January 2023 Featured Article: Nature of Science and Science Learning

16 Jan 2023 1:35 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Nature of Science and Science Learning 

by Loris Chen 


In a position statement, the National Science Teaching Association (NSTA) asserted that the “Nature of science (NOS) is a critical component of scientific literacy that enhances students’understandings of science concepts and enables them to make informed decisions about scientifically-based personal and societal issues. (Nature of Science, 2020) 

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), from which the New Jersey Student LearningStandards for Science are derived, embed NOS into disciplinary core ideas (DCis) through relatedscience and engineering practices (SEPs), and crosscutting concepts (CCCs). 

In the position statement, NSTA cites theory and evidence from research to support the conclusionsthat NOS should be 

Explicitly taught through student engagement in SEPs and CCs in the context of DCIs, Explicitly assessed using student performance expectations as a guide for evaluating learningand understanding of NOS, and 

Considered a unifying theme across K-12 grade levels and science disciplines. 

Appendix H of the Next Generation Science Standards: For States by States (2013) lists eight ideasabout NOS that are foundations of SEPs and CCCs. Appendix H also outlines a NOS matrix of student learning expectations by DCI and grade level. Table 1 summaries the connection between the eight understandings and the NGSS SEPs and CCCs. 

Table 1. Eight Understandings of NOS 

Science and Engineering Practices 

Crosscutting Concepts

Scientific Investigations Use a Variety of Methods 

Scientific Knowledge is Based on 

Empirical Evidence 

Scientific Knowledge is Open to 

Revision in Light of New Evidence 

Scientific Models, Laws, Mechanisms, and Theories Explain Natural Phenomena

Science is a Way of Knowing 

Scientific Knowledge Assumes an Order and Consistency in Natural Systems 

Science is a Human Endeavor 

Science Addresses Questions About the Natural and Material World

So What Does This Mean for Teachers? 

The NOS Matrix can be distilled down to students learning science as scientists. Student-as-scientists is the core concept of what NSTA calls Sensemaking (Sensemaking, 20220). The four equity-centered components of Sensemaking are phenomena, student ideas, practices, and science ideas - the elements of Open SciEd. Education research cited in the Nature of Science (2020) indicates that effective science instruction begins with teachers who understand the principle ideas of the nature of science. 

We Need A Map

In 2020, NSTA published The Atlas of the Three Dimensions (The Atlas) (Willard, 2020). In The Atlas, Ted Willard offers teachers a guide to effective three-dimensional science instruction. Chapter 7 of the Atlas addresses NOS. Each of the eight ideas is examined through text and a map of student learning expectations by grade level. Given that The Atlas was released the year instruction, as we knew, it took unexpected twists and turns, it’s worth revisiting Willard’s work. Over the next two NJSTA Newsletters, we’ll explore the NOS SEPS and NOS CCCs through the lens of The Atlas. 


Nature of Science. (2020). NSTA. https://www.nsta.org/nstas-official-positions/nature-scienceSensemaking. (2022.). NSTA. https://www.nsta.org/sensemaking 

States, N. L. (2013). Next Generation Science Standards: For States, By States (SPI). National Academies Press. 

Willard, T. (2020). NSTA ATLAS OF THE THREE DIMENSIONS. National Science Teaching Association.

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