Unit 1: How Do the Methods of Geoscience Compare with THE Scientific Method?
This activity introduces geoscientific thinking to a primarily non-geoscience audience. This is the introductory activity of a module designed for pre-service secondary science teachers in a secondary science teaching methods course. Initially, students explore their conceptions of the scientific method. Through readings and discussion, the activity attempts to broaden the students' view of the nature of science by showing how geoscience methods differ from stereotypical experimental science. This introductory activity uses a seminar format (writing/reading/discussing/writing).
By the end of this unit, pre-service teachers will be able to:
- Describe and evaluate their own thinking about the generalizability of how humans produce new scientific knowledge (aka the scientific method).
- Compare and contrast the methods of geoscience with stereotypical experimental science, especially in relation to the complexity and scales (spatial and temporal) of Earth systems.
Context for Use
This is the introductory unit of a module designed for pre-service secondary science teachers in a secondary science teaching methods course. Most such courses are not taught by geoscientists, and many of the students have little formal background in geoscience. This initial unit introduces geoscientific thinking to the non-geoscience audience. The Next Generation Science Standards emphasize a more sophisticated understanding of the scientific enterprise (see NGSS Appendix H: Nature of Science), beyond simple experiments.
This unit uses a seminar format that includes writing, reading, and discussing as a class, a format that is consistent with the fact that methods classes usually have fewer than 20 students. This unit can be completed in one class meeting with substantial homework (reading and writing) before and after. Some parts of this module could be adapted for use in an online setting, though face to face discussions are preferred.
Description and Teaching Materials
Unit 1 introduces the idea of discipline-specific scientific methods using seminar-style instruction.
Activity 1: Elicitation of Students' Initial Ideas about Discipline-specific Scientific Methods
The instructor will begin Unit 1 by asking students to record (in class, online or as homework) their preconceptions about whether there is a single scientific method. The prompt for soliciting students' initial ideas can look something like: "On your own, write a paragraph that answers the following questions: 1) What is the scientific method as you understand it? 2) Is your description of the scientific method a valid description of the way that all science is conducted? Why or why not?"
The instructor then organizes small group discussions in which students share (in class or online) their initial ideas about the generalizability of scientific methods. In-class discussion should be with their peers in table groups of three to six students, followed by a discussion as a whole class. The instructor might use a visual prompt such as the results of a web search for "images scientific method," which will show common schema for generalization of the stereotypical scientific method.
The instructor will then assign all students to read one of the following articles about the methods of geoscience:
- Multiple Modes of Inquiry in Earth Science: Helping Students Understand the Scientific Process Beyond Laboratory Experimentation. The Science Teacher, January 2008, 26–31. 'https://www.questia.com/library/journal/1G1-182523501/multiple-modes-of-inquiry-in-earth-science-helping'
- Geoscience and Geoscientists: Uniquely Equipped to Study the Earth (Acrobat (PDF) 118kB May22 13), in Earth and Mind II: Geological Society of America Special Paper 486, 1–12.
Paper 1 (Kastens and Rivet, 2008 ) is from the National Science Teachers Association's The Science Teacher and is appropriate for most student audiences. Paper 2 (Manduca and Kastens, 2012 (Acrobat (PDF) 118kB May22 13)), from a special paper of the Geological Society of America, is more appropriate for advanced undergraduates or graduate students. Critical reading, note-taking and question writing will require ~1-2 hours. We typically assign the reading as homework, bracketed by the engagement discussion in Activity 1 and the small group/full class discussions of Activity 2. We recommend that instructors introduce the Questions-Reaction-Summary (QRS) method for guided reading of primary literature articles. Students should be assigned to bring a brief (<200 words) summary and three to five questions about the article for discussion with their peers. Unit 1 QRS organizer (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 25kB Aug27 14) can be used to help students organize their response to the reading if done in class. The QRS Assignment and Rubric (Acrobat (PDF) 98kB Feb21 13) can be used to evaluate the summary and assessment.
Activity 2: Introduction to the Methods of Geoscience
The culminating session for Unit 1 is a discussion of how geoscience methods are similar to and different from the stereotypical scientific method (or from the methods of other scientific disciplines). The instructor will again organize students in small groups (e.g. three to six students), where they will ask and discuss the questions they wrote as homework to clarify/summarize the main points of the article. The instructor then provides the small groups the following questions for consideration:
- In the article, the author contrasts (a) the methods geoscientists use with (b) the classic "scientific method" as it is taught in schools. What exactly is the difference between those two things?
- List the Earth science methods that the author describes, and give a very brief example for each method (these do not need to be complete sentences).
- Pick one of the methods that geoscientists use and brainstorm how you might illustrate the use of that method in a high school science lesson (not necessarily in an Earth science class; it could be in a life science or physical science class).
The small groups will then share with the whole class answers to these three questions. Sharing could be done on individual whiteboards, if they are available. Finally, the small groups will be assigned to generate an outline for a short (< 300 words) synthesis paper summarizing their position on the question, "How can you modify that classic (stereotypical) scientific method to be more inclusive of what all scientists do, including geoscientists?" The composition of the paper itself should be done by individual students and evaluated according to the rubric linked in the Assessment section.
Teaching Notes and Tips
Instructors who are less familiar with the methods of geoscience should prepare themselves by browsing the InTeGrate site on Geoscientific Thinking.
Suggested timing for the components of Unit 1:
- In-class (or online) solicitation of initial ideas about "the" scientific method (20 min)
- Assign article(s) to be read, summary and question-writing due next class meeting (10 min)
- Small group discussions of QRS questions followed by instructor-provided questions (30 min)
- Whole class synthesis discussion (30 min)
- Small group discussion of outline of synthesis paper (20 min)
- Assign individual synthesis paper due next class meeting (10 min)
Extensions for advanced students:
Included in the References and Resources section are links to two additional papers that will challenge advanced students to consider (1) the learning of geoscience in the field (Mogk and Goodwin, 2012) and (2) learning about deep time as a central tenet in secondary Earth science.
Assessment of student progress toward learning goals are on the basis of:
- Active, thoughtful, courteous student participation in discussions, both small group and whole class in both Part 1 and Part 2 (evaluate using roster and checklist for participation);
- Written summary and questions about one article (evaluate using QRS Assignment and Rubric (Acrobat (PDF) 98kB Feb21 13) );
- Individual synthesis paper (evaluate using Unit 1 Essay Rubric (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 24kB Aug27 14)).
References and Resources
1. Kastens, K. and A. Rivet. "Multiple Modes of Inquiry in Earth Science: Helping Students Understand the Scientific Process Beyond Laboratory Experimentation." The Science Teacher, January 2008, 26–31.
2. Manduca, C. and K. Kastens. 2012. "Geoscience and Geoscientists: Uniquely Equipped to Study the Earth." Geological Society of America Special Paper 486, 1–12.
Mogk, D. and C. Goodwin. 2012. "Learning in the Field: Synthesis of Research on Thinking and Learning in the Geosciences." Geologic Society of America Special Paper 486, 131–163.
Ault, K. (Acrobat (PDF) 495kB Oct19 12) 2012. Teaching the Geosciences as a Subversive Activity. Unpublished manuscript from 2012 InTeGrate Workshop on The Methods of Geoscience.