Using Examples of Student Thinking to Improve Teachers’ Conceptions of Nature of Science

Focus of Workshop
Research indicates that unless teachers engage in experiences that explicitly address NOS conceptions and are provided with opportunities for reflection, they are not likely to develop views more aligned with science reform recommendations (Abd-El-Khalick & Lederman, 2000). NOS aspects provide a useful conceptual framework to organize essential NOS concepts for K-12 teachers with varying levels of NOS understanding (Kampourakis, 2016).

This workshop will engage teacher educators in using the NOS Example Strategy. It is an effective way to improve teachers’ NOS understanding, even when teachers initially hold alternative NOS conceptions (Parrish, 2017). The strategy gives teachers the opportunity to 1) examine ideas about Nature of Science (NOS) in standards documents and 2) reflect on this information through common examples of NOS conceptions.

Teachers are introduced to NOS aspects through NOS Guides. Each guide includes three parts to make NOS aspects explicit: A guiding question to promote teacher thinking rather than memorization (Clough, 2007), what science standards documents say about the NOS aspect, and what teacher educators with NOS expertise have said about the NOS aspect (Figure 2). During the workshop, we will focus on five specific NOS aspects. These include scientific knowledge as, a) tentative, yet durable and self-correcting; b) empirically based; c) subjective; d) sharing methods but having no single, step-wise plan; and e) a product of human creativity and inference.

Participants will gain first-hand experience using the strategy in both paper and online formats. Discussions will focus on how to use the strategy in professional development settings, methods courses, and science content courses for preservice teachers.

Relevance to ASTE Membership
This workshop is likely to be of interest to a large portion of ASTE membership because developing science teachers’ epistemological understandings of NOS is a goal of K-12 science teacher education reform. Also, the strategy presented in this workshop provides a way to incorporate NOS into a wide variety of science teacher education courses and professional development settings. The strategy of learning through reflecting and interacting with a guide could be transferred to other topics beyond NOS, thus the workshop also could support broader science methods and professional development teaching and learning.

Expertise of Workshop Presenters
The presenters have substantial NOS teaching experience working with preservice and inservice teachers.

Jennifer Parrish developed the NOS Example Strategy which will be published in The Nature of Science in Science Education: Rationales and Strategies, Second Edition. She currently teaches NOS and Scientific Inquiry courses for preservice elementary teachers and has used the NOS Example Strategy in science content courses for preservice teachers and in professional development with inservice teachers.

Bridget Mulvey has published NOS research in the Journal of Research in Science Teaching and the International Journal of Science Education. She had taught NOS as a secondary science teacher.

Joshua Reid has taught NOS in undergraduate biology courses for non-majors, as well as preservice elementary teachers.

Learning Objectives
1. Participants will be able to make NOS explicit with learners via NOS guides. Our work with preservice teachers indicates that they are often unaware of NOS ideas in standards documents or publications focused on NOS (e.g., NSTA position statements, NGSS Appendix H) and do not hold views congruent with science education reform. The NOS Guides provide teacher educators a way to provide teachers with salient information about NOS. The workshop will provide time for participants to use the guides as part of the NOS Example Strategy.
2. Participants will be able to increase learner reflection on NOS using example responses. The reflective component of the NOS Example Strategy uses representative students’ short-answer responses, illustrating common ideas about specific NOS aspects. Using common conceptions of NOS ideas to promote teacher reflection is not new (see Cobern & Loving, 1998), but the NOS Example Strategy presented in this workshop uses examples of NOS thinking from the Views of Nature of Science (VNOS) questionnaire (Lederman et al., 2002) to promote reflection on NOS aspects. This is a new way to facilitate explicit, reflective NOS instruction.
3. Participants will be able to use an online version of the NOS Example Strategy.
The online version of the NOS Example Strategy uses NOS Guides in the context of Peer Instruction (PI), an active learning strategy that utilizes ConcepTests to facilitate student conceptual learning by having learners discuss and defend their answers to peers (Mazur, 1997).

Description of Workshop Activities

1. Introductions (5 min). Facilitators will give brief introductions, why the strategy was developed, and the research supporting the strategy’s effectiveness. Participants will use evidence-based technology ( and respond to questions about their experience teaching NOS. Participants will form heterogeneous small groups of 2-4 individuals based on their responses.

