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A Novel Method for Teaching the Difference and Relationship Between Theories and Laws to High School Students


This study examines the use of an explicit, reflective method for teaching the difference and relationship between scientific theories and laws to ninth-grade students. Students reflected individually and then as a whole class on theories and laws using a Venn diagram, both before and after reading short articles describing features of theories and laws that provided an explicit challenge to their naïve prior conceptions. In small groups, they chose a theory or law, researched it, constructed a poster, and did a gallery walk. Examination of students’ Venn diagrams and answers to a single question from VNOS-C given as both a pre- and post-test showed that prior to the lesson, all students except for one held more naïve views of both the difference between theories and laws and the nature of scientific theories. After the lesson, more than a third of them had improved their conceptions to more informed, and nearly a quarter understood that there is not a hierarchical relationship between scientific theories and laws.

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  1. 1.

    All names are pseudonyms.

  2. 2.

    Several students drew pictures to illustrate their examples on their pre-tests, rather than stating them in the text of their answers. It seems that they interpreted the word “illustrate” in the instruction to “illustrate your answer with an example” to mean that they should produce a drawing of the example.

  3. 3.

    The student’s Venn diagram had laws in the first column and theories in the third column. They are reversed here for easier comparison with the post-test responses.


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This study was supported in part by Student and Faculty Excellence funds awarded to Kathryn L. Gray by the Appalachian State University College of Arts and Sciences.

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Correspondence to Khadija E. Fouad.

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Gray, K.L., Fouad, K.E. A Novel Method for Teaching the Difference and Relationship Between Theories and Laws to High School Students. Sci & Educ 28, 471–501 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11191-019-00040-6

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