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Integrating the nature and process of science: Teaching tools

These three tools can help you reinforce key concepts regarding the nature and process of science with your students:

  1. The Science Checklist examines what makes science science — the key features that set science apart from other human endeavors. Have students read What is science? in order to become familiar with the Science Checklist.

    Suggested use by students: The checklist was developed to help people distinguish scientific investigations from non-scientific ones. This concept can be introduced to students in a variety of ways:

    • Provide examples of different sorts of investigations (e.g., SETIís studies of astrobiology vs. those of the National UFO Reporting Center) and have students research the characteristics of those investigations and apply the checklist to them to see how scientific they are.

    • Have students read and discuss the following two articles: Astrology: Is it scientific? and Studying variable stars. Ask them to apply the Science Checklist to determine how scientific each is.

    • Have students read and discuss Umbrellaology. Ask them to apply the Science Checklist to determine how scientific umbrellaology is.

    • Print out a short article on the discovery of the dense, positively charged, atomic nucleus. After introducing and discussing the Science Checklist, have your students read the story and figure out how it measures up to the checklist. Have a class discussion about this, or have students write up their responses individually.

  2. The Science Flowchart provides a representation of how science really works. See Introducing the Science Flowchart for an example of how to introduce the Science Flowchart to your students or have students read the information in How science works.

    Suggested use by students:

    • As students engage in a short or long-term investigation, have them chart their paths on the Science Flowchart. Different students or groups of students will follow different paths and these can be compared at the end of the investigation.

    • You may assign students to write a research paper on a topic within your discipline. The Science Flowchart can help students present the history of research on the topic they select. As they dig into the literature, students should notice that science is seldom a linear story, but instead involves unanswered questions, surprising leaps, reinterpretation of data, etc.

    • Have students read about scientists and their investigations (e.g., Asteroids and dinosaurs: Unexpected twists and an unfinished story. Students can chart the pathways of different investigations and discuss how and why their courses differed.

  3. Your Science Toolkit provides a set of questions that can help your students apply critical thinking skills, evaluate media messages about science, and improve their own decision-making. When considering a scientific message or policy, students should be encouraged to ask how we know this and to consider sources of information, quality of evidence, and potential biases and misrepresentation. As an introduction, have students read the information in A scientific approach to life: A science toolkit.

    Suggested activity for students:

    • Gather examples of reports in the media that make a scientific claim. Ask groups of students to analyze the reports based upon the Toolkit.

    • Have students look at science articles in the popular press to find examples referencing the tentativeness of scientific ideas (e.g., "Numerous uncertainties remain regarding …") or the views of the scientific community regarding the idea (e.g., "Some scientists believe that …"). Is the tentativeness of the idea exaggerated, underplayed, or justified? Discuss each example.

    • Find examples of newspaper articles where scientific controversies are mentioned. Discuss the validity of the claim of controversy. Discuss the benefits of true scientific controversy.

    • Have students Google a topic such as hamburger nutrition and find examples of both reliable and unreliable resources. Ask them to explain their reasoning.

  4. The section of Understanding Science 101 that addresses the nonlinear nature of the process of science is available as a pdf, which you can use as a student reader. An effective way to use this tool would be to have students read it and discuss it at the beginning of the semester and then refer back to the document throughout the semester as students encounter examples of these concepts in context.

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