Learning to do science is about learning to think. Experiments, direct teaching, cooperative learning, group activities and discussions all have a part to play. The latest real science stories can be used as source material for all of these.
Like other non-fiction texts, science stories contain different kinds of statements. To get at the science behind the words - and to make reading them an active experience - students should be encouraged to pull a text apart and explore the kinds of statement it contains.
Science news stories usually include the aims of the research or reasons for doing it. They often contain a hypothesis. Sometimes evidence for a hypothesis is given, or a hypothesis is used to make a prediction. Towards the end of a story the direction of future research the scientists are planning is often discussed, as well as outstanding questions the research will be designed to answer.
All these types of statement can be found in some science stories. Virtually all science stories however are written almost entirely using the following four types of statement:
new findings or developments;
the technology and methods the scientists used;
previous or accepted knowledge, which may or may not be supported by the new findings;
issues, implications and applications of the new research.
So the first group activity is designed to engage students with the latest news by exploring the structure and composition of a science story as revealed by the balance of these four types of statement:
In groups, students should read through the latest story looking for new findings or developments. Once they have reached agreement - or at least consensus - they should underline all the statements about what the scientists have just discovered or achieved.
In groups they should go through the story again looking for the technology and methods the scientists used in their research. Once they have reached agreement or consensus they should underline (in a different colour) all the statements about what the scientists have just discovered or achieved.
They should repeat the activity for existing knowledge.
Inevitable areas of disagreement in these activities, whether among the students or between teacher and students, should be regarded as opportunities for discussion, not errors to be corrected.
This initial exercise to engage students with the science news puts them in the right frame of mind for talking and thinking about the science, its implications and applications.
Now it’s time for them to get to grips with these issues raised by the research.
Young people have opinions. But school science as traditionally taught allowed little scope, or indeed time, for forming and expressing these - which is one reason it turned many of them off the subject for life.
Students should read through the latest story in groups, looking for statements about the issues, implications and applications of the research. Once they have reached agreement, or at least consensus, they should underline all the statements of these they have found in the story. When a class has tried this exercise a few times with different stories, they should be encouraged to devise their own discussion, research and presentation activities, starting from a new story and using issues, implications and applications identified by themselves.
Suggested discussion topics arising from this kind of exercise on the latest story are provided here, along with further topics and questions raised by the filmed interviews with the scientists who have been doing the research.