The Nature of Science

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Students will be able to explore ideas of what science (and engineering) is and is not and be able to work cooperatively to solve a problem.

Big Idea

As part of developing scientifically literate students, students and their teachers need to be aware of misconceptions about science.

Introduction - I Do

5 minutes

Since this is the first day of the unit, and most often the first or second day of school, I start by navigating to the website I created for the unit, and show the students how to get there from our class website. In this case the website is Nature of Science.

I like to have all the student materials per unit in once location in an effort to avoid the inevitable, "I misplaced the ___ sheet, do you have another one?" By having all of them in a readily accessible place I can just direct the student to the site so they can download their own again. On the website, I also post links to particular places that they will visit or to extra information that they might need for their projects.

Once on the website I present the embedded "What is Science?" video.

The video is intended to engage students by showing the beauty and wonder of our world, to motivate and inspire students as well as to spark a classroom discussion.  

We Do

15 minutes

I ask the big question of the day, "What is Science?" My purpose here is to engage the students in the conversation. I try to limit the conversation to a small handful of responses, by pulling four or five Name Popsicle Sticks. This strategy shows the students that I value everyone's response, and that at any point they could be asked to participate in a conversation. 

At this point I do not correct misconceptions since my purpose is to get students thinking about the nature of science. (Misconceptions will be addressed in the next lesson in the series.)

We then move on to the Nature of Science and Engineering Survey.  I administer this survey at the beginning of the series in order to gain insight into what the students believe is science. A recent study has shown that teachers need to know not only the science they are teaching, but it is critical that we also know the common misconceptions students have, so that they can be properly addressed.  

I created the survey as a Google Form, so the students can use their own devices or their assigned classroom laptops. The survey is also included in the resources. When I pass the survey out, I mention that although there are correct and incorrect answers, it is not a test, and the only grade (or in my case XP) they will get is for completing the survey. Although they should take their time to consider their answers, it should not take them too long to answer, and that they should have an answer to all questions. "No maybes or buts"; they are answering as a scientist would.

As the students answer, I circulate the room providing clarification on vocabulary as needed. If more than two students need help with a particular word, I call the whole group's attention with a "Halla-Back"  technique.

Often, the students attempt to start a debate as in "I agree, but..." I reiterate that they answer as a scientist would.

As the students are completing their surveys, I do a quick check of the populated form in order to ensure that I have everyone's responses. I use the responses to create a visual (graph) to share with the students and address misconceptions on the next lesson ("What Science is Not"). 

You Do

20 minutes

The "you do" for the day is a cooperative activity that helps me gauge how well the students respond in a collaborative learning environment.

For each group, I have prepared the following materials:

6 cups

1 rubber band with 5 strings (each string is about 1.5 feet) attached 



I place the students in groups of 5 (although the grouping can be adjusted depending on how big the class is). Then I have the students attempt to form a pyramid using only the materials provided. The pyramid has to have a 3, 2, 1 configuration and they cannot touch the cups with any part of the body at any time (even if a cup tips over or falls on the floor). To add some pressure, I set a timer for 5 minutes, and call out the time. ("Four minutes to go.")

The winners receive a "Patriot Buck" (school-wide incentive). Most teams finish in about 4.30 minutes, but if I have groups finish early, I challenge them with other configurations (hourglass for example). 

Once time is up, we put the materials away and have a brief discussion that centers around questions such as:

  • What was the most frustrating part and how was it handled?
  • What was an important skill necessary to be successful in this task?
  • How are the skills mentioned related to the work of scientists?
  • How are the skills mentioned related to success in school and life in general?
  • How is this activity related to our big question?

The students are asked to first jot their ideas briefly, then share with a table and finally share out. This provides students with an opportunity to listen to each other and clarify their own statements before they share.

In the small group discussion video you can see how the students navigate the discussion among themselves, and in the whole class discussion video you can get the idea of how it changes as the student share out.


5 minutes

The exit ticket or deliverable for the day is a post it note on my reflective chart. This chart is posted at the front of the room, and gives me a quick reference into student thinking and attitudes in the classroom. During the beginning weeks of the school-year, I save the post-its and give them back to the students to use as a reference for writing their weekly blogs.