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Science Education & Society - EDU00002H

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  • Department: Education
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Lynda Dunlop
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2019-20
    • See module specification for other years: 2018-19

Module summary

This module looks at the role of science within educational processes, and at the relationships between science, education and society more generally. We will examine the aims and purposes of science education, and explore issues concerning school and university science education, and engagement with science beyond the classroom. We will analyse responses to the challenges facing science education, and possible ways of improving its effectiveness.


Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Autumn Term 2019-20

Module aims

From genetic and reproductive technologies to human spaceflight, or to dealing with the consequences of climate change, science and technology permeate our lives in a variety of ways. Governments see science and technology as central to economic development and national prosperity yet the links between science and corporate interests leave some wary of the products of science. This complex set of influences raises many questions about the relationship between science and society, which have significant implications for formal and informal education. This module looks at the role of science within educational processes, and at the relationships between science, education and society more generally. We will examine the aims and purposes of science education, and explore issues concerning school and university science education, and engagement with science beyond the classroom. We will analyse responses to the challenges facing science education, and possible ways of improving its effectiveness.


Module learning outcomes

After completing the module, students will:
• have a better understanding of the arguments for giving science a prominent place in the formal curriculum, and for seeking to promote scientific literacy and public understanding of science
• know how science is included in the national curriculum in England, and some of the influences which have led to this position
• have an understanding of some key issues concerning the image of science among learners, and the response of learners to science
• be able to discuss some of the key issues associated with the teaching and learning of science
• be able to engage critically with a range of sources dealing with formal and informal science education.

Students will be expected to locate and read with understanding a range of written sources. They will gain practice in locating information and publications relevant to a specific topic or issue, extracting key points from articles, identifying arguments and supporting evidence, and comparing and contrasting different viewpoints and conclusions. They will develop their skills of oral and written communication and may be invited to make short presentations to the whole group. Students will also develop their IT skills by accessing and sharing information through the VLE (Yorkshare).

Module content

Week 2

What is science education for?

This class will consider the questions ‘what is science?’ and ‘what is science education for?’ and in doing so will make distinctions between science and other disciplines, in particular in terms of how scientific knowledge is created and the role of empirical observation and theory in the furthering of scientific knowledge. We will examine the purpose of science education and look at how the answer to this question shapes our views of what ought to happen in science lessons.


Week 3

Science around us

This session aims to raise awareness of the pervasive presence of science in our lives, and particularly of cutting-edge science research as represented in the media. We will examine how the relationship between the worlds of science and mass media impact on the general public and review the ways in which the education system can encourage critical engagement with science in the media.


Week 4

Scientific literacy

In this session we will revisit the purposes of science education, and examine what is meant by scientific literacy. We will consider the implications of this for what is, and what should be, taught in school science.


Week 5

Science in informal settings

This class will raise awareness of different contexts for science learning, and will involve considering the role of the informal sector in engagement with science, factors influencing the effectiveness of science education beyond the classroom, and the related evidence.


Week 6

Learning theory and science

Why is science difficult to learn? In this session we will consider the contribution that theories of learning can make to answering this question, and we will look at different models of instruction, including transmissive and constructivist approaches.


Week 7

Secondary science

This session will focus on key issues in the teaching of science to young people aged 11-18. We will consider the role of practical work and the debate surrounding process- and content-led approaches. We will examine research on young people’s attitudes towards science, and issues relating to teacher recruitment and retention.


Week 8

Tertiary science

This session will focus on key issues relating to the teaching and learning of science at the tertiary level, for example in the context of undergraduate courses. We will explore some key research findings related to science education at this educational level, for example those relating to the effectiveness of various instructional approaches.


Week 9

Widening participation in science

This class we will examine who participates in science and consider what has been done, and what (if anything) should be done to increase the participation of under-represented groups in learning and/or practicing science. We will consider recent research relating to participation in science, with a particular focus on gender-related issues.


Week 10

Early years and primary science

In this class, we will examine how ‘science’ is placed in the early years foundation stage and in primary science. We will look at play in relation to theories of learning and will examine the characteristics of science-related learning activities in the early years and in the primary school, and the extent to which these represent authentic science.




Task Length % of module mark
Essay (5000 words)
N/A 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
Essay (5000 words)
N/A 100

Module feedback

You will be assessed on the module learning outcomes by preparing a 5000 word written assignment.  In this assessment, you must demonstrate that you have understood several themes from across the module such as the nature of science, the purposes of science education (including an understanding of science education for scientific literacy), how children learn science (in formal, non-formal and informal settings), issues across primary, secondary and tertiary science education, and who participates in science.  You will be marked using the marking criteria, available in the handbook. Further guidance will be provided in the first class session and on the VLE.

You will receive formative feedback in several ways on this module, including a one-to-one meeting on your essay plan.

Written summative feedback on assignment report sheet and face-to-face feedback in supervisions. The feedback is returned to students in line with university policy. Please check the Guide to Assessment, Standards, Marking and Feedback for more information.

Indicative reading

The full reading list is available on EARL. Some indicative reading is provided below.

Braund, M. R. and Reiss, M. J. (1998). Learning science outside the classroom. London: RoutledgeFalmer.

Chalmers, A. F. (1982). What is this thing called Science? Milton Keynes: Open University Press.

Corrigan, D. D., Dillon, J., and Gunstone, R. (2007). The re-emergence of values in science education. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

Driver, R. (1986). Students’ thinking and the learning of science: A constructivist view. School Science Review, 67, 443–456.

Haynes, R. (2003). From Alchemy to Artificial Intelligence: Stereotypes of the Scientist in Western Literature. Public Understanding of Science, 12, 243–253. doi:10.1177/0963662503123003

Jenkins, E. W. (2005). Important but not for me: Students’ attitudes towards secondary school science in England. Research in Science & Technological Education, 23(1), 41–57.

Jenkins, E. W. (2010). How might research inform scientific literacy in schools? / Edgar Jenkins. Education in Science., 239, 26–27.

Mortimer, E. F., & Scott, P. (2003). Teaching science, learning science. In Meaning making in secondary science classrooms / Eduardo Mortimer and Phil Scott. (p. x, 141 p.). Maidenhead¿:: Open University Press.

Osborne, J., Dillon, Justin, & Ebrary, Inc. (2010). Good practice in science teaching : What research has to say (2nd ed.). Maidenhead ; New York: Open University Press.

Thomas and Durant. (1987). Why should we promote the public understanding of science? Scientific Literacy Papers: A Journal of Research in Science, Education and Research. Retrieved from
Wellington, J. J., & Wellington, J. J. (1989). What is “scientific method” and can it be taught? In Skills and processes in science education¿: a critical analysis / edited by Jerry Wellington. (p. x, 152 p.¿:). London¿;: Routledge.

Carl Wieman. (2007). Why not try a scientific approach to science education? Change, 5.

The following journals are a good source of up-to-date research in science education:

International Journal of Science Education

Journal of Research in Science Teaching

School Science Review

Science Education

Studies in Science Education

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.

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