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Taking the Scientist’s Perspective

The Nonfiction Narrative Engages Episodic Memory to Enhance Students’ Understanding of Scientists and Their Practices

Abstract

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS Lead States 2013) mandates that schools provide students an understanding of the skills and knowledge that scientists use to engage in scientific practices. In this article, I argue that one of the best ways to accomplish this goal is to have students take the perspective of the scientist by reading nonfiction narratives written by scientists and science writers. I explore the anthropological and neurological evidence that suggests that perspective-taking is an essential component in the learning process. It has been shown that by around age 4, the human child begins to be able to take the perspective of others—a process that neuroscientists have shown engages episodic memory, a memory type that some neurocognitive scientists believe is central in organizing human cognition. Neuroscientists have shown that the brain regions in which episodic memory resides undergo pronounced anatomical changes during adolescence, suggesting that perspective-taking assumes an even greater role in cognition during adolescence and young adulthood. Moreover, I argue that the practice of science itself is narrative in nature. With each new observation and experiment, the scientist is acting to reveal an emerging story. It is the story-like nature of science that motivates the scientist to push onward with new experiments and new observations. It is also the story-like nature of the practice of science that can potentially engage the student. The classroom studies that I review here confirm the power of the narrative in increasing students’ understanding of science.

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Correspondence to Karen D. Larison.

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Larison, K.D. Taking the Scientist’s Perspective. Sci & Educ 27, 133–157 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11191-018-9957-z

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Keywords

  • Nonfiction narrative
  • Perspective-taking
  • Scientific practices
  • Social cognition