Lesson Plans > Module 1 > Lesson 3:
Boundaries of Science Using the Inquiry Activity “Of Sunsets, Souls, and Senses”
Prep Time: 15 minutes Class Time: 1 class period
In this lesson, students will learn the limitations of science. While science is used to explain many phenomena in this world, it is not able to explain everything. Students will learn the language of science and how words have different meanings in modern science. The goal of this lesson is for students to be able to identify how science can only be used to explain the natural world.
The student will be able to:
- Understand that the realm of science is limited strictly to answering questions about the natural world. Science is not properly equipped to handle the supernatural realm, or the realm of values and ethics.
There has always been debate about the limits of science and how science plays into such topics as religion and the supernatural. It is a common misconception that science is the answer to everything in the world; however, science has its limits just like other disciplines. Science can only be used to explain phenomenon in the natural world. Science is a discipline that uses technology to enhance the senses in order to help scientists learn.
The teacher should cut out the phrases from “Science is…” and “Science is not…” worksheets and put them in envelopes, depending on the number of groups of students there will be in the classroom. Each envelope should have phrases from both worksheets.
- Place the Willy and Ethel Cartoon (or something similar) on the overhead so students can see it. You should allow about 5 minutes for students to consider the cartoon. Have them write down their thoughts before the discussion.
- Teacher says, “What do you think the author is trying to say in this cartoon?” Student responses will vary from either simply stating that something is wrong with the car, or to a more elaborate response stating that the mechanic does not know what is wrong with the car.
- Teacher says, “What do you think is wrong with the car?” Student responses will vary from either stating that maybe it was possessed by a gremlin, or that the air-intake valve is really clogged (or other mechanical problems). Teacher will jot down the responses on the board.
- Teacher will draw a tally chart on the board or overhead projector. Teacher will take a tally of what students think the correct answer is based on the given responses.
- Teacher will ask students why they chose their answers and why they disregarded certain answers.
- Teacher will focus on the students who are talking about the mechanic’s knowledge of the car. The mechanic does not know how to get rid of gremlins or how to tell if one is in the car. The mechanic can only diagnose what he can see in front of him.
- Teacher points out, “Science has limits, it can only deal with that which is natural… that is, can be either directly or indirectly (using instruments) perceived through the senses. Items that cannot be currently perceived by the senses cannot currently be dealt with by science. This does NOT exclude observations of EVIDENCE of unseen events. Much of science involves INFERENCES based on observed circumstantial evidence, especially if these come from multiple independent fields of study (such as the reconstruction of extinct ecosystems and creatures from fossils collected and the associated geology).“
- Separate the students into groups. It could be two or more groups with as many students as you would like.
- Pass out the Sunset, Souls, and Senses Handout to each student and let them know that they will be only working on Group A of their worksheet. Do the first item on the Group A chart as a class. For example, the teacher can say, “Let’s do the first one together on the chart. Do you think earthquakes can or cannot be studied in science? Why?” Have this brief introductory discussion into the activity last for about a minute. After the discussion, give the students about 10 minutes to talk amongst their groups to come up with the answers for the rest of the GROUP A items. Have the students write little notes in the margins about why they picked their answers. Do not worry if the groups have not completed the entire chart.
- After 10 minutes, have a 10-minute class discussion on the students’ choices focusing on the first eleven items from the chart (You can skip ‘Earthquake’ since that has already been discussed). Make sure to emphasize that science requires observation and to also focus on the use of senses to help make an observation, which will flow into the Group B chart.
An example of a class discussion should go like this:
Teacher: Let’s go over the chart together. We already did ‘earthquake’ together, so let’s do ‘viruses.’ Can ‘viruses’ be studied by science? Why or why not?
Student 1: Yes, they can be studied.
Teacher: Why is that Student 1?
Student 1: Because you can look at them through a microscope.
Teacher: Okay, so how does the ability to look at viruses through a microscope let you know that it can be studied by science? What are you using?
Student 1: My senses.
Teacher: By using your senses, what are you making?
Student 2: An observation? (If students do not say ‘observation,’ refer them to the candle activity and talk about the senses that they used to describe the ‘candle’ and what they called it)
Teacher: How does the ability to make an observation on viruses let you know that it can be studied by science?
Follow this discussion for the rest of the items on the chart until students start to understand that science requires the ability to make an observation using their senses.
After 10 minutes of class discussion, direct the students’ attention to Group B on worksheet.
- The teacher will now have the students work in their groups on GROUP B in the Sunsets, Souls, and Senses Handout. Do the first item together as a class. For example, the teacher can say, “Let’s do the first one together on Group B. Can you hear an earthquake? Can you see an earthquake? Can you touch an earthquake?…Check off the box what you think can be detected using your senses for each item.” Have the students complete the first eleven items or so on the list and tell them to write their reasons in the margins or on the back. Have them work on this for 10 minutes. The goal is not to finish the chart, but to have a discussion of the empirical boundaries of science.
- Go over the students’ choices for the first eleven items (remember, ‘earthquake’ has already been done together as a class) and present a similar class discussion like in step 3. Also, continue to emphasize that science requires the ability to make an observation by using the senses.
Each group should have one envelope with phrases from “Science is…” and “Science is not…” worksheets. Students should place the phrases in two categories (Science is…/Science is not…). Therefore, make sure that students in the groups pull out the phrases, “Science is…” and “Science is not…” first before continuing onto the activity. Have them put those two phrases side by side and then they can take out the other phrases in the envelope and arrange them in the two categories (Science is…/Science is not…) as they see fit. Afterwards, the teacher can put a sample of the results to share with the class on the overhead or chalkboard, discussing any differences until the class recognizes reasons why each term goes in their designated spots.
Return to the warm-up activity with the Willy and Ethel Cartoon and ask the students, “Can the car mechanic fix the gremlin?” Have the students write their thoughts on the answer to the question. Have the students write 2-3 sentences explaining their answers.