Black & white or shades of grey: teachers’ perspectives on the role of nature of science in compulsory school science teaching

Dissertation date: 08/09/2017

Supervisors: Prof. Malin Ideland; Prof. Andreas Redfors; Assoc. Prof. Lena Hansson

Faculty opponent: Prof. Dr. Dietmar Höttecke, University of Hamburg


The thesis explores teachers’ perspectives and negotiations on the role of “Nature of Science” (NOS) in compulsory school science teaching. Previous research has described school science teaching as having a strong focus on science concepts, and structured lab-work with an implicit focus on finding correct answers. In such teaching, there is little room for the individuals and contexts involved in the knowledge production. This description of science and science teaching is referred to as “black and white” in this thesis. Science Education research has proposed that by broadening the images of science, more students might identify with science and that desired scientific literacy outcomes could easier be achieved. One suggestion from Science Education research has been to include NOS in science teaching.

Including NOS in everyday science teaching means that tensions are created in relation to already existing traditions. Here, teachers become an important factor as they are deeply entangled in the middle of policies, traditions, and discourses that surround science and school science. Methods used for exploring the teachers’ perspectives were: questionnaires, interviews, and focus group discussions. In particular, negotiations in the focus groups, over the three years, contributed to illuminating perspectives and tensions. A theoretical framework consisting of five comprehensive NOS themes was developed. This framework guided the contents of the focus groups as well as parts of the analyses.

The thesis includes four articles, each with its own specific aim and research questions. The main results from these articles are summarized and discussed in relation to policies and traditions that surround science education. The results show that the NOS practice that the teachers constructed through their negotiations: a) aims for a broad rather than deep NOS understanding (i.e. including many NOS issues, but avoiding philosophical depth), b) is contextualized within lab-work practices or communicative activities, and c) aims to develop student engagement and reaching other curricular goals than learning science concepts. This construction of NOS practice results in strong tensions in relation to traditional science teaching, which means that teachers’ and students’ roles are challenged. However, NOS becomes a means in the work of expanding lab-work practice, as well as a catalyst in the formation of science teaching practice directed towards communication (e.g. reflections on science in relation to society, both from perspectives within and outside science). The resistance between NOS and the teaching of science concepts means that they become parts of different practices. As a consequence, students encounter different images of science that are seldom compared or negotiated. A suggestion for science education is to create structures for balancing or merging parallel practices as a way to ease tensions and expand the concepts-based practice.


Full text available in English:

Thesis full reference:

Leden, L., (2017). Black & white or shades of grey: Teachers’ perspectives on the role of nature of science in compulsory school science teaching. Doctoral thesis. Malmö: Malmö University.

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Publications related to the dissertation

Leden, L., Hansson, L., Redfors, A., & Ideland, M. (2015). Teachers’ Ways of Talking About Nature of Science and Its Teaching. Science & Education, 24(9-10), 1141-1172. Science & Education, 24 (9-10), 1141-1172.

Leden, L. & Hansson, L. (2017). Nature of Science Progression in School Year 1-9: A Case Study of Teachers’ Suggestions and Rationales. Research in Science Education. DOI: 10.1007/s11165-017-9628-0

Leden, L., Hansson, L., & Redfors, A. (2017). From black and white to shades of grey: A longitudinal study of teachers’ perspectives on teaching sociocultural and subjective aspects of science. Science & Education, 26 (5), 483-511.


Dr. Lotta Leden


Kristianstad University,

S-291 88