To understand the diversity of the scientific enterprise.
The lesson provides several activities that can be done in a series or individually to help students understand the diversity of science, both in terms of the work and the people engaged in the work. Teachers should emphasize the diversity to be found in the scientific community: different kinds of people (in terms of race, sex, age, nationality) pursuing different sciences and working in different places (from isolated field sites to labs to offices).
Students can learn that some scientists and engineers use huge instruments (e.g., particle accelerators or telescopes), and others use only notebooks and pencils. And most of all, students can begin to realize that doing science involves more than "scientists," and that many different occupations are part of the scientific enterprise.
When asked to describe their views about science in general, high-school students portray scientists as brilliant, dedicated, and essential to the world. However, when asked about science as a career, they respond with a negative image of scientific work and scientists. They see scientific work as dull and rarely rewarding, and scientists as bearded, balding, working alone in the laboratory, isolated and lonely (Mead & Metraux, 1957).
This image of scientists has also been frequently documented among elementary—and middle-school students (Fort & Varney, 1989; Newton & Newton, 1992). Some research suggests that this image may represent students' knowledge of the public stereotype rather than their personal views and knowledge of science and scientists ( Benchmarks for Science Literacy, p. 333).
The magazines and newspapers can be supplied by you or the students, and can be brought from home several weeks before the lesson.
Begin with a brainstorming session about science and everyday life. Hold up a picture from a magazine and ask students to describe the science behind the picture. For example, if there is a car in the picture, science and engineering was used to design and build the car. If there is food in the picture, science can be found in how the food was grown or produced.
The Canada Science and Technology Museum's Images of Canada Gallery offers many images that would be relevant to this activity.
Part One: Science Collage
Divide the class into small groups. Ask group members to look through the magazines for pictures that are related to science. Have them cut out the pictures and paste them onto poster board. Each group should come up with a title for their collage and write it across the top with the markers.
Have each group select a person to describe their collages to the class.
Questions to ask:
- Why did you select the pictures you used?
- Look at the other collages. Compare your selections with those of the other groups.
- What does your selection say about how you think of science?
Part Two: Draw a Scientist
Ask students to create a mental picture of what a scientist looks like. Then ask them to draw a picture of that scientist at work.
After students have drawn their pictures, discuss the drawings with the class. This activity has been done many times with many different audiences. Generally, people will draw a scientist as a white male wearing a lab coat and working with test tubes in a laboratory.
Often, the image resembles the stereotype of the "mad scientist." Rarely is the scientist seen as a female or as a member of an ethnic minority group.
Questions to ask:
- Did you draw a male or a female scientist?
- Describe the setting in which your scientist is working.
- What kind of work is he/she doing?
- Compare your drawing with those of the other students. Were the pictures similar or different?
After students have discussed their drawings, have them visit some of the sites listed below to learn more about a diverse group of scientists around the world:
- The Faces of Science: African Americans in the Sciences
- Developing Country Researchers
- Graduate Student Researchers
- Biography Project
- The Secret Life of Scientists & Engineers
- Science Update: Spotlight on African-American Scientists
- Women in Science: Forging New Pathways in Green Science
After students have explored these sites, discuss whether what they have read has changed their thinking about what a scientist would look like. Allow them to revise their drawings.
Part Three: Science in the News
Ask students to bring in samples of newspapers. Use a mixture of local newspapers and national newspapers such as USA Today.
Divide the class into small groups. Have each group examine a number of newspapers to look for stories that are related to science. These stories can be about health, medicine, new technology, weather, or space exploration, to name a few.
Ask each group to select three different stories and prepare a presentation for the class. The presentation should not only explain what the story is about, but also discuss what the role of science is in the story.
Questions to ask:
- Why did you select the articles you used?
- How easy was it to find stories about science?
- Which science or health topics were easiest to find? Which were hardest? Compare your selections with those of the other groups.
- Are any science experts quoted in the story? What did they say?
To assess the lesson, ask students to write a paragraph supporting the following statement:
"Doing science involves many different kinds of work and engages men and women of all ages and backgrounds."
Have them cite examples from the newspaper articles they or their classmates selected to support their answer.
Students can begin to explore science careers in a variety of fields at the Science Buddies website.
To help understand the role of women in science and technology, students can explore the 4000 Years of Women in Science website.