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Keeping students out of Mary’s (class)room. Approaches to supporting students’ acquisition of non-propositional knowledge in science education

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)985-1000
Number of pages16
JournalScience and Education
Issue number9-10
Early online date4 Nov 2019
Publication statusPublished - 12 Dec 2019


King's Authors


Whilst many science educators, it is reported, associate knowledge with justified true belief (JTB), epistemologists have observed that the JTB model is an incomplete account of knowledge. Moreover, researchers from several fields have argued that developing scientific expertise involves not only the acquisition of knowledge that can be expressed in the form of a sentence, propositional knowledge, but also knowledge that cannot be articulated. This article examines the Mary’s room thought experiment proposed by Frank Jackson and applies it to the context of science education. The thought experiment imagines a scientist, Mary, who has learned all the available scientific information about the physical properties of a tomato and the process of colour vision without directly experiencing the fruit. Jackson poses the question of whether Mary will gain new knowledge when she encounters a tomato for the first time. An argument is put forward that propositional and non-propositional knowledge are distinct, and a case is made for the value of non-propositional knowledge in learning science. An analogy is drawn between the scientist in Jackson’s thought experiment and a learner in a science classroom who is taught propositional knowledge about a scientific concept without directly experiencing relevant phenomena. It is argued that this approach to teaching fails to develop the learner’s non-propositional knowledge. A number of strategies for supporting learners to develop non-propositional knowledge are discussed. It is argued that science educators should consider the phenomenological curriculum, the experiences that students should be introduced to alongside propositional knowledge, in order to develop scientific understanding.

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