Science & Education

, Volume 13, Issue 6, pp 553–582

Knowing, Believing, and Understanding: What Goals for Science Education?

  • Mike U. Smith
  • Harvey Siegel
Article

Abstract

What is a teacher to do when confronted with a student who says “I understand that theory (e.g., evolution), but I don't believe it”? The purpose of this article is to provide a rationale for answering this question. First we describe the various ways in which the terms know/knowledge and believe/belief are used and summarize the distinctions commonly used to differentiate between these terms. Second, we propose that the primary goal of science education should be student knowledge and understanding, which we will argue typically (but not always) involves belief and typically (but not always) guides action. In those instances where a student evidences a meaningful understanding but still disbelieves, we further propose that the appropriate goal is for students to believe that the theory in question affords the best current scientific account of the relevant phenomena based on the available empirical evidence. Third, we evaluate instructional procedures for addressing the issues of knowledge, belief, and understanding recommended by recent authors before providing our own suggestions to teachers that we hope will be both more philosophically sound and more effective in the classroom.

Knowledge belief understanding goals evolution 

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

References

  1. Adler, J.E.: 2002, Belief's Own Ethics, The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.Google Scholar
  2. Alexander, P.A. & Dochy, F.J.R.C.: 1995, ‘Conceptions of Knowledge and Beliefs: A Comparison across Varying Cultural and Educational Communities’, American Educational Research Journal 32, 413–442.Google Scholar
  3. Alexander, P.A., Schallert, D.L., & Hare, V.C.: 1991, ‘Coming to Terms: How Researchers in Learning and Literacy Talk about Knowledge’, Review of Educational Research 61, 315–343.Google Scholar
  4. Alters, B.J.: 1997, ‘Should Student Belief of Evolution be a Goal’, Reports of the National Center for Science Education 17, 15–16.Google Scholar
  5. Arons, A.: 1990, A Guide to Introductory Physics, Wiley, New York, NY.Google Scholar
  6. Bishop, B.A. & Anderson, C.W.: 1990, ‘Student Conceptions of Natural Selection and its Role in Evolution’, Journal of Research in Science Teaching 27, 415–427.Google Scholar
  7. Clouser, R.A.: 1991, The Myth of Religious Neutrality: An Essay on the Hidden Role of Religious Belief in Theories, University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, IN.Google Scholar
  8. Cobern, W.W.: 1994, ‘Point: Belief, Understanding, and the Teaching of Evolution’, Journal of Research in Science Teaching 31, 583–590.Google Scholar
  9. Cobern, W.W.: 2000, ‘The Nature of Science and the Role of Knowledge and Belief’, Science & Education 9, 219–246.Google Scholar
  10. Cooper, R.A.: 2001, ‘The Goal of Evolution Instruction: Should We Aim for Belief or Scientific Literacy’, Reports of the National Center for Science Education 21, 14–18.Google Scholar
  11. Dewey, J.: 1910, How We Think, D.C. Heath, Lexington, MA.Google Scholar
  12. Evnine, S.J.: 2001, ‘Learning from One's Mistakes: Epistemic Modesty and the Nature of Belief’, Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 82, 157–177.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Gauld, C.: 2001, ‘Knowledge, Belief and Understanding in Science Education’, in Proceedings of the Sixth Conference of the International History, Philosophy and Science Teaching Group.Google Scholar
  14. Gess-Newsome, J.: 1999, ‘Teachers' Knowledge and Beliefs about Subject Matter and its Impact on Instruction’, in J. Gess-Newsome & N.G. Lederman (eds.), Examining Pedagogical Content Knowledge: The Construct and its Implication for Science Education, Kluwer, Dordrecht, pp. 51–94.Google Scholar
