Reflection on the process of science & geoscience

Kaatje Kraft
Mesa Community College
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This is an activity for early in the semester that asks student to reflect on their understanding of the process of science, participate in an activity about the process of science, and then re-reflect on their ideas.

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This activity is for an introductory science class, but can be used in any class where you'd like to have a discussion about the process of science or geoscience.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students must be able to read, write and be willing to work with others.

How the activity is situated in the course

This is a stand alone activity, however the concepts are revisited throughout the semester.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

By the end of this activity, students should be able to describe the scientific process as including:
an empirical process (even if it's not stated as such) in which communication is essential, derived from scientific theories and include some aspect of science as a human construct in the context of geosciences.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Students are required to compare their ideas to others and consolidate those ideas into a group constructed paragraph. They are later asked to reflect on how their ideas have changed through the course of the activity.

Other skills goals for this activity

Students will work in groups (specifically in the process of group writing). They need to read through a text looking for specific information. Students will also need to reflect on their learning process.

Description of the activity/assignment

Students should be asked to reflect on how they this science is "done" (what is the process of science?) before they come to class (or at the beginning of class time). Students pick up ~5 cards that contain statements regarding the nature of science (based on Cobern & Loving, 1998 but modified for a greater emphasis on communication in science as developed by van der Hoeven Kraft et al., 2009), for example, "Writing is the primary vehicle by which scientists communicate with one another around the world." Some statements may include inaccurate views, such as "If a scientist develops a theory but shares it with no one, she has still contributed to the work of science."


1) Students sort through these cards (Acrobat (PDF) 238kB Dec18 14) as individuals and then as a group and eventually construct a group paragraph (with a guiding rubric (Microsoft Word 51kB Jul15 09)). A powerpoint presentation guides them through the steps powerpoint presentation (PowerPoint 1.7MB Sep17 08).

2) They share their paragraph(s) with the class.

3) This results in a class discussion about the commonalities and differences in the paragraphs.

4) Students are then assigned a reading homework assignment about the history of geology (Bryson, 2003) with guided questions.

5) The next class starts with a discussion about these questions--they are designed to focus students on some of the components that may be missing from their paragraphs (also included in the powerpoint).

6) After the reading, vocabulary of scientific theory and hypothesis are discussed and defined.

7) In the end, students are asked to re-reflect on their initial ideas and what changed and what caused their ideas to change. These ideas are then re-visited throughout the semester in the context of specific topics.

Metacognitive components of the activity

Students are asked to reflect on what they know before they begin the activity (activating their prior knowledge). They then re-visit their ideas at the end of the activity to determine how their ideas have changed or not changed as a result of the conversation from the class activity and additional reading.

Metacognitive goals for this activity:

There are three primary goals for including metacognition in this activity:
1) Students will gain a greater understanding of the content by taking the time to reflect on their learning before and after the activity.
2) Students will start to appreciate the power of self-reflection in the learning process
3) The instructor will gain valuable feedback from the students in what they learned and areas that still need to be emphasized.

Assessing students' metacognition

Approximately 90% of the participants in past semesters have indicated that their understanding has changed and increased. In assessing their pre vs. post written prompts, participating in this activity increases their understanding of the content. Whether they now appreciate the importance of self-reflection is less known. However, at the end of the semester students are asked to rank self-reflection as important or non-important in their learning process, and it is consistently rated as helpful or extremely helpful.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Student work is all done in a student notebook that is then collected and evaluated for completion and quality of reflective ideas. Since this is the first reflective prompt that is evaluated, grading is constrained to completed or not completed. However, responses are given feedback, to which students need to then re-reply when notebooks are returned in order to deepen their reflective thinking process (for examples of how this student notebook is used, you can see the poster session from the Summer 2008 Workshop on Teaching Introductory Geoscience Courses in the 21st century).

Another important assessment that comes from this activity is the instructor's ability to determine what students preconceptions are with regard to the Process of Science. This can help them to gauge what interventions and areas of emphasis may need to be made throughout the semester.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

Teaching materials and tips

Other Materials

Supporting references/URLs

Abd-El Khalick, F., & Lederman, N. G. (2000). Improving Science Teachers' Conceptions of Nature of Science: A Critical Review of the Literature. International Journal of Science Education, 22(7), 665-701.

Bryson, B. (2003). A Short History of Nearly Everything: Random House.

Cobern, W. W., & Loving, C. C. (1998). The Card Exchange: Introducing the Philosophy of Science. In W. F. McComas (Ed.), The Nature of Science in Science Education: Rationales and Strategies (pp. 73-82). Netherlands: Kluwer

van der Hoeven, K. J., Baker, D. R., Weaver, D., Clark, D., Lang, M.G., Kook, J. (2009). Nature of Scientific Communication Card Exchange. Activity developed for professional development associated with the Communication in Science Inquiry Project (CISIP). NSF Grant#: 0353469.