Science & Education

, Volume 27, Issue 9–10, pp 831–861 | Cite as

Towards a Philosophically Guided Schema for Studying Scientific Explanation in Science Education

  • Sahar AlamehEmail author
  • Fouad Abd-El-Khalick


Stemming from the realization of the importance of the role of explanation in the science classroom, the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS Lead States 2013) call for appropriately supporting students to learn science, argue from evidence, and provide explanations. Despite the ongoing emphasis on explanations in the science classroom, there seems to be no well-articulated framework that supports students in constructing adequate scientific explanations, or that helps teachers assess student explanations. Our motivation for this article is twofold: First, we think that the ways in which researchers in science education have studied scientific explanation are, at best, leaves much to be desired and, at worst, simply incomplete. Second, we believe that research about the teaching and learning of explanation in science classrooms must be guided by explicit models or frameworks that specify elements involved in constructing explanations particularly applicable to science. More importantly, we think that the development of such models or guidelines should be based on theoretical and philosophical foundations. In order to develop these frameworks or guidelines, we first outline and clarify models of scientific explanation developed by philosophers of science over the last few decades. In the second section of this article, we present a more recent philosophical work on scientific explanation, the pragmatic approach to studying scientific explanations. This approach suggests a toolbox for analyzing scientists’ scientific explanations, which provides a useful instrument to science education. In Section 3, we discuss the ways by which the previous two sections are useful in developing a K-12 scientific explanation schema. Implications for future research on students’ explanations are discussed.


Scientific explanation Nature of science Science education Philosophy of science 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors certify that they have NO affiliations with or involvement in any organization or entity with any financial or non-financial interest in the subject matter or materials discussed in this manuscript.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Illinois at Urbana ChampaignChampaignUSA
  2. 2.School of EducationThe University of North Carolina at Chapel HillChapel HillUSA

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