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The Scientific Method and Principles of Science

Although labs may not be as integral a part of an environmental science course as with other sciences, it is still essential that students have a clear understanding of the scientific method and its importance. Nearly every aspect of environmental science has conflicting viewpoints. Many of these viewpoints have at least some basis in research and scientific principle, while others more closely resemble pseudoscience. An ability to use and recognize the scientific method will enable students to differentiate between true science and junk science later in the course.


Scientific Method and Principles of Science Unit Plan

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Purpose: This is an outline of the major topics covered within this unit, their suggested sequence, a time estimate for each topic, and important objectives and vocabulary covered by this unit. Links are provided for any website, video clip, worksheet, or lecture Powerpoint needed by the instructor.
This unit plan is primarily written for instructors of upper-level high school students and introductory college-level students.


Principles of Science Lecture Powerpoint

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Purpose: This Powerpoint provides the structure and ordering of the unit. Break up the lecture into sections by adding activites, discussions, labs, and videos. This will allow the material within the unit to be taught in small, managable amounts, while giving students the opportunity to apply the knowledge in a variety of different ways.

Essential Concepts: Scientific method, pseudoscience, hypothesis, theory, observation, experimental group, control group, independent variable, dependent variable, prediction, natural experiment, modeled experiment, blind experiment, double-blind experiment, probability, sample size, matter, law of conservation of matter, energy, laws of thermodynamics, atomic structure, protons, neutrons, electrons, atom, molecule, compound, pH scale, acids, bases.


Principles of Science Lecture Notes Outline

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Purpose: Taking efficient notes can be a big challenge for many students, especially when working from a Powerpoint lecture. This outline gives students a means to take notes that guides them toward important concepts and avoids the pitfalls of writing word-for-word or simply not taking notes at all. The outline is written as a series of questions, fill-in-the-blanks, or diagrams.

Essential Concepts: Scientific method, pseudoscience, hypothesis, theory, observation, experimental group, control group, independent variable, dependent variable, prediction, natural experiment, modeled experiment, blind experiment, double-blind experiment, probability, sample size, matter, law of conservation of matter, energy, laws of thermodynamics, atomic structure, protons, neutrons, electrons, atom, molecule, compound, pH scale, acids, bases.


Famous Examples of the Scientific Method Worksheet

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Purpose: The scientific method is a concept that is taught in every science class. However, students often do not seem to fully grasp its importance as a tool in experimental design. This worksheet shows them three famous experiments, the results of which continue to affect us even today. The experiments include: Beriberi in chickens, the discovery of Penicillin, and the debunking of spontaneous generation. The first two experiments students will analyze and identify the different parts of the scientific method and experimental design. The last experiment students will use as a basis to create their own procedure

Essential Concepts: Scientific method, pseudoscience, hypothesis, theory, observation, experimental group, control group, independent variable, dependent variable, prediction


Mythbusters Clip: "Who Gets Wetter?"

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Purpose: This is one part of episode one of Mythbusters as seen on the Discovery Channel, entitled "Magic Bullet, Exploding Toilet, Who Gets Wetter?" Most segments of the Mythbusters television show are great for illustrating the scientific method. This one in particular is effective, as the actual raw quantitative data collected in the experiment is shown. Students can perform an analysis of their own and assess the validity of the conclusions of this segment.

Essential Concepts: Scientific method, experimental design, quantitative data, graphing, independent variable, dependent variable, sample size, natural experiments, modeled experiments.


The Eyes of Nye: Pseudoscience

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Purpose: This episode of the "Eyes of Nye" gives students a brief tour of some of the most famous examples of modern pseudoscience. Bill Nye applies the scientific method to "extraordinary claims" such as astrology, fortune-telling, palm-reading, tarot cards, firewalking, and others.

Essential Concepts: Pseudoscience, scientific method, bias, experimental design, astrology, zodiac, fire walking, tarot cards, psychics, cold reading.


Lab: Applying the Scientific Method to Pill Bug Behavior

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Purpose: The best way to learn the scientific method is to actually apply it in a hands-on way. This lab allows students to work with living isopods; pill bugs, and measure the effect of different environmental variables like pH and light on their behavior.

Essential Concepts: Scientific method, observation, experiment, independent variable, dependent variable, hypothesis, conclusion, data analysis.


Journal Writing Assignment: Astrology

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Purpose: This journal writing assignment has students use a popular website to critically analyze their own horoscope. The class is encouraged to identify any statements in the horoscope which are written in a very general sense and could apply to almost anyone. This assignment is a good practice for students learning to distinguish science and pseudoscience.

Essential Concepts: Pseudoscience, scientific method, bias, experimental design, astrology, zodiac.


Journal Writing Assignment: Planet X Doomsday

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Purpose: This journal writing assignment has students to examine a popular doomsday scenario that has persisted throughout the internet over the last several years. The idea of Planet X is liked to a woman who claims to have been contacted by aliens in an attempt to warn the human race of its impending destruction due to planetary collision. Students will examine the arguments behind this scenario, including any photographic evidence offered by the ZetaTalk website and form their own conclusions as to the validity of this idea.

Essential Concepts: Pseudoscience, scientific method, bias, experimental design, Nibiru, 2012, Planet X.


PBS Nova Documentary: Secrets of the Psychics

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Purpose: This documentary explores multiple supernatural claims made by psychics, psychic healers, faith healers, and others. Students will see that when the scientific method is applied to each of these claims, they fall apart rather quickly.

Essential Concepts: Pseudoscience, scientific method, experimental design, independent variable, dependent variable, double-blind experiment



Scientific Method and Principles Study Guide

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Purpose: Once the instruction for the unit is completed, students can complete this study guide to aid in their preparation for a written test. The study guide is divided into two sections: vocabulary and short answer questions. The vocabulary is taken directly form the lecture, sequentially. The short answer questions are meant to model the type they may see on the exam.

Essential Concepts: Scientific method, pseudoscience, hypothesis, theory, observation, experimental group, control group, independent variable, dependent variable, prediction, natural experiment, modeled experiment, blind experiment, double-blind experiment, probability, sample size, matter, law of conservation of matter, energy, laws of thermodynamics, atomic structure, protons, neutrons, electrons, atom, molecule, compound, pH scale, acids, bases.


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