What is science?

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Students understand what science is and how it can be applied to develop technology.

Big Idea

Science is a work in progress... our theories are the best explanation based on available evidence, but are able to be changed in light of new evidence.

Warm up

5 minutes

Like the previous lesson, this lesson is designed as an introduction to science and to reinforce the idea that science is as much a process with a history as it is a body of knowledge that results from that process.  I find it helpful to begin the year this way because there are so many examples of pseudo-science in the media that it is almost always worth reviewing what science is and isn't before delving into the work for the year.


For the warm-up, I would begin by writing the words SCIENCE and TECHNOLOGY on the whiteboard at the front of the room.  I would ask students to turn to their partner and have them discuss and write quick definitions of each word and then explain the relationship between the terms.


Answers will vary depending on students, but hopefully students are primed to talk and think about the relationships between science (i.e., making observations, asking questions, conducting experiments, making discoveries), and technology (i.e., applying scientific knowledge).  


Direct Instruction

15 minutes

After the introductory discussion, I show the short “what is science” powerpoint that discusses the basic definitions of science and technology.  The powerpoint discusses the idea of a phenomenon as an observable event, during which time I will ask students to give examples of phenomena (e.g., the window is transparent, the desk is black, etc.).  Students tend to equate observable with visible, so I often drop a book or keys or something that will make a sound to get them to realize that all of our senses can be used to make observations.  It is also helpful to discuss that some phenomena are observable only with the help of technologies that expand our senses (e.g., seismograph, microscope, telescope, etc.).

The section about measurements will be taken up again in the next lesson where students take measurements and collect qualitative and quantitative data, so I don’t spend too much time on this segment this day… it’s more an extension of the idea of making observations.

The technology component of the powerpoint sets up the next section of the lesson.  I intentionally chose images of older cellphones and computers to prepare students to think about how the technology of the present is built upon the technology of the past (i.e., old technology + scientific discoveries = new technology).  When the stone tool and animal-powered plow are shown, the idea is to generate a discussion about how even ancient technologies resulted from careful observation and experimentation to develop knowledge.  I tend to ask questions such as, “what would ancient hunters have to ask or understand to make this?”.  Once students provide an answer, I continue to press them with the same question so that they can begin to “peel back the layers of the onion”, so to say, and appreciate the developing, additive nature of scientific knowledge.

Guided practice

25 minutes

After the powerpoint, I distribute the “History of Science and Technology” worksheet (1 sheet per group of 2 students).  The worksheet begins with Newton’s famous quote, “If I have seen further it is because I stood on the shoulders of giants”, and I ask students what they think this means.  After a very brief discussion and explanation of the worksheet, students make a concept map with their partner that breaks down a technological artifact into smaller and smaller pieces of understanding.  Students are free to make the map as either declarations of understanding or questions (e.g., “know how metal conducts electricity” or “what kinds of metals conduct electricity?”).  The idea here is for them to understand that our modern technology and scientific knowledge is built upon a very large foundation developed over a very long time.

Students tend to want to start with something very “high-tech”, which is fine, because it offers nearly unending complexity to unpack, but I provide the concept map for a pencil to show them that even something as relatively basic as a pencil can only be made with the application of considerable scientific understanding.


As students work with their partners on the concept map, I like to walk around and check that the students are pushing themselves.  Sometimes they may get complacent or just plain stuck, and it can be helpful to ask a probing question to get the process moving again.  (For example, some groups may choose their cell phone as the technology to “dismantle” and break it down only as far as “computer” and “phone”.  In this case, I would remind them that computers run on electricity, that the phone’s electricity is generated by a battery converting chemical energy to electrical energy, that certain metals and materials work better than others for making the phone itself and the circuitry within, and that those materials need to be obtained somewhere, and extracting those materials requires other tools, etc.)


Although I would do a lesson like this with any science class, you may choose to add the explicit environmental science connection and ask students to put a star next to any question that relates to the environment (e.g., in the case of the pencil, the required wood requires trees which may be linked to deforestation).  You might also ask students to write sentences explaining the connection, depending on the available class time (or make it a homework assignment).  

As extra credit, those groups that have successfully completed a concept map are asked to then consider the “next step” of the technology they described and to think of some questions that would need to be answered in order for the future technology to be developed. (Some teachers may prefer to have this part of the required work, but I have it on the worksheet as extra credit so that students are focused primarily on the scientific discoveries that made present technologies possible.  Some students are very good at envisioning "next steps", but it may end up confusing others.)

Again, the idea here is for students to understand that the body of scientific knowledge continues to grow via the continued practice of scientific inquiry.  (i.e., “answers lead to questions”)

Wrap up

10 minutes

At the end of the lesson, I ask for 2 or 3 groups to draw their concept maps on the board (to save time, I may actually select these groups towards the end of the guided practice and have them put their work on the board then).  (If you have access to a document reader, you may want to use that instead of a whiteboard: the time saved may allow more groups to share their work)  

As a class, we then look at the concept maps and I ask what other questions needed to be asked and I fill in the information as the class shares it.  This should only take a few minutes and I will then reiterate, explicitly, the point of the lesson: science and technology continue to develop by adding new knowledge to old knowledge.