The nature of science is concerned with science as a way of thinking, but this can’t exist in isolation, so the New Zealand curriculum document includes three other substrands of the nature of science to embed it within. The ‘Communicating in science’ strand of the curriculum is one of these three other substrands.

Communicating in science achievement aim

  • Develop knowledge of the vocabulary, numeric and symbol systems, and conventions of science and use this knowledge to communicate about their own and others’ ideas.

Levels 3–4 achievement objectives

  • Begin to use a range of scientific symbols, conventions, and vocabulary.
  • Engage with a range of science texts and begin to question the purposes for which these texts are constructed.

Levels 5–6 achievement objectives

  • Use a wider range of science vocabulary, symbols, and conventions.
  • Apply their understandings of science to evaluate both popular and scientific texts (including visual and numerical literacy).

Scientists’ use of scientific vocabulary and conventions

Just as SMS has its own language, so does science. SMS language is invaluable for sending messages on mobile phones. A whole specialised vocabulary has developed. In a similar way, scientific language is critical for science.

Scientific knowledge is communicated through its text and associated symbols, diagrams, graphs and equations. This specialised language of science makes it possible for scientists to communicate ideas and explanations in a way that would not be possible with everyday language. It is crucial for collaboration among scientists, who more often work as part of a wider scientific community than the stereotypical view of a scientist working alone in a laboratory or in the field. Scientific language is critical also in the presentation of science at conferences or in scientific journals and publications.

Scientists need scientific vocabulary to communicate effectively. At an even more fundamental level, scientific language actually helps shape ideas and provides the means for constructing scientific understandings and explanations.

Need for students to develop scientific vocabulary and conventions

Scientific language also helps students to shape their scientific ideas, construct scientific understanding and explanations and communicate purposes, findings and implications with others. This will help them to understand science knowledge, learn about science and do science.

Students need to learn the language of science in much the same way as they might learn a second language. Part of learning this language will be seeing that there are numerous everyday words that have a totally different meaning in science, such as matter, work, energy, force, plants, animals or cells.

Need for students to evaluate communication

‘Clinically proven to build muscle.’ ‘Homeopathic solutions proven to carry memory of water.’ ‘Climate change debate heating up.’

Every day, students are confronted with media messages like these that use science. They can be in advertising or in news reports, on TV, on radio, on the internet, in newspapers, on product labels and in magazines. All media messages have goals, which can affect the information presented. For example, scientific messages can be used in advertising to sell a product, or scientific messages can be used by environmental or activist groups to rally support for a particular cause.

Students need to be able to apply their understanding of science and their understanding of the nature of science to evaluate both popular and scientific texts. They need to be able to decide what to believe and use scientific information and knowledge to inform decision-making at the personal, work-related and societal level. They need to be able to distinguish among good science, bad science and non-science. To do this, they must be able to understand, analyse and evaluate the scientific text.

Understanding the nature of science and the ways it is communicated helps students to:

  • uncover the purpose and meaning of media messages about science
  • evaluate the science behind the messages
  • identify misrepresentations of science
  • find trustworthy sources of further information
  • be critical consumers of science.

There are many places on the Science Learning Hub that show this communicating in science strand.

See examples on the Hub

Rich science vocabulary:
Build a marine food web
Planet hunting

Use of numerical and symbolic systems:
Distances in space
Nanometres and nanoscale

How science can have a specialised use for common everyday words:
Using heat energy

Several of the teaching and learning activities involve constructing tables for data or using graphs to display, interpret and evaluate data.

Published 7 October 2011