Getting started: Tips for the teacher
The start of the school year or semester is a good time to consider the general approaches and practices you will use to communicate the nature and process of science. You may want to kick off the class with a starting activity that focuses student attention on how science works. Use the following suggestions to further orient your teaching throughout the year:
Be explicit and reflective about how your classroom activities and content relate to the nature and process of science.
- Familiarize yourself with the Science Flowchart. Remember that not all science lessons that you teach need to include all of the components of science depicted in the flowchart, but where there is a good fit, it is important to point them out and be explicit. Also note that students may have a tendency to want to "check off" all the bubbles in the flowchart. If this is happening, be sure to emphasize that the flowchart represents the scientific endeavor as a whole and that an individual investigation is unlikely to involve every single activity on the chart.
- Apply the Science Checklist to different situations. Be explicit about the characteristics that make investigations more or less scientific.
- Consider having students keep a journal with personal reflections about their work. During laboratory investigations the journals can be used to help students keep track of their ideas and the evidence supporting and contradicting different ideas, but they can also be used in conjunction with other learning activities. Introduce the journals at the start of the school year.
Prepare for misconceptions.
- Review common student misconceptions about the nature and process of science, as well as common misconceptions about teaching these topics. Avoid reinforcing these misconceptions and be explicit about examples that help refute them.
- Use assessments to monitor students' understandings of the nature and process of science. The Thinking about science survey (Word document) should take less than 10 minutes, can be implemented in Scantron, and will help you gain an understanding of how your students perceive and relate to science. Being aware of inaccurate preconceptions will help you develop instructional materials and strategies that help students build more accurate views of science in target areas.
Encourage student investigations that model the true process of science.
- Instead of cookbook labs, incorporate student-designed investigations with available lab equipment.
- Take advantage of labs and activities that "go wrong." De-emphasize the idea of the "right" answer and allow students to wrestle with ambiguity. Instead of giving the "right" answer, direct student skepticism back at methods, evidence, and interpretation.
- Consider varying the format of labs and lab reports. Not all scientific investigations begin with a hypothesis and neither should all student labs. Some labs may be appropriately designed as more exploratory studies, perhaps resulting in hypotheses for further investigation. Also, remember to contrast the process that students use in their investigations with the way in which lab reports are typically written up. Using the standard format for lab reports without helping students understand the difference between the process of science and how findings are formally presented can encourage student misconceptions. You may want to have students write up lab results in the form of a scientific paper, but if so, be explicit about the fact that this format is for communicative purposes and likely differs from the process of their investigation.
- The collaborative nature of science should be reinforced by including frequent group activity. Have students present their evidence and interpretation to each other and discuss their ideas. Encourage debate and be willing to accept a temporary stalemate pending more evidence, as scientists often do.
Model the behaviors, strategies, and scientific language that you want from your students.
- Set the tone at the start of the year that science is creative, dynamic, and fun!
- Avoid overemphasizing the term experiment. Many scientific tests do not take the form of experiments. When discussing evidence garnered through these other sorts of scientific tests, be sure to make this explicit.
Bring real science and scientists into the classroom.
- Use examples from the history of science. Incorporate popular accounts of scientific discoveries that emphasize the nature and process of science.
- Take advantage of current research and breakthroughs (especially when they challenge something in your textbook) and bring this material into your classroom.
- Use photos and video to emphasize that science is done in many different ways by many different people.
Reinforce the message
- Throughout the year, re-emphasize the same ideas in multiple contexts so that students can see the general applicability of these ideas to all of science.
- Incorporate information, images, and cartoons from Understanding Science 101 into your PowerPoint presentations. During the semester, you may want to have students read and discuss portions of this resource. See our Guide to Understanding Science 101 for an overview of concepts covered.