The Nature of Scientific Research
Is science self-correcting over time? Do the processes involved in biomedical research--peer review, collaboration, replication, skepticism--lead to a valuable and trustworthy way of learning about the world?
This curriculum introduces students to ways in which scientific research is conducted, how social forces influence scientific priorities, and how basic scientific research may, or may not, support medical applications for human health. Throughout the unit, students are asked to consider their roles and responsibilities in being scientifically literate citizens.
This curriculum is currently being field-tested by teachers. A draft version of the curriculum is available here.
Please contact Joan Griswold, Curriculum Design Lead, with any comments or feedback. This will also ensure that you receive a copy of the final version when it is complete.
Joan may be reached at email@example.com
Formative Assessment: Identifying Misconceptions
This is an “engage” activity in which students consider whether statements about scientific research are true or false. Students explain their thinking, thereby uncovering some potential misconceptions about the nature of scientific research. This serves to take students’ prior knowledge into account for the remainder of the unit.
The Unit Concept Map helps students to organize concepts and show relationships between subsystems of scientific research they will learn in this unit. This map will be revisited at the end of each lesson.
Lesson One: The Research Process
In this lesson, students participate in a scenario-based lab activity designed to help them define qualities that result in reliable and meaningful scientific research. By having students conduct an investigation following a set protocol that gives highly variable results within and between lab teams, students learn the importance of communication, collaboration, skepticism, repeated trials, replication, and integrity and honesty in data collection. After a class discussion of the checks and balances in place to ensure good science, teams repeat the lab activity with a modification that gives clear consistent results. Lastly, students prepare to submit their results for publication and learn about the peer review process and consider the modifications they are asked to make prior to publication. Through this lesson, students understand that research questions always lead to more questions.
Lesson Two: The Importance of Stupidity in Scientific Research
Students participate in a text-based discussion of the article “The importance of stupidity in scientific research” and consider how success is defined in scientific research.
Lesson Three: The Social Nature of Science
Students participate in an historical activity designed to demonstrate how current research builds on prior understanding, and how scientific priorities are influenced by the social and health concerns of the time. Students are divided into five groups, each representing a different time period. The class then compares demographic data, societal issues, and scientific advances between time periods. For each time period, a student represents a citizen of that time, a medical practitioner, a person with Type 1 Diabetes, and one or more scientists of that time. With an understanding of the cultural milieu, students are then asked to decide what type of research society should support financially. Lastly, students are introduced to the translational research process.
Lesson Four: The Process of Scientific Research
Students arrange sets of cards to show their understanding of the process of biomedical research. Students see how basic research may lead to studies involving both animals and humans and may culminate in the availability of new treatments and medications. Students then apply their understanding of the overall progression of biomedical research to early chromosomal studies and the story of Gleevec, a drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2001 to treat chronic myelogenous leukemia. Lastly, students consider the ethical guidelines that inform scientists in every stage of research. This lesson includes instructions on how to arrange the cards using a foldable.
Lesson Five: Who Should Decide?
In this lesson, students participate in a Structured Academic Controversy around the question, “Should citizens have input into which science grant proposals receive funding? The general public can often see the importance of human research and clinical trials, but they may not be able to see the value of basic research, especially when the budgets are tight. The National Science Foundation (NSF) distributes funds for basic research, and because the applications of the research are not always directly applicable to a health treatment or cure, questions can be raised about the usefulness of the study. Students explore both sides this issue before examining their own personal views.
Teachers are provided with a Media Review and Analysis worksheet which can be used to support students in analyzing media for purpose, perspective, assumptions, claims and impact. This worksheet can be used in any subject and for most types of media. An optional section on scientific process can be used for students analyzing scientific articles. Students are further supported in thoughtful analysis by using a handout entitled My Evolution of Thought, which helps students in identifying their disposition towards a subject before and after analysis. These tools help students explore the importance of being scientifically literate about the nature of scientific research in a world impacted by mass media.
Using what they have learned about the relationship between science and society, how science is communicated, and the checks and balances inherent in the process of scientific research, students consider what it means to be a scientifically literate person. Students create an action plan in which they write about their role and responsibility as a scientifically literate person within the science classroom, outside of the classroom with their peers, and as a citizen in our society.