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First-hand reports on using Understanding Science for pre-service teaching

These first-hand reports indicate the variety of ways that Understanding Science is currently being incorporated into pre-service teaching:

Helena Carmena – California Academy of Sciences
Pat Friedrichsen – University of Missouri
Steve Case – University of Kansas
Rebecca M Price – University of Washington Bothell
Cristina Trecha – Fleet Inquiry Institute for Teachers
Robin Bingham – Western State College of Colorado


Helena Carmena – California Academy of Sciences


Hear Helena summarize how she uses the Understanding Science website

"The Academy's KQED Science Lab professional development is a 6-8 sessions long and focuses on introducing teachers (pre-K to second grade) to the science inquiry process based on observational studies of organisms in the Steinhart Aquarium. Teachers make observations and pose questions about the animal that most interests them. The teachers research their selected animals by reading information from reputable websites and watching media segments related to their organism. The teachers are then walked through the process of sorting their questions into researchable and testable questions. Each pair of teachers narrows their focus to a testable question that is investigated through data collection over a series of weeks. Teachers are encouraged to record their process with flip cams so it can be communicated through a flip video that will be shared at the end of the professional development. The How Science Works flowchart is introduced to the teachers towards the end of their data collection to have them reflect and showcase their process to their colleagues. The teachers are then asked to read the Alvarez story and watch the animation at the end to compare their own experiences to that of a real scientist. We then discuss how introducing parts of the science process along the way is important for students to develop the skills necessary for doing science such as observation, questioning, communication, collaboration, critical thinking, reflection, etc. I've also used The Mystery Tube activity and had teachers use the flowchart to map the process."


Pat Friedrichsen – University of Missouri

"I use the following sequence of activities with my undergraduate biology non-majors course, which likely also includes some bio education pre-service teachers. First, I have them read "Understanding Science: An Overview" and "What is Science?" pages 1 -10. The next day, we do the following activity, which is not an original idea but is a modification of a paper by Shawn Carlson. I use a student response system in my class of 430 students.

a)I introduce the course by saying that it's an introductory general education biology course, but it also serves as an introduction to science in general and how scientists work. I introduce astrology and ask students if they think it is a scientific field. I use a clicker question and they vote: definitely yes, unsure, definitely no. I show the results and they see that there is a spread across those choices.

b) I use a slide with the Science Checklist and lead a discussion about the first two items with respect to astrology: 1) Focuses on the natural world? (Students agreed it did) and 2) Aims to explain the natural world? (Students agreed it did).

c) Then I move to #3) Uses testable ideas? They aren't sure about that, so I lead them to one way that we might test horoscopes — identifying our horoscopes from yesterday.

d) I ask the students to think about what happened to them yesterday. Then I hand out a single sheet of paper with yesterday's horoscopes listed on it. The identifiers (e.g., Gemini) have been removed, and the horoscopes are in a random order and have been assigned a number. I ask students to read the list of horoscopes and circle the horoscope that matches their experiences yesterday.

e) After the students make a commitment by circling one horoscope on the sheet, I start a reporting process. I ask all the Geminis to stand and click in the number of the horoscope they selected. I don't reveal the results immediately, but ask students to predict what pattern we would see in the data if astrology is accurate. They predict they should all pick their "correct" horoscope. Then I reveal the bar graph of student responses, and the responses are randomly distributed across the 12 horoscopes. After they look at the bar graph, I select the "correct" horoscope bar for Gemini. Next I chose another sign (e.g., Taurus), and we repeat the data collection for that group of students. After going through 3-4 signs, I ask students if they see a consistent pattern, and they agree that there's no need to go through all the signs.

f) Next I say, "Our prediction was that we could accurately select our horoscope from yesterday." Does our data support our claim or not? Students quickly see that our data does not support our claim. I'm careful to indicate that we are not proving astrology is unscientific, but if the data supports or does not support our claim.

g) Then we re-vote on the original question: "Based on our data, is astrology scientific?" I get over 97% agreement that it is not.

h) As a follow-up reading, I assign "Astrology: Is it Scientific?" from the website."


Steve Case – University of Kansas

"The University of Kansas Center for Science Education's UKanTeach program is a significant reform effort towards STEM Teacher Preparation. Students complete their BS or BA in mathematics and/or science, and the UKanTeach coursework to obtain a secondary teaching license. We use many Understanding Science elements in our UKanTeach courses:

  • Introduction to Science and Mathematics Teaching 1 & 2. The aim of these UKan courses is to attract students to careers in math & science teaching. Here, we use site as a resource for a basic introduction to scientific inquiry, the process of science, and the nature of science.

  • Knowing and Learning in Science and Mathematics. This course expands the prospective teacher's understanding of current theories of learning and conceptual development. Here, we use misconceptions about science from the Understanding Science site.

  • History of Modern Science for UKanTeach surveys the history of science from the seventeenth century to the present with study of the changing theoretical, institutional, and social character of the scientific enterprise. This course involves reading and discussion of Understanding Science 101. We introduce the flowchart in its simple format. Then we use Asteroids and dinosaurs as a case study and follow this with the introduction of the more complex flowchart graphic following the pathway of Alvarez."


Rebecca M Price – University of Washington Bothell

"I use the Understanding Science website in many different activities:

  • On the first day of class to begin a conversation about what science is, we do the box activity from NAS Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science. Then I distribute paper copies of the complex flowchart and direct students to identify where they started their process of solving the cube puzzle and then map their entire process of solving the puzzle. At the end, we debrief as a whole class, compare notes, and address the question of how was this activity NOT science?