  15. Good, R.G.: 2001, ‘Habits of Mind Associated with Science and Religion: Implications for Science Education’, in Proceedings of the Sixth Conference of the International History, Philosophy, and Science Teaching Group,Denver,CO.Google Scholar
  16. Hart, H.: 1980, The Impasse of Rationality Today, The Association for the Advancement of Christian Scholarship, Toronto.Google Scholar
  17. Hofer, B.K. & Pintrich, P.R.: 1997, ‘The Development of Epistemological Theories: Beliefs about Knowledge and Knowing and Their Relation to Learning’, Review of Educational Research 67, 88–140.Google Scholar
  18. Körner, S.: 1966, Experience and Theory: An Essay in the Philosophy of Science, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London.Google Scholar
  19. Lawson, A.E. & Weser, J.: 1990, ‘The Rejection of Nonscientific Beliefs about Life: Effects of Instruction and Reasoning Skills’, Journal of Research in Science Teaching 27, 589–606.Google Scholar
  20. Lehrer, K.: 1990, Theory of Knowledge, Westview Press, Boulder, CO.Google Scholar
  21. Milne, A.A.: 1950, The House at Pooh Corner, Dutton, New York.Google Scholar
  22. Noddings, N.: 1993, Educating for Intelligent Belief or Unbelief, Teachers College Press, New York, NY.Google Scholar
  23. Oliver, J.S. & Koballa, T.R.: 1992, ‘Science Educators Use of the Concept of Belief’, Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching, Boston, MA.Google Scholar
  24. Scheffler, I.: 1965, in M.L. Borrowman, I. Scheffler, & E.J. Shoben (eds.), Conditions of Knowledge: An Introduction to Epistemology and Education, Keystones of Education, Scott, Foresman and Company, Chicago, IL.Google Scholar
  25. Shea, W.M. & Huff, P.A.: 1995, Knowledge and Belief in America: Enlightenment Traditions and Modern Religious Thought, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.Google Scholar
  26. Siegel, H.: 1985, ‘What is the Question Concerning the Rationality of Science?’ Philosophy of Science 52, 517–537.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Siegel, H.: 1987, Relativism Refuted: A Critique of Contemporary Epistemological Relativism, Kluwer, Dordrecht.Google Scholar
  28. Siegel, H.: 1988, Educating Reason: Rationality, Critical Thinking, and Education, Routledge, London.Google Scholar
  29. Siegel, H.: 1997, Rationality Redeemed?: Further Dialogues on an Educational Ideal, Routledge, New York, NY.Google Scholar
  30. Siegel, H.: 1998, ‘Knowledge, Truth and Education’, in D. Carr (ed.), Education, Knowledge and Truth: Beyond the Postmodern Impasse, Routledge, London, pp. 19–36.Google Scholar
  31. Smith, M.U.: 1994, ‘Belief, Understanding, and the Teaching of Evolution’, Journal of Research in Science Teaching 31, 591–597.Google Scholar
  32. Smith, M.U. & Scharmann, L.C.: 1999, ‘Defining versus Describing the Nature of Science: A Pragmatic Analysis for Classroom Teachers and Science Educators’, Science Education 83, 493–509.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Smith, M.U., Siegel, H., and McInerney, J.D.: 1995, ‘Foundational Issues in Evolution Education’, Science and Education 4, 23–46.Google Scholar
  34. Southerland, S.A., Sinatra, G.M., and Matthews, M.R.: 2001a, ‘Belief, Knowledge, and Science Education’, Educational Psychology Review 13, 325–351.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Southerland, S.A., Sinatra, G.M., and Matthews, M.R.: 2001b, Belief, Knowledge, and Science Education, Unpublished draft of paper later published in Educational Psychology Review.Google Scholar
  36. Strike, K.A. & Posner, G.J.: 1985, ‘A Conceptual Change View of Learning and Understanding’, in L.H.T. West and A.L. Pines (eds.), Cognitive Structure and Conceptual Change, Academic Press, Orlando, FL, pp. 211–231.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mike U. Smith
  • Harvey Siegel

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations