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by Steve Randak



Science's Social Context

We now have a textbook for students on the nature of science. It's intended to replace, or supplement, the inadequate first chapter of your text. It's designed to coordinate and help sequence several of the nature of science (NOS) lessons on the ENSI site. It is targeted to students in any science class, grades 7-10 (or beyond). It helps to satisfy virtually all the new NOS standards in NGSS and Common Core. If you've used any of ENSI's NOS lessons, you already know how powerful they are. This new book addresses most of the common misconceptions about NOS. It also provides information about the differences between good science, poor science, and pseudoscience. It offers clues for recognizing those differences, and opportunities to practice using those clues. "What's this magic book I've been waiting for all my life?" It's called Science Surprises: Exploring the Nature of Science. "Tell me more - like where can I see this book?" Say no more. It's available as an eBook, published with Smashwords. Click Here to get more information and a link to sample (and purchase) the new eBook Science Surprises.


 Students draw their perceptions of a typical scientist, evaluate stereotypes in their drawings quantitatively, and then discuss the origins of these stereotypes.


 The public's perception of scientists is biased, leading to stereotypes.



   Students will....

1. identify stereotypes in his/her perception of scientists.
2. identify some sources of bias.
3. consider people like themselves can become scientists.


Pencil and paper
Markers or colored pencils
Other references, both old and new, containing pictures of scientists
Large mirror


 Two partial class periods: Friday, the last part of the period, and the following Monday, the first part of the period.




 Because this lesson provides an excellent opportunity to understand important elements of the Nature of Science , be sure to read our General Background Information, with our Rationale and our Approach, and tips for Presenting the lessons for maximum effect and Dispelling some of the popular myths about science.

In any of the discussions expected with the class, select a few key items (important concepts) that lend themselves to interpretation, and introduce class to the Think-Pair-Share (TPS) routine dealing with those items. This is how "Active Learning" is done.




1. Instruct students to make a drawing of a scientist.

2. When done, instruct as many students as you have time for to post their drawings on the wall, and describe their scientists to the class (one at a time).

3. Meanwhile, have students list traits as they are mentioned, then quantify the class data (tally the number of times each trait is mentioned).

Some categories of traits students may come up with include:
a. gender (males vs. females)
b. ethnicities
c. with glasses
d. in labs
e. pencils/pens/pocket-protectors
f. showing lab apparatus
g. with "wild" or unruly hair

4. Discuss the possible origins of these stereotypes.

5. Assign homework:
-----a. Use text to select randomly 10 pictures of scientists.
-----b. Quantify the same data as from the class drawings.
-----c. In addition, over the weekend, watch a TV show, cartoon, or movie which involves one or more scientists, to determine how the scientists are represented (in terms of the categories derived in class).

Remind students to record the name, day, time, and channel of the program they watched, and list the features noted.

6. Have students compare homework data with previous day's class data, making a list of new observations: one list for the textbooks, and a different list for the program or cartoon.

7. Direct the students in a discussion of the impact that different stereotypes have on their perception of scientists in general.

Hold up a mirror to show all individuals in the class their reflection, indicating that they could all be scientists.

8. Direct the students in a discussion of how different cultures might view scientists, using the different cultures represented in the classroom.

9. Ask students to record (in their Log, or on their sketch/data sheets):
----- a. From where do our ideas about scientists come?
----- b. Do you think your ideas about scientists are valid? Why or why not?
----- c. In what ways do your ideas about scientists influence your ideas about science as a whole?


 1. Have students draw their new concept of a scientist, and note how their ideas may have changed from their first sketch.

2. Have students write a letter to a friend explaining why that person could be a scientist.

3. Collect and check the sketches, data, and comments recorded by your students, as a measure of participation.



 1. It might be interesting to compare your class's results (as percentages) with the numbers in the "Anti Gravity" article from Scientific American (November 1997, page 28) at the end of this lesson. Students would probably enjoy having you read the short article (or parts of it) to them afterwards.

2. Consider having your students collect pictures and brief biographies (and/or contributions to science and society) of as many scientists (living and dead) as they can, and making "Scientist Trading Cards". The web might be a good source of such pictures and information. How about one scientist per student?

3. Here's a recent article (5/11/01) about how images of scientists may affect childrens' attutudes about science and scientists: <http://news.bmn.com/hmsbeagle/102/notes/adapt>




Some of the ideas in this lesson may have been adapted from earlier, unacknowledged sources without our knowledge. If the reader believes this to be the case, please let us know, and appropriate corrections will be made. Thanks.

1. Original Source: Steve Randak

2. Modified by: 1992 ENSI: Carol Gontang, Tori Evashenk, Mary Cage, Herschel Sanders; 1993 ENSI: Gary Niva, Jerry Quissel, Karin Westerling, Lucille Williams

3. ENSI / SENSI original developed by:

4. Reviewed / Edited by: Martin Nickels, Craig Nelson, Jean Beard 12/15/97

5. Edited / Revised for website by L. Flammer 8/98

 The following page is in Adobe Acrobat pdf format in order to maintain its intended layout. To access the page for enlarging and copying, etc., you will need to download the free Acrobat Reader from Adobe (unless it's already installed in your system). Then just click on the blue file name at the bottom of the page. You will see the "Acrobat Exchange" application loading, then the page will display. You might need to shift-click and drag the lower left corner of the page to enlarge it.

PDF File of "Anti-Gravity" Article: "The Big Picture", from Scientific American


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