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Integrating the nature and process of science: Exemplary lessons

Newton's 2nd law: Inquiry approach — In this lab activity, students act as fellow scientists and colleagues of Isaac Newton. He has asked them to independently test his ideas on the nature of motion, in particular his 2nd Law. The emphasis here is on the process of science rather than the actual results. Students need to focus on how they would design a procedure to test Newton's hypothesis and then communicate that idea to others.

Designing your very own experiment — In this lesson, students review the process of science and then design and carry out an experiment using pill bugs (isopods). Students are asked to address a specific question, test hypotheses, identify and describe variables, and make use of a control group. Students are asked to provide a written report that includes methods used, data collected, a summary and interpretation of the data, and a list of resulting questions. Students reflect on the process used by charting their pathway on the Science Flowchart.

Age dating star clusters — In this lesson, students explore and discuss how classification and graphing are used by astronomers to determine the age of star clusters. In the process, students learn about the role of visual representations of data in science and how to explore potential relationships among variables.

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.

Rutherford's enlarged — In this lesson, students observe and reason about a model of Ernst Rutherford's famous experiment that supported the idea of the atomic nucleus. In the process, they learn about the difference between observation and inference, the tentative nature of scientific knowledge, and the role of creativity in the process of science.

Time for mitosis — In this common biology lesson, students learn about the time required for different phases of the cell cycle. This version of the activity includes suggestions for reflective questions to help students explictly focus on the nature of scientific knowledge and the process of science.

Galaxy classification — In this activity, students view NASA images of galaxies and develop their own galaxy classification scheme. To mimic the community analysis and peer review used in scientific communities, students compare and contrast their classification schemes with each other, develop a more robust classification scheme, and compare this to the scheme developed by Edwin Hubble.

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.


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