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Integrating the nature and process of science: Exemplary lessons

Non-traditional and under-represented students in hydrogeology: Learning by discovery in an urban environment — In this quarter-long project for undergraduate geology, students work in groups to design and execute a study (including hypothesis formation, data collection, analysis, and synthesis) of a hydrologic problem and then re-evaluate old hypotheses in light of these new data.

Ornamentation in Birds — In this investigation, hosted by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, students explore the occurrence of elaborate traits in birds and seek explanations for the variation in sexual dimorphism among bird species. Using the online database Birds of North America, students develop and test a set of hypotheses, combine their data, present their findings and discuss future investigations related to this topic.

The hobbit: When scientists disagree about the evidence — This classroom activity, adapted from an exercise on PBS's NOVA website, provides an excellent example of an active debate within the scientific community regarding a relatively recent human fossil find, Homo floresiensis. The activity highlights the ways in which scientists can interpret scientific evidence in different ways, how scientists build arguments to support their claims, and how assumptions can influence interpretation. However, we don't recommend having students take a poll about which premise is best supported (as recommended in the teacher's guide), since this might give students the incorrect idea that scientific ideas are judged based on popularity.

The story behind the science — Thirty stories spanning five disciplines help students explore key science concepts through the eyes of the scientists who were involved, emphasizing the nature and process of science. Check out the support materials for tips on using the short stories in classrooms and on building discussion around them. In addition, many of these stories can be used to emphasize the differences between the pathways taken by individual scientists. Consider using these stories as we use the Walter Alvarez story to introduce or emphasize the Understanding Science Flowchart.

First-hand report: Lisa White
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