Integrating the Process into Readings

Initial Publication Date: November 12, 2009

Integrating the Process into Readings

Visionlearning logo
This module was authored by Anne E. Egger, Stanford University, as part of a collaboration between Visionlearning and the SERC Pedagogic Service, and includes the products of a July 2009 workshop on Teaching the Process of Science.

Student reading
Most science textbooks have one chapter (at most) to introduce the scientific method at the beginning, and it is rarely well-integrated into the remainder of the text. Often, in fact, the scientific method portrayed does not truly reflect the way science works. If you want to integrate the process of science into your teaching, you may need to seek additional text resources that explicitly address the real process of science. Here are some suggestions for how to incorporate readings that emphasize the process of science:

Supplement content with texts specifically about the nature and process of science

If you already have a textbook that you use, you might think about supplementing this science content with readings specifically about the nature and process of science. You can use these to start discussions about how we know what we know within your content area.
  • Examples
    • The Process of Science at Visionlearning: A series of online modules aimed at undergraduates that address different aspects of the process of science like research methods, analyzing and visualizing data, scientific ethics, peer review, and many others. (Development funded by the Department of Education)
    • Understanding Science at UCMP: The mission of Understanding Science is to provide a fun, accessible, and free resource that accurately communicates what science is and how it really works. (Development funded by the National Science Foundation)
    • The 15 Most Common Myths of Science: McComas, 1998, The Principal Elements of the Nature of Science: Dispelling the Myths.
  • What are they good for teaching about the process?
    • Making explicit aspects of the process of science that you might feel are implicit in your teaching, but that students don't get
    • Overcoming misconceptions about the process of science
    • Linking scientific knowledge to the process that produced it
  • Strategies for incorporating
    • Start off the course by asking students to read 15 Myths about Science and take a survey to find out how many of those myths they thought were true
    • Pair process readings with content so that in reading about the theory of plate tectonics they also read about the nature of scientific theories
    • Use process readings to prepare students for an activity, so that they read about visualizing data, for example, before making their own graphs

Read the primary literature

Photo of journals
Although it can be challenging to introduce students to the primary literature, journal articles are our archive of the process of science. Helping students learn how to read journal articles is critical to incorporating them into your course.
  • Examples
  • What are they good for teaching about the process?
    • Communication is a critical component of science - if it's not published, it may as well not exist
    • Showing that big concepts are supported by lots of small studies
    • Preparing students for further work in the sciences
  • Strategies for incorporating
    • Teach students how to read a journal article first before assigning one as an assignment (see Scientific Communication: Understanding Scientific Journals and Journal Articles at Visionlearning)
    • Ease students into the content, perhaps by pairing a Scientific American article with a journal article by the same author
    • Demonstrate that this is the sanitized version of the science - use one of your own papers, and describe the more complex pathways you followed to reach the conclusions that seem obvious in the paper
    • Read the same article at the beginning and end of a course, and ask students to assess how their understanding and confidence has improved

Include news and events that involve recent scientific research

The news is full of science and scientific events, and incorporating current topics can help students see that science is not "done".
  • Examples
  • What are they good for teaching about the process?
    • By definition, news and events are current and topical and help students see that science is an ongoing process
    • News articles can help students make connections between science and societal relevance
    • News and events bring out the human aspect of science, especially in contrast to journal articles
  • Strategies for incorporating
    • Have students read news articles with the journal articles and discuss writing for different audiences
    • Start each class with a quick current event and discuss the science behind it
    • See a related module on Teaching Quantitative Reasoning with the News

Incorporate stories about science and scientists into your content

Popular Science Books
"Stories" are what you might also call history and biography. Textbooks often present content as a set of facts to be learned rather than the product of many individual scientists building on each others' work over time. You can use stories to help students see that scientists are real people, and that the process of science involves lots of interactions between scientists, dead ends, unexpected events - in other words, it is interesting.
  • Examples
  • What are they good for teaching about the process?
    • How science is done by all kinds of people and that science is an ongoing, dynamic process
    • How personal interests, cultural setting, and politics can influence the process of science
    • How science has changed and developed over time
  • Strategies for incorporating
    • Ask students to write book reviews that pull out elements of the nature of science either from a biography or scientific concept through time
    • Pair biographies of a historical scientist with a modern scientist and ask students to compare aspects of their engagement of the process of science
    • Ask students to make a concept map of the process of science from a specific example