Lesson Plans > Module 1 > Lesson 1 Part B:

 Defining Science and Its Goals Using the Inquiry Activity “Mystery Boxes”

Prep time: 30 minutes     Class time: 35-40 minutes (Combine with Lesson 1A to complete in one class period.)

Overview

This activity will provide a foundation for the basics of inquiry based science and will bring in several Nature of Science concepts. Students will be probed to ask and answer questions regarding a numbered box in front of them. They then will be asked to determine what number is on the bottom of the box based on the evidence in front of them.

Learning Goals

The student will be able to:

  1. Understand that SCIENCE distinguishes itself from other ways of knowing and from other bodies of knowledge through the use of empirical standards and logical arguments, as scientists strive for the best possible explanations about the natural world.
  2. Explain that the primary GOAL OF SCIENCE is to generate explanations of the natural world.
  3. Know that explanations are developed using data and accepted scientific knowledge.
  4. State that a scientific theory is a robust explanation of some aspect of the natural world that is based on a great deal of investigation and trials.

 

Misconceptions to tackle

  1. The goal of science is to a) improve life, b) create technology, c)“is everything”, or d) science has no goals.
  2. Scientists develop explanations a) through thought alone, b) just “figure things out”, c) explanations are developed using data only, d) that theories are akin to hypotheses or a guess, and e) that they are easy to change. 

 

Background

The pursuit of scientific explanations often begins with a question about a natural phenomenon. Science is a way of developing answers, or improving explanations, for observations or events in the natural world. The scientific question can emerge from a child’s curiosity about where the dinosaurs went or why the sky is blue. Or the question can extend scientists’ inquiries into the process of extinction or the chemistry of ozone depletion.

Once the question is asked, a process of scientific inquiry begins, and there eventually may be an answer or a proposed explanation. Critical aspects of science include curiosity and the freedom to pursue that curiosity. Other attitudes and habits of mind that characterize scientific inquiry and the activities of scientists include intelligence, honesty, skepticism, tolerance for ambiguity, openness to new knowledge, and the willingness to share knowledge publicly.

Scientific inquiry includes systematic approaches to observing, collecting information, identifying significant variables, formulating and testing hypotheses, and taking precise, accurate, and reliable measurements. Understanding and designing experiments are also part of the inquiry process.

Scientific explanations are more than the results of collecting and organizing data. Scientists also engage in important processes such as constructing laws, elaborating models, and developing hypotheses based on data. These processes extend, clarify, and unite the observations and data and, very importantly, develop deeper and broader explanations. Examples include the taxonomy of organisms, the periodic table of the elements, and theories of common descent and natural selection.

One characteristic of science is that many explanations continually change. Two types of changes occur in scientific explanations: 1) new explanations are developed, and 2) old explanations are modified.

Just because someone asks a question about an object, organism, or event in nature does not necessarily mean that person is pursuing a scientific explanation. Among the conditions that must be met to make explanations scientific are the following:

  1. Scientific explanations are based on empirical observations or experiments. The appeal to authority as a valid explanation does not meet the requirements of science. Observations are based on sense experiences or on an extension of the senses through technology.
  2. Scientific explanations are made public. Scientists make presentations at scientific meetings or publish in professional journals, making knowledge public and available to other scientists.
  3. Scientific explanations are tentative. Explanations can and do change. There are no scientific truths in an absolute sense.
  4. Scientific explanations are historical. Past explanations are the basis for contemporary explanations, and those, in turn, are the basis for future explanations.
  5. Scientific explanations are probabilistic. The statistical view of nature is evident implicitly or explicitly when stating scientific predictions of phenomena or explaining the likelihood of events in actual situations.
  6. Scientific explanations assume cause-effect relationships. Much of science is directed toward determining causal relationships and developing explanations for interactions and linkages between objects, organisms, and events. Distinctions among causality, correlation, coincidence, and contingency separate science from pseudoscience.
  7.  Scientific explanations are limited. Scientific explanations sometimes are limited by technology, for example, the resolving power of microscopes and telescopes. New technologies can result in new fields of inquiry or extend current areas of study. The interactions between technology and advances in molecular biology and the role of technology in planetary explorations serve as examples.

Science cannot answer all questions. Some questions are simply beyond the parameters of science. Many questions involving the meaning of life, ethics, and theology are examples of questions that science cannot answer. Refer to the National Science Education Standards for Science as Inquiry (pages 145-148 for grades 5-8 and pages 175-176 for grades 9-12), History and Nature of Science Standards (pages 170-171 for grades 5-8 and pages 200-204 for grades 9-12), and Unifying Concepts and Processes (pages 115-118).

Procedure

Warm Up

  1. Explain to students that SCIENCE distinguishes itself from other ways of knowing and from other bodies of knowledge through the use of empirical standards and logical arguments, as scientists strive for the best possible explanations about the natural world.
  2. Explain that the primary GOAL OF SCIENCE is to generate explanations of the natural world.
  3. Explain that explanations are developed using data and accepted scientific knowledge.
  4. State that a scientific theory is a robust explanation of some aspect of the natural world that is based on a great deal of investigation and trials.
  5. Ask students how they think scientists do their work (this can either be done as a class discussion or the students can write the answer on a sheet of paper.
  6. Continue to probe student understanding of what science is and what it entails. Possible questions:
    1. What do scientists need in order to start their work?
    2. Where do scientists do their work?
    3. What tools do scientists use to do their work?
  7. Today we will be looking at some basic science. Even without all the fancy equipment, scientists use these basic procedures everyday.

Activity

  1. Students will be in groups of 3-4. Teacher will place a cube with the shaded side down, in the center of the groups.
  2. Teacher will instruct the students not to touch the cube in anyway.
  3. Students will make some quick mental observations based solely on their sense of sight.
  4. Quickly have students give examples of some of the first questions that pop into their head.
  5. Students should then use their observations to come up with questions that could be answered based on the evidence they have.
  6. After the students have come up with a question, explain that during this class we are going to focus on the question “What is on the bottom of the cube?” and give evidence to support their answer.
  7. After the students have finished, teacher will lead a class discussion on how this activity relates to science and inquiry. Guiding questions:
    1. What steps did we use to come up with your answer?
    2. Is your answer an example of an inference or an observation?
    3. Why was having a question important?
    4. How would you communicate your finding to the public? (Someone who has no knowledge of the investigation?)

(GOAL: when discussion is over, students should understand the importance of evidence and how it helps us answer questions and come up with explanations)

Extension Activity:  Activity Day 2 (Optional) Click Here!

Assessment

  • Worksheets from Lesson 1A 

Exit Ticket

  • Have students define science and its goals.
  • Have students define scientific theory.

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