Secondary school students learn to deal with uncertainty while studying rats

Researchers from the University of Helsinki followed secondary school students while the students studied rat presence in their near-environment. Students were able to reframe their uncertainties in a way typical of authentic research practices.

Learning about scientific practices is a central part of the curriculum in Finnish secondary schools. Nevertheless, it is less common to be able participate in an authentic scientific research project while being in school. Many students from schools within Helsinki city area have had this possibility in the Helsinki Urban Rat Project, where more than 3 000 students have participated. Now HURP researchers studied this participation itself: a setting where secondary school students conducted an inquiry on rat presence using track plates. The objective of the study was to develop science education practices that aim at understanding how science is done. The research results have been published in Science Education.

- Science involves managing uncertainties that arise during the process of generating new knowledge. In science education, students should also have experiences of scientific uncertainty and learn how to manage it. In classrooms, the teacher usually knows the correct answers and adjusts the amount and form of uncertainty that students experience, explains Anttoni Kervinen, the lead author in the research.

- However, authentic scientific research typically involves not knowing the answer or the optimal choice in advance. We investigated how students respond to uncertainty in a citizen science setting where everyone is in the process of generating new knowledge, says Tuomas Aivelo, the second author and the leader of HURP.

The researchers discovered that students responded to uncertainty in ways that are in typical of scientific practices. For instance, students envisioned alternative scenarios and hypothesis, accepted uncertainty as part of their argumentation practices, and flexibly reframed the goals of the research. research activities and goals. All this happened without scaffolding by the teacher.

- Our findings indicate that the citizen science setting in which new knowledge is produced can allow students to reframe uncertainty in ways that are typical of scientific practices. Thus incorporating experiences of uncertainty that are shared by students and teachers in pedagogical design can support doing and understanding science in different settings, Anttoni Kervinen suggests.