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Introducing the Understanding Science flowchart


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Students participate in a quick activity and discuss whether they were doing science. They then read a story about Walter Alvarez, discuss the process of science, and trace his scientific journey using the Science Flowchart.



Nature and Process of Science, Earth science

90 minutes

Correspondence to the Next Generation Science Standards is indicated in parentheses after each relevant concept. See our conceptual framework for details.

  • What is science?

  • Science is both a body of knowledge and the process for building that knowledge.

  • Science aims to build increasingly broad and coherent explanations of the natural world.

  • Science focuses on natural phenomena and processes.

  • Science works only with testable ideas.

  • Scientists strive to test their ideas with evidence from the natural world; a hallmark of science is exposing ideas to testing.

  • Scientific knowledge is open to question and revision as new ideas surface and new evidence is discovered.

  • Scientific ideas cannot be absolutely proven.

  • Because it has been tested, scientific knowledge is reliable.

  • Science is ongoing; answering one scientific question frequently leads to additional questions to be investigated.

  • How science works

  • Hypotheses and theories

  • The social side of science

  • The real process of science is complex, iterative, and can take many different paths.

  • The process of science involves observation, exploration, testing, communication, and application.

  • Scientific observations can be made directly with our own senses or may be made indirectly through the use of tools.

  • Scientists test their ideas (hypotheses and theories) by figuring out what expectations are generated by an idea and making observations to find out whether those expectations are borne out.

  • Scientists can test ideas about events and processes long past, very distant, and not directly observable.

  • Scientists test their ideas using multiple lines of evidence.

  • All scientific tests involve making assumptions, but these assumptions can be independently tested, increasing our confidence in our test results.

  • Scientists often try to generate multiple explanations for what they observe.

  • Scientists use multiple research methods (experiments, observational research, comparative research, and modeling) to collect data.

  • Scientists look for patterns in their observations and data.

  • Researchers share their findings with the scientific community through scientific publications.

  • Scientists aim for their studies to be replicable.

  • Hypotheses are proposed explanations for a narrow set of phenomena.

  • Hypotheses are usually inspired and informed by previous research and/or observations. They are not guesses.

  • Science depends on communication within the scientific community.

  • Scientists usually work collaboratively.

  • Scientists scrutinize each other's work through peer review and other processes.

  • The scientific community motivates researchers in their investigations by providing recognition and, sometimes, a sense of competition.

  • Science relies on the accumulated knowledge of the scientific community to move forward.

  • The scientific community is global and diverse.

  • Scientists are creative.

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