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What is science?

Notes to teachers/instructors/tutors

This activity illustrates ways in which scientific content can be integrated with writing skills, critical reading, analysis, and evaluation. This exemplifies the kinds of activities suggested by adult basic education curriculum, Equipped for the Future, and preparation for the GED.

The activity has a workplace focus, because all the scientists discuss the skills and training needed in order to do their work. They also discuss the joys and frustrations of their jobs.

These eight scientists are members of the Core Knowledge Advisory Group for the Science & Numeracy Special Collection. Not only are they well-regarded and world-renowned researchers, they also have a commitment to adult basic education and adult literacy. The interviews were conducted between October 2002 and July 2003. Each scientist answered the same questions about jobs, interests, and the nature of science itself. Their answers show interesting similarities and differences, as well as a wide range of outside interests and hobbies. Their answers dispel the commonly-held view that scientists stay in laboratories without contact with the outside world.

This activity is suited to individual learners and for groups of learners. To begin the activity, learners might think about the following questions:

  • What is science?

  • What is your mental picture of a scientist?

  • Why would a person become a scientist?

  • What skills and abilities are necessary in order to be a scientist?

Learners then can compare their answers with those of the scientists. Learners also can compare their responses to those of other learners.

The following questions could be used for discussion:

  • What is the picture we have in mind when we think about scientists?

  • Where did we get these mental images?

  • How are scientists portrayed in the media?

  • How do these scientists define science?

  • Why did they become interested in science as a career?

  • What do the scientists say about their jobs?

An instructor might use this activity with a group of learners as a springboard to writing. There is a graphic organizer available as an aid to writing. A learner could compare his/her responses to those of a specific scientist. The statements of several scientists might be compared to each other. An instructor might use this as a jigsaw format activity for a larger group of learners.

The scientists and the lesson designer have tried to simplify the language in this activity. However, it is difficult to find appropriate and accurate substitutes for scientific and technical terms. Therefore, a glossary is included with this activity.

If learners wish to write to individual scientists, have them send their messages to Susan Cowles. Indicate in the subject line the name of the scientist for whom the message is intended.

Learner notes