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One problem or question that I have about emphasizing that the explanations we give for phenomena are our own inventions is that we also want students to have some faith in the products of science (the traditional “content” of science) because its based on such a wealth of past experiment. Let me tell you about an experience I had with a 10-year old kid, in an optics class. We were going to shine a laswer on a curved piece of plastic. He predicted that the laser wold follow a straight line path as it shone through the plastic, but it didn’t, it was bent. I asked if this surprised him. “No,” he said, “because science changes all the time.” Like in the newspapers, he said, one day they say that one thing is good for you, and the next day it’s something different.

Now, in a way, that indicates a poor understanding of the nature of science. He hadn’t been pushed to explain why he chose his prediction, so he wasn’t really working from a mental model which was then challenged by the observation. And so he doesn’t understand, most likely, that the results that the newspapers publish are based on changing data that changed scientists’ models of, say, the immune system. But my concern is this: As we teach students that we don’t know the “true reality” and our explanations are only best guesses based on predictive power, then are we undermining their faith in the “laws” of science that have had remarkable predictive power and thus that give the best explanations we’ve got for how things are working – are they going to come away, perhaps, with the poor understanding that scientific laws are “just a theory” (which is what creationists say about Darwin’s theory of evolution) and thus don’t carry much weight?

I guess the answer is just that we need to be skillful as teachers in order to get this across. A big weight is on our teachers!

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