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Introducing a new representation of the process of science

Contributed by Anna Thanukos, UC Museum of Paleontology, UC Berkeley, based on an activity by Deb Farkas, Stan Hitomi, Judy Scotchmoor
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Students begin with a simple "warm up" activity that introduces them to the process of science. The class discusses whether or not they were "doing" science. Students then read a story about the geoscientist, Walter Alvarez, and identify phrases within the story that indicate that Alvarez was doing science. Students are introduced to the Science Flowchart and are asked to plot the scientific journey of Walter Alvarez. Students find that science is seldom a linear story, but instead involves unanswered questions, surprising leaps, reinterpretation of data, and the unexpected.

Learning Goals

Students should learn that:
  • The process of science involves testing ideas about the natural world with data from the natural world.
  • Scientific understanding improves as new evidence and perspectives emerge.
  • The process of science is non-linear.
  • The process of science involves observation, exploration, discovery, testing, communication, and application.
  • Scientists test their ideas using multiple lines of evidence.
  • Test results sometimes cause scientists to revise their hypotheses.
  • Scientists are creative and curious.
  • Scientists work together and share their ideas.

Context for Use

This lesson is appropriate for smaller classes (<30) of high school or college students, but could be adapted for larger classes. It can be done in class or discussion section and might require special equipment depending on the introductory material selected. It takes 90 minutes. It is most appropriate to do this lesson at the beginning of the year.

Description and Teaching Materials

The full activity has links to other files necessary to complete the activity.

Teaching Notes and Tips

There are several versions of the Walter Alvarez story that can be used for this lesson, depending upon student reading level and class time available. The first is a two-page story appropriate for high school ( and the second is a more complete story ( appropriate for more advanced high school students or undergraduates.

As there are two versions of the Science Flowchart, you may want to have a two-sided sheet — one side shows the simple version and the other the complex. Place the sheet in a plastic sleeve and cover the complex side with colored paper so that only the simple version is visible. Once the students are ready to see the complex version, they need only remove the colored piece of paper.


References and Resources