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Spirit of enquiry fostering ability

A consultative paper, Science Education in Scottish Schools: Looking to the Future, was issued last week by the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum. We publish here some details on aspects of scientific capability and illustrations of learning outcomes

The key idea of the paper is that all 5 to 18-year-olds should be taught "scientific capability" spanning five elements. These are set out in the following extracts: Scientific curiosity

Curiosity drives and motivates scientific activity. Science education has an essential role to play in cultivating and encouraging young people's innate sense of curiosity and eagerness to know and understand their world. It does this by stimulating young people's interest in objects and phenomena in the natural and made worlds. It shows how some of their questions can be answered and how fresh questions can emerge through scientific enquiry and the study of scientific ideas. By providing opportunities for pupils to explore and investigate, science education helps to develop an enquiring mind and an openness to reconsidering ideas and explanations in response to new ideas or observations.

Learning outcomes related to scientific curiosity As a result of their learning in science, pupils should demonstrate: * a willingness to explore scientific issues and questions arising out of observations * an eagerness to initiate investigations and discussions * an openness to considering alternative ideas and explanations * a willingness to ask critical questions and pose testable hypotheses.

Scientific competence

Learning to "be scientific" involves becoming skilled in the processes and methods of science. Scientific competence means being able to apply these skills in familiar and unfamiliar investigative contexts, working either independently or as part of a group or team.

Competence in science includes the ability to use a variety of investigative techniques safely, confidently and imaginatively and a critical awareness of the limitations of those techniques.

Learning outcomes related to scientific competence As a result of their learning science, pupils should be able to: * analyse problems and pose questions which are susceptible to scientific testing or investigation * test ideas in rigorous scientific ways * gather and interpret evidence from a variety of sources * select, adapt and use appropriate techniques and equipment for an investigation * evaluate and communicate evidence and ideas appropriately.

Scientific understanding

This aspect of scientific capability includes both knowledge of scientific ideas and processes and insight into the ways in which scientists describe and explain phenomena.

Possessing scientific understanding means being able to select and deploy scientific concepts, theories and procedures to make personal sense of phenomena. At the same time, having scientific understanding involves appreciating that science offers one particular perspective on reality - one powerful yet limited way of seeing and thinking about the world.

The person who is scientifically capable has some understanding of the nature of science as well as some scientific understanding of nature and is able touse this understanding to think rationally and critically about science-related issues.

Learning outcomes related to scientific understanding

As a result of their learning in science, pupils should be able to: * demonstrate knowledge of key ideas used by scientists to explain phenomena * use knowledge of scientific concepts and theories to make sense of phenomena * apply knowledge of scientific concepts to new situations * demonstrate an understanding of scientific developments and applications and of factors which influence their emergence * use knowledge of scientific concepts to explain observations, interpret data and solve problems * recognise the provisional nature of scientific explanations.

Scientific creativity

Scientific activity involves imagination and intuition as well as systematic enquiry. Science education can provide opportunities for young people to develop their creativity in the domain of science, both in the invention of credible explanations for phenomena and in the design of strategies for testing these ideas.

Being creative in science involves the ability to integrate and apply scientific and other forms of knowledge when engaging with practical problems or developing informed and defensible viewpoints on science-related issues.

Learning outcomes related to scientific creativity

As a result of their learning in science, pupils should be able to: * explore alternative lines of enquiry and develop new approaches to solving problems * make links between scientific and other forms of knowledge * use their own resources imaginatively in investigative tasks * invent their own hypotheses or possible explanations * use scientific and other types of knowledge to develop informed responses to science-related issues.

Scientific sensitivity

By this is meant a disposition to think critically and act responsibly in relation to the ways in which science affects people's lives.

Scientific sensitivity involves being critically reflective about social, moral, environmental and health issues and the ways in which these relate to the roles of science in wealth creation. It is rooted in an informed, compassionate, responsible and respectful view of the world and its peoples. It is informed by an historical perspective on the development of science and the contributions of various cultures.

Learning outcomes related to scientific sensitivity

As a result of their learning in science, pupils should: * appreciate the impact of science on people and their environment, for good or ill * be able to develop informed and reasoned opinions about social and environmental issues * have respect for the ideas, beliefs and views of others in relation to scientific issues * be willing to reconsider their viewpoint in response to new evidence.

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