  • Students spend time in class completing a worksheet that adapted from the "Testing scientific ideas" section of the "How Science Works" chapter of Understanding Science. The worksheet asks questions about the content and asks students to apply what they are learning to experimental design.

  • I summarize the Alvarez story in about 5-10 minutes, showing each stage of the animation. This occurs about 80% of the way through the course. Students are engaged in interpreting the results of their own research, and have been participating extensively in the scientific process. They've hit lots of road bumps, and found frustrating steps, so they are pleased to see that unexpected results are part of the scientific process! Later in the course, students will construct maps of their own scientific investigations on the flowchart, so this models how complex these journeys can be. At that point, each student maps his/her process numbering the steps. Then, we debrief as a whole class. We go around the room, so each student has a turn to report. The first student indicates where on the flowchart s/he started. The second student states his/her next step, and then the third student. By this point, the first steps look different on most of the maps that students have made. We continue in that vein, creating an entirely different map of the scientific process than what anyone else described."


Cristina Trecha – Fleet Inquiry Institute for Teachers

Hear Cristina summarize how she uses the Understanding Science website.

"All San Diego Science Project teachers are introduced to Understanding Science, but how and why depends on what professional development programs they are participating in. I use a multitude of resources from Understanding Science to address the nature and process of science, as well as the ideas of claims, evidence, and reasoning within a scientific framework. I pull up the site online, and I also pull text directly from it for readings. Specific activities eventually come out of these shared adventures on the website.

"For example, I introduce the flowchart to both community college Elementary Education students and K-12 teachers. I find it works so well that it has earned a place in all of the long term professional development programs I create.  The teachers read the middle school version of the Asteroids and Dinosaurs story.  They are then given a laminated copy of the complex flowchart and work in pairs to trace the path taken by the Alvarez in the story. It is important to be explicit that there are many ways of interpreting the journey. I walk around and visit each group so that I can select two that have approached this in different ways.  These two groups are then asked to share with the larger group what they have created.  Then the groups are each asked to reflect for a few minutes on how the flowchart influenced their understanding of the story, science, and knowledge building.  Groups share out in large group discussion.  We compare and contrast the flowchart with "the scientific method". Wrestling with this creates a distinction between the doing and the communicating of science.  The laminated flowcharts are taped to the wall so that everyone can see the different interpretations of the process.

"The teachers then receive a laminated K-2 simple flowchart. The participants then engage in an inquiry investigation and are stopped throughout their process to informally (but explicitly!) reflect on where they are in the process and keep track of their journey with pens on the flowcharts.  At the end of the day, participants share results with the larger group, but the emphasis of the presentation is on their process and how they used the flowchart.  Participants then strategize about how they can introduce the flowchart during their upcoming science instruction in a way that explicitly links science content with the process of science. If it is a grade-similar group from the same district, we focus on incorporating it into the district adopted curriculum. If it is a more diverse group of teachers, they work in grade-similar groups with their own upcoming curriculum. Teachers receive color, laminated copies of the flowchart for use in their own classroom. San Diego Science Project professional development also provides follow-up classroom support."


Robin Bingham – Western State College of Colorado

"I have used the Understanding Science website extensively in a one-credit seminar called "The Nature of Science". This course is required of our Interdisciplinary Liberal Arts majors, most of who plan on becoming elementary school teachers. This course is part of an interdisciplinary science curriculum that also includes three, four credit laboratory courses. The idea behind including this one-credit seminar in their course work was to provide a "place" and the time to explicitly address the nature and process of science in addition to covering these concepts in their content courses.

"I start the course with a reflection activity and discussion in which students describe and reflect on their experiences as K-6 learners, what they remember about learning science, what science learning experiences had the greatest impact on them, and what experiences in science they enjoyed the most. This reflection is followed briefly by sharing and discussion. We then move into a general discussion on the nature of science. I typically start by asking students to reflect individually on what they think science "is," followed by students sharing their ideas. After 5-10 minutes of brainstorming, we discuss their ideas as an entire class, while I keep a list on the board. Following this discussion I use the "Mystery Tubes" activity, utilizing the guidelines as described on the Understanding Science website.

"We then explore the nature and process of science in greater depth using the Asteroids and Dinosaurs activity as a way to introduce the How Science Works flowchart. This activity emphasizes the non-linearity and complexity of the science process.

"To further emphasize the diversity of scientific process, I next use the "The story behind the science" activity using a jigsaw format, in which four different science stories are used. All students are also assigned to read the article "The Characteristics of Science", and answer the embedded questions. I use this combination of reading and discussion to further emphasize the nature and process of science and also to present to students the human element of science, the diversity of approaches used in science, and the social side of science.

"At this point I direct the students to the Understanding Science website and work through "A scientific approach to life: a science tool kit." I have modified the material in this section into a slide presentation that I use to guide our discussion on issues such as: separating science from spin, identifying misrepresentations of science, and finding trustworthy sources for further information. After this introduction, I have students practice applying this knowledge by assigning students to find and critique articles in the popular press. I use this activity to show both the relevance of science to their lives as well as to critique how science is portrayed by the media."


For more ideas about how to use Understanding Science, check out these examples.


Teacher's lounges

K-16 Resources


Guide to Understanding Science 101


Conceptual framework


Teaching tools


Resource database


Image library


How Understanding Science is being used


Correcting misconceptions


Educational research


Alignment with science standards


How Science Works on iTunes



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