Teaching the Process of Science

Summary of ideas

Here are some ideas for incorporating the process of science into your teaching.

Research Roadshow
Select several undergrads (or grads depending on your institution) who are working on research projects and/or internships and have them create 5 minute presentations. Turn their presentations into a lecture period and bring them around to intro classes to introduce students to research/research process.

Additional benefits: Students see their peers doing research, rather than just faculty advisors. Helps make the research more accessible.

Present your own (and your colleagues') research to your class
As you are preparing proposals, papers, analyses, etc., take a few minutes to tell your class about it in order to demonstrate the work and steps that go into conducting scientific inquiry and demystify what you do every day. Be explicit about deconstructing the work in terms of the scientific process.

Alternatively, invite a "Geologist of the Day" or the week: have faculty members come in and give 5 minute description of what they do. Make sure they describe how and why they do it.

Analyze process of science in the historical development of ideas
Analyze methods and evidence that underpin big ideas as the first thing in course using a historical approach in plate tectonics, understanding of ice ages, bolide impact, etc. How these large ideas develop and are followed by a barrage of work on these topics.

Additional benefits: Helps students see that science is dynamic and ideas change.

Incorporate student peer review into assignments
Students can have the opportunity to open their own ideas up to peer review and see how others view similar information. This can be incorporated into research projects or simple assignments. Gives them an appreciation for the real process of science, and what scientists themselves do.

Explicit discussions about how we know what we know
Without altering labs at all, you can easily highlight the process of science by simply explaining where data on a graph comes from and how it is collected. Revisit how process of science is integral to various topics covered through the semester

Ask students to highlight process in reading and writing assignments
Give students reading - could be something from primary literature, a news article, a Scientific American article, or even something from a textbook - and ask students to pick out hypotheses, methods, evidence etc.

Use quick in class data collection to generate and then test hypotheses
Example doesn't need to be geological: E.g. graph shoe size with height for class members, is there a correlation (causal?), can you quantify a relationship, can you then apply it by predicting shoe size of "outsiders" by measuring their height, do other things correlate with height and shoe size, etc. Modeling how several different explanations can explain a particular set of observations. What could you test, what other information could you to decide?

Include lab exercises with data collecting, graphing and interpretation
Explicitly discuss what you are doing as you go along, including highlighting the issues of "bad data" and uncertainty. Engages students in all stages of research.

Include activities to help students distinguish between observation and interpretation
Take rock samples and/or photos and step them through the process of observations and interpretation. Explicitly separate observations (the rock is pink) from interpretation (perhaps it is granite). Introduce the idea of multiple working hypotheses (could be granite, could be rhyolite), and what investigations they could pursue to distinguish between different hypotheses.

Reflection on research projects
Research projects clearly engage students in the process of science, but you may need to help students see exactly how they are engaging in the process. Working in class in groups to discuss results, bringing service learning community partners in earlier than we might normally to discuss results. Did we validate or invalidate our misconceptions? Be explicit about the process of science.

Challenge: How to assess if they know the scientific process - can they recognize a theory and a hypothesis?