Teach the Earth > Paleontology > Teaching Activities > Integrating the Process of Science into Our Teaching

Integrating the Process of Science into Our Teaching

Judy Scotchmoor
University of California Museum of Paleontology
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This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
  • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
  • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

For more information about the peer review process itself, please see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.

This activity has benefited from input from faculty educators beyond the author through a review and suggestion process. This review took place as a part of a faculty professional development workshop where groups of faculty reviewed each others' activities and offered feedback and ideas for improvements. To learn more about the process On the Cutting Edge uses for activity review, see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.

This page first made public: Jun 4, 2009


In large part, the current confusions about evolution, global warming, and other aspects of science are symptomatic of a general misunderstanding of what science is and what it is not. Educational research indicates that even college students fail to understand basic issues regarding the nature and process of science. (Dagher et al, 2004). Understanding Science is a freely accessibly web-based resource that provides a new approach for teaching the nature and process of science.

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Understanding Science is not a single activity, but a rich online set of resources that facilitate student understanding of how science works. It contains resources and strategies appropriate for all levels of teaching in order to encourage the incorporation of the true nature and process of science throughout our teaching. That said, I have focused on one particular activity that incorporates the ideas behind Understanding Science. (see activity below)

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

not applicable

How the activity is situated in the course

Fortunately, fostering effective understandings about the nature and process of science needn't require reorganizing your entire curriculum. Simple shifts in how content and activities are approached can make a big difference in overcoming student misconceptions and building more accurate views of the process of science. Educational research supports the following strategies for teaching about the scientific endeavor:
  • Make it explicit: Key concepts regarding the nature and process of science should be explicitly and independently emphasized. Engaging in inquiry and studying the history of science are most helpful when the nature-of-science concepts they exemplify are explicitly drawn out in discussion and interactions.
  • Help them reflect: Throughout instruction, students should be encouraged to examine, test, and revise their ideas about what science is and how it works.
  • Give it context, again and again: Key concepts about the nature and process of science should be revisited in multiple contexts throughout the school year, allowing students to see how they apply to real-world situations.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

stratigraphy, fossil record, isotopic decay rates, extinctions, impact debris

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Science can test hypotheses about events that happened long ago.
Scientific ideas are tested with multiple lines of evidence.
Science relies on communication within a diverse scientific community.
The process of science is non-linear, unpredictable, and ongoing.
Science often investigates problems that require collaboration from those in many different disciplines.

Other skills goals for this activity

Students analyze, reflect, summarize, and discuss a case study on the work of Walter Alvarez.

Description of the activity/assignment

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.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Student discussion on their definitions of science; clarifications of misconceptions about science; use of a tool for reflection following additional activities

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

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