integrate
and make more sense of all of biology. One learns about the foundation
(nature of science), recognizes from this how the overall framework
of evolution is constructed, then simply fills in some of the
details in a fair sampling of the many topics of Biology.