Harry Wong
Oct 2017
Vol 14 No 3

Teaching Nature of Science (NOS) to Elementary Students

By Ranu Roy

Nature of Science (NOS) Instruction Needs to be Explicit

Knowledge of NOS encompasses adequate understanding of science as a body of knowledge that is tentative, subjective (theory-laden), creative, imaginative, is based on empirical evidence, a product of observation and inference and culturally embedded. Such knowledge that can be explained using theories and laws is necessary for a scientifically literate society (Akerson, Buck, Donnelly, Joshi & Weiland, 2011).

Akerson and Volrich (2006) studied first grade students and found explicit NOS instruction to enhance students’ understandings of targeted NOS ideas. The teacher in the study designed her instruction around one key aspect of NOS at a time. Asking questions such as “How do scientists know that is how plants get water?”, making explicit comments such as “You are inferring it is a toy wolf from your observation. This is what scientists do; they use their observations to make inferences about things” and asking students to observe things with their senses are examples of explicit NOS instructional approaches from the study. Earlier, Khishfe and Abd-El- Khalick, (2002) also demonstrated the effectiveness of explicit and reflective approach to NOS teaching in their study which involved sixth grade students in a private school in Lebanon.

Explicit instruction of NOS ideas thus leads to robust understandings of the concept of NOS over time (Clough, 2006). Akerson, Cullen and Hanson (2010) found that structuring grade specific tools for assessing NOS knowledge not only helped teachers to understand student’s understandings of NOS but also helped to reinforce the teacher’s own conceptions of NOS.

Model for Teaching NOS

In order to make NOS teaching interesting and explicit, I modified the ARCS model (Keller, 1987), making it specific to teaching science at upper elementary school (3-6) level. This model proposed by John Keller (1987) is based upon four motivational elements of student learning: Attention (A), Relevance (R), Confidence (C) and Satisfaction(S). There are four steps that are followed in this model; these include the following:

1.Define – In this first step, Keller proposed audience analysis and setting up of motivational objectives of the targeted audience. In the modified form of this instructional model, in this step, teacher communicates motivational, lesson and NOS objectives of the lesson to the students.

2.Design- In this second step, Keller advised to brainstorming a broad range of strategies or ideas to meet stated objectives. Similar to this idea, in the proposed NOS instructional model, the teacher plans for a class activity that includes an instructional phase focusing on both science content and NOS ideas.

3.Develop- In the ARCS model Keller proposed creation and integration of special instructional materials in this phase. This phase in the NOS model is slightly different, as it would be used for conducting a class discussion regarding the science concept associated with the activity introduced in the earlier phase. This phase would delve deeper into the content ideas while also explaining the NOS features involved in it.

4.Evaluate-  In this final stage. Keller emphasized evaluation of intensity of effort, persistence, emotion and attitude for motivational outcomes. In contrast, NOS instructional model would assess lesson objectives along with students’ motivational objectives.


Akerson et al. (2011) noted that explicit NOS instruction – even in a short- term setting- is capable of improving NOS conception. Therefore, it is expected that long-term explicit instruction would certainly help students to develop adequate NOS ideas. However, it should be noted that young students might not easily access some aspects of NOS such as subjectivity and social and cultural context (Akerson et al.). Therefore, practical application of the proposed model would help to facilitate improved understanding regarding explicit instruction of the different aspects of NOS. A sample lesson plan based on the above model is provided in the following section.

Lesson Plan for Teaching NOS in a Unit on Energy – (6th Grade)

  • Motivational Objective: Arouse curiosity about energy and its different forms. An understanding of this objective would be demonstrated by means of a short quiz ( first page in the worksheet) and a video. The quiz will be a review of the students’ previous knowledge. The video will show change of energy from one form to other. Seeing the video, students will make a prediction about what they will be learning on that day. The teacher will record students’ predictions.
  • Lesson Objectives: 1) Learning about heat energy, light energy and mechanical energy.

2) Students will learn that one form of energy can be transformed into another form.

3) They will also learn that mechanical energy is kinetic energy.

  • NOS Objective: 1) students will identify NOS ideas like creativity, observation and inference, subjectivity, and cultural contexts embedded in the lesson.