2. NOS Guides (15 min). Each participant will receive a printed version of a guide for one NOS aspect to examine (Figure 2). They will engage in a whole-group discussion about the format and information of the guides, such as the guiding questions and NOS in standards documents.

3. Using the NOS Example Strategy (25 min).
Paper Version (Use the guides to make 2 NOS aspects explicit)
After discussing the NOS Guides as a whole group, each small group engages in the strategy from the perspective of their preservice teachers. Each group is given three exemplar responses (Figure 1), printed on cardstock and cut out to create card sets. They individually determine whether each example card aligns or conflicts with the expert-like view of the NOS aspect outlined in the guide. Then participants will negotiate with peers in their group to determine to what extent the example responses reflect information contained in the NOS Guide. Using ostensive exemplars in this manner has enhanced preservice teacher reflection on NOS aspects (Smith & Scharmann, 2008; Parrish, 2017). Workshop facilitators will listen to group discussion and ask probing questions to promote deeper reflection as needed. The inclusion of three facilitators will promote more individualized support of participants as they engage in the strategy.

Common responses from the VNOS survey are used as examples in the NOS Example Strategy. For example, a question from the VNOS Form D asks, “After scientists have developed a scientific theory (e.g., atomic theory, evolution theory), does that theory ever change?” This question aims to elicit student views regarding the tentative yet durable and self-correcting nature of scientific knowledge (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Examples of Common NOS Conceptions

Response A: Yes, scientific knowledge may change in the future. Scientists are always discovering new things. Finding more details, evidence, and proving themselves wrong to find answers. Evolution is an example of this, they are always finding new evidence.
Response B: Yes, scientific knowledge may change in the future because scientists are always learning new things that counter or disprove certain things. Some things are concrete and absolute, others are up to opinion.
Response C: No, scientific knowledge does not change in the future. Once scientists publish information, like in textbooks, it is true and does not change completely.

Online Version (Use the guides to make 2-3 NOS aspects explicit)
The NOS Example Strategy can also be implemented electronically so there is no need to print card sets. In the electronic version, participants use the same NOS Guides but examples are embedded in ConcepTests. ConcepTests are higher-order, multiple-choice items that focus on a single scientific concept. Distractors are built from prior student alternative conceptions. Learners respond to the multiple choice item individually using clicker technology, then justify their answer to a peer, supporting their response with information from the NOS Guide. They then re-respond to the ConcepTest and engage in a whole-group discussion. Participants in this workshop will complete at least two NOS Example Strategy ConcepTests.
Example of NOS Example Strategy ConcepTest:
Three students were asked, “Scientists produce scientific knowledge. Do you think this knowledge may change in the future?” Which response do you most agree with?
(Responses A, B, and C from Figure 1)

4. Group Discussion (5 min). The group will discuss how they could implement the NOS Example Strategy in their context and future research opportunities for workshop participants.

5. Evaluation / Feedback (5 min). At the conclusion of the workshop, participants will complete an anonymous evaluation form and access to a Google Drive Sheet to with ConcepTests, a place to give feedback and ask or answer participants’ questions as they implement the NOS Example Strategy. (

Figure 2. An Excerpt from a NOS Guide:
Guiding Question: In what sense is scientific knowledge tentative? In what sense is it durable?

What do science standards documents say about this NOS aspect?
National Science Teachers Association NOS Position Statement:
• Scientific knowledge is simultaneously reliable and tentative. Having confidence in scientific knowledge is reasonable while realizing that such knowledge may be abandoned or modified in light of new evidence or reconceptualization of prior evidence and knowledge.

What have NOS experts written about this aspect?
“We talk about ‘believing’ in evolution, but that’s not necessarily the right word. We accept evolution as the best scientific explanation for a lot of observations about fossils and biochemistry and evolutionary changes we can actually see, like how bacteria become resistant to certain medicines. That’s why people accepted the idea that the earth goes around the sun because it accounted for many different observations that we make. In science, when a better explanation comes around, it replaces earlier ones.”

Availability / Support Post-Workshop
Participants will have access to all the resources used in the workshop (, including electronic versions of the guides, example cards, and ConcepTests. In addition, the facilitators will provide contact information and are available for further support via phone, email, or video conferencing as requested.

The development and testing of the NOS Example Strategy was supported by an NSF DRK-12 grant # 1417735 and the MTSU Tennessee STEM Education Center (TSEC).