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|Explores the realm and limits of science. Engages students to give examples of topics that can be studied by science, and those that cannot. This also takes a look at descriptive terms that reflect the true nature of modern science, and those that do not, especially those that do not fit the popular perceptions of science.|
|Science is limited to the study of the natural world.|
1. Science is limited to natural explanations.
2. The natural world refers to that which is perceived directly or indirectly by our senses.
1. Given a list of topics, students will be able to determine which are suitable subjects for scientific exploration, and which are not.
2. Given a list of descriptive traits, students will be able to say which are characteristic of modern science, and which are not.
Two or three overhead transparencies (see source info
at end of lesson):
Handout sheet with two check-lists:
|One half to a full period could be used (20 - 50 minutes)|
If possible, give your students a short Science Knowledge Survey on the nature of science, to assess their understanding of this topic.
Then (same or following day), introduce "Sunsets, Souls, and Senses"
Probably best to use this early in your "Nature of Science" unit, in the first week of school, to set the tone and background for all that is to follow: the science of biology.
Students can work alone, in pairs, or small groups (3-4), as you prefer. Small groups would probably be best.
Before using any of our Nature of Science lessons, 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.
1. Place the Willy 'n Ethel cartoon (or its equivalent) on the overhead projector, and allow time for students to read and think about it.
2. Ask "What do you think the cartoonist was trying to
3. Ask "What do you personally think is the cause of
the car's problem?"
4. Teacher: "Let's take a vote as to what is causing
5. Teacher: "Why did you choose your answer?"
6. Teacher: "Why wouldn't a mechanic think it is a demon?"
7. Teacher realizes that there are other questions possible,
but keys in on the last question. "A mechanic can only correct
a mechanical flaw. She has no way of seeing a demon, let alone
fixing or getting rid of one. To the owner, the demon may be
causing the intake flow problem, but that is of no concern to
the mechanic. She does not know if demons exist because they
are not measurable. She can only deal with material, measurable
things --- the engine. This is a natural cause which explains
the naturally occurring event."
8. Teacher: "Science has limits, it can only deal with
that which is natural... that is, can be either directly
of indirectly (using instruments) perceived through
the senses. Items which cannot be currently perceived by
the senses cannot currently be dealt with by science. This does
NOT exclude obsevations of EVIDENCE of unseen events. Much of
science involves INFERENCES based on observed circumstantial
evidence, especially if these come from multiple independent
fields of study (such as the reconstruction of extinct ecosystems
and creatures from fossils collected and the associated geology)."
9. Teacher: "The history of science has been concerned
with pushing back the boundaries of the imperceptible, INVENTING
NEW INSTRUMENTS allowing the scientist's brains to be able to
perceive something that was here-to-fore not measurable. Viruses,
onetime thought to be evil spirits now are thought to be protein-wrapped
10. Teacher: pass out the Check Lists sheet, and have students
follow directions for Group A only: "Topics Science Can/Cannot
11. Teacher: leads class in sharing what items were checked
in the Can column and what were checked in the Cannot column,
asking for reasons...
12. Teacher: show overhead of "Human Soul Weighs..."
headline. Ask students: "Is this real science?" Discuss.
13. Teacher: Have students do Group B: "Senses Which
Can be Used... " for each item.
Prepare quiz in which students are asked to match selection of terms (e.g. those found in the check lists) with "Science Can Study" or "Science Cannot Study"
Prepare a second part to the quiz in which students are to match selected terms with whether or not senses can be used to study them.
Add questions designed to measure understanding of REASONS why various selected topics can or cannot be studied.
Some other possible test items:
2. Why can't mechanics fix cars possessed by demons? Explain.
1. A useful companion activity to use with the "Sunsets..." lesson (either before or after the lesson) is to have students working in small teams of 3-4, set up two columns, each headed by: "SCIENCE IS..." and "SCIENCE IS NOT..." respectively. Then, each person in turn removes a term or phrase (each on strip of paper) from its team envelope, and places it under the appropriate heading, according to team consensus. When completed, the teacher will solicit a sampling of results to share with entire class, using overhead or chalk board, discussing any differences until class recognizes reasons why each term goes where it does.
ADDITION: After the two columns are completed, have students record (in pencil) their decisions on the new Science IS - Science is NOT Summary Worksheet by placing x in the appropriate box - left or right - for each item (created by middle school teacher Christine Evans). After discussion (and possible changes), students can keep this summary for review.
PREPARATION: Find the "Cutouts" sheets (2 pages) at the end of this lesson. Make a few more copies (of both pages) than there are teams. Use one copy to make overhead transparencies. Cut apart the terms and phrases on the remaining copies to put into envelopes (both pages of terms into each envelope, one envelope per team). Be sure to shuffle the terms, so they will not be taken out in any particular sequence. There is also a KEY (2.5 pages, in PDF at end of this lesson) to help you with class discussion of WHY certain terms are more appropriate to one group than to the other, especially since some are not common or intuitive associations. This is a great resource to help students to recognize their misconceptions.
2. Another approach you might like to try, after your nature of science "survey" quiz, and then pointing out how many in the class are apparently misinformed (with actual statistics from the "survey" results, if you can), is to simply display a list of "What Science is NOT" on the overhead (exposing one at a time, as you briefly explain it). Then go to a description of What Science IS.
CARTOONS AND HEADLINES:
Click here to get the Willy 'n Ethel cartoon (permission to use kindly granted to us by cartoonist Joe Martin, 2/27/01).
In the second cartoon, two island natives are looking at an erupting volcano on a nearby island, and one says to the other: "It's one of two things, ... either the great god of the inner earth, Timbuktu, is angry with our last virgin sacrifice, or the enormous pressure of a formation of molten rock is breaking through a weak spot in the earth's crust." (World, 8-1-72)
Headline in Weekly World News, Nov. 1, 1988: "HUMAN SOUL WEIGHS 1/3,000TH OF AN OUNCE", "Terminal patients were weighed before and after they died! 'This proves there IS life after death,' say top scientists" [Also, see the article by Massimo Pigliucci that critically discusses the earlier claim - "Study says that the soul weighs 21 grams," go to Rationally Speaking. The "discredited study" linked to from this article is also an excellent example of "Poor Science" that students could analyze.]
Until and unless we get copyright permission to make these
items available to you directly on this site, you have three
1. We could send scanned copies to you, as email attachments if you'll contact us (click on "Talk to us" and request these, specifying which items you want);
2. Find your own cartoons and headlines which will stimulate dialogue concerning the distinction of what science is and is not, what it does and does not do... A useful online resource for catchy headlines would be The Weekly World News <http://www.weeklyworldnews.com/>. Click on its "Stories Archives" and do a search.
3. Draw (or have a creative student draw) your own cartoons. For example, in place of the "volcano" cartoon, you could have two citizens of ancient Greece (in togas) looking at a lightning storm, paraphrasing what the two islanders were saying, or have two native Americans looking out over a city devastated by a major earthquake (or tornado), then paraphrase the islanders' statement. If you do this, and wouldn't mind sharing your cartoon with your colleagues via this site, please send it (or them) to us!
Portions of "The Gods Must Be Crazy."
Portions of "Christine" (the demonic car).
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: "Willie 'n Ethel" lesson prepared
by 1989 ENSI group:
2. Modified by: Jeff Gale (and Ginny Lambert?), 1990 ENSI
3. Reviewed / Edited by: Martin Nickels, Craig Nelson, Jean Beard 12/15/97
4. Edited / Revised for website by L. Flammer 2/25/01, 8/6/01
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