A KWL chart will be used from the beginning of the lesson with the K (know) column filled in by the teacher after the short quiz. The W (want to know) column will be filled in after the students are shown the video.

  1. DESIGN – This is the second phase. Students will work in pairs on an activity. The activity plan will not be disclosed to the students. Instead, one visual clue in the form a question ( e.g., “Can you spin me?” ) with a picture of a snake in it will be displayed. The students will be provided with materials such as a template of a paper snake, candles, strings, cans, a match box and scissors for the activity. They will have to spin the snake by using one or more of these items provided and they will have to identify the forms of energy involved in the activity. The students will use their own idea to spin the paper snake. The teacher will closely monitor as the students work in pairs. This phase ends with the completion of the activity.
  2. DEVELOP – Each pair will share their respective observations and conclusions drawn from the activity. The teacher will then facilitate a science talk about different forms of energy that are identified in the activity and how one form of energy is transformed into another form. Some of the questions the teacher may ask include – 1) what did you do to spin the snake? 2) What energy did you use? 3) Why did you spin the snake in this way ? 4) What energy is involved in moving a thing? 5) What kind of energy helps in maintaining the motion of a body? 6 ) What helped you to form your conclusion ? 7) In what way is your work similar    to that of a scientist? The teacher may introduce the idea of kinetic energy at this point by drawing a connection to the class activity that the students just completed. In addition, the teacher will complete the L (learned) part of the KWL chart on the basis of the conclusions drawn by the students.
  3. EVALUATE – Students’ motivational objectives will be assessed formally on the basis of their curiosity and attitudes towards the lesson in the Design and Develop phases, while understanding of the lesson objectives and the NOS objectives will be assessed in the Evaluate phase where students will fill out two page worksheet.



Content Standards:

6.1.6 Compare and contrast potential and kinetic energy and how they can be transformed from one form to another.

6.1.7 Explain that energy may be manifested as heat, light, electricity, mechanical motion, and sound, and is often associated with chemical reactions.

Process Standards:

  • Make predictions and develop testable questions based on research and prior knowledge.

Plan and carry out investigations—often over a period of several class lessons—as a class, in small groups or independently.

  • Compare the results of an experiment with the prediction. Communicate findings through oral and written reports by using graphs, charts, maps and models.
  • Snake template
  • Candles
  • Cans
  • Strings
  • Scissors
  • Matchbox* ( students will be asked to take the help of the teacher if they need to light the candle)
  • KWL Chart
  • Different colored markers

Click here to open Energy Quiz worksheet pdf






Akerson, L.V., Buck, G.A., Donnelly, L.A., Joshi, V.N., & Weiland, I.S. (2011). The importance of teaching and learning nature of science in the early childhood years. Journal of Science Education Technology. 20, 537-549.

Akerson, V.L., Cullen, T.A. & Hanson, D.L. (2010). Experienced teachers’ strategies for assessing nature of science conceptions in the elementary classroom. Journal of Science Teacher Education. 21, 723-745.

Akerson, V.L., & Volrich, M.L. (2006).Teaching nature of science explicitly in a first grade internship Setting. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 43(4), 377- 394.

Annenberg Learner. Retrieved from

Clough, M.P. (2006). Learners responses to the demands of conceptual change: Considerations for effective nature of science instruction. Science and Education, 15(5), 463-494.

Indiana Department of Education Standards ( 2010). Retrieved from

Keller, J.M. (1987). Development and use of ARCS model of instructional design. Journal of Instructional Development, 10(3), 2-10.

Khishfe, R., & Abd-El-Khalick, F. (2002). Influence of explicit and reflective versus implicit inquiry-oriented instruction on sixth-graders’ views of nature of science. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 39 (7), 551-578.

Teach Engineering : What is energy ? Retrieved from

About the author

Ranu Roy is a 4th year doctoral student in science education at Indiana University, Bloomington, USA.  As she learned the concept of Nature of Science (NOS) in her doctoral seminar and practiced it as an instructor of a science method course, she felt the need to capture the construct of NOS in an instructional model. By integrating the concept with science content idea, she made NOS concept more explicit to the students as well as the teachers.



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