Request for Course Approval
Inquiry in the Natural World
Larry Wier (Chemistry)
Joel Benington (Biology)
Walter Budzinski (Physics)
Maureen Cox (Mathematics)
Inquiry in the Natural World, as proposed here, has been designed to meet the objectives approved by the Faculty Senate for the core area of the same name. This proposal derives from the prospectus developed by the Inquiry in the Natural World working group that met last spring. That document (attached) expresses the guiding philosophy of this course. Our goal is to give students an experience of the scientific process of inquiry while simultaneously acquainting them with key discoveries and concepts in the modern scientific understanding of the physical universe. That goal is to be achieved by a combination of traditional lectures, cooperative learning exercises, and experimental laboratories. The focus in all of these components will be on the process of scientific inquiry and on a series of pivotal discoveries in the history of science. All instructors in this course (in any given semester) will follow a common syllabus, administer common examinations, and work with the direction of a course coordinator.
Like all the new core area courses, this course has been developed with exceptionally broad consultation. The core area objectives were arrived at following university-wide consultation over a period of years, as realized by a summer commission and approved by the faculty senate. The objectives are as follows:
To introduce the mode of inquiry of the natural sciences.
To enable students to understand and apply basic investigative skills in a problem-solving context.
To examine a sample of fundamental discoveries of the natural sciences.
Last spring, all faculty were invited to participate in a working group to develop a course in accordance with those goals. Members of the departments of physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, mathematics, and computer science contributed to the discussions in that working group and to the final prospectus. That prospectus was then e-mailed for comment and criticism to all university faculty through the CCR electronic discussion list. Finally, this request for course approval was developed by representatives of the physics, chemistry, biology, and mathematics faculty.
One of the goals of the new core curriculum is, "to promote an understanding of the major achievements and the modes of inquiry which have contributed to the intellectual and aesthetic developments of Western culture." One of the major fields of human inquiry is the empirical study of the natural world. No course currently offered at SBU gives students an interdisciplinary introduction to the process of scientific inquiry and the modern scientific understanding of the natural world. This course is intended to address that need.
The subject matter and mode of presenting that subject matter in this course are largely determined by the prospectus developed by the Inquiry in the Natural World working group that met last spring. That prospectus outlines specific objectives for student mastery in this course. Those objectives relate both to student appreciation of the nature of scientific discovery and to student knowledge of the modern scientific understanding of the physical universe. As such, that prospectus (attached) is a key part of the syllabus for this course.
The working group that met last spring developed all aspects of the proposed course except what Dalton Hunkins has referred to as the "delivery system"—the form of instruction that would enable students to meet the objectives outlined in the prospectus. The commission that has generated this proposal focused primarily on designing a delivery system appropriate to the guiding philosophy and course objectives given to us by the INW working group. We have come up with a delivery system that we think will enable the greatest number of students to accomplish those objectives, and will be workable here at St. Bonaventure. We have deliberated about it at length, but we also anticipate that it will be improved upon as the course is considered further by the larger group of faculty who will be teaching the course in the coming years.
The delivery system proposed in the accompanying syllabus comprises three components:
The structure of the proposed course
Who will teach it
How often it will meet and for how long, and how many students will be in each class
What forms of instruction will be used
The content of the course
What topics will be presented and in what order
What sorts of issues will be discussed by students
What experiments will be conducted in the laboratory
How faculty will be educated in subjects outside their areas of expertise
A complete syllabus of the proposed course, including a discussion of each of these components, has been appended to this request for course approval.
Clare 107. Inquiry in the Natural World
An introduction to what we know about the physical universe and how we have discovered it. The process of scientific discovery is explored using major discoveries in the history of science as examples. Topics include the fundamental properties of matter and energy, the nature of chemical reactions, the use of energy by living things, the nature and property of DNA and its role in biological evolution, and the evolution of the human mind/brain. The course includes a combination of lecture, classroom discussion, and an experimental laboratory. 4 credits Fall & Spring.
Contribution of proposal to University’s mission statement
According to our mission statement, St. Bonaventure University, "offers students an excellent liberal arts education and prepares them both for professional careers and of the challenges, discoveries, and conflicts they will face in the future." The liberal arts core is intended to allow students, "to broaden their understanding and appreciation of the history, science, and civilization of Western cultures."
This course will further that mission in a number of ways.
It will introduce students to the essentials of the modern scientific understanding of the physical universe. That knowledge will enable them to be informed participants in the continuing debate concerning the implications of scientific advances for human life. It will also enable them to make informed decisions in their professional careers, and will give them the means to appreciate the meaning and significance of further scientific advances happening now and in the future.
By presenting modern scientific understanding as the outcome of a process of discovery by many people over a great span of time, it will give students an appreciation of the nature of scientific knowledge and its relationship to the history of Western civilization.
It will give students first-hand experience, through classroom discussions and the experimental laboratory, of the nature of scientific discovery. This will enable them to better evaluate the truth-value of new discoveries that they encounter in their daily lives.
This course is an integral part of the proposed new core curriculum. It has been defined to meet the objectives that were agreed upon by the university community and approved by the faculty senate. It will be required of all students once the new core curriculum is instituted.
Inquiry in the Natural World — Proposed Syllabus
I. Course structure
In accordance with the recommendations of the INW working group, we propose the following general course structure:
Two 75-minute class sessions per week (approximately 35 students per section), divided roughly equally between a period of lecture / directed discussion and a period of cooperative learning in groups. The exact fraction of time allotted to each period will vary from session to session.
One 110-minute experimental laboratory per week (approximately 18 students per section).
This course structure necessitates 4 credit hours, of which 1 credit is allotted to the experimental laboratory and 3 credits to the rest of the course. We recognize that a special emphasis has been placed on making all core area courses 3 credits unless absolutely necessary. However, we feel that Inquiry in the Natural World should be offered as a 4-credit course for the following reasons.
A 3-credit course in the context of the proposed structure would necessitate either eliminating the experimental laboratory component or reducing the bi-weekly class sessions to 50 minutes each.
Elimination of the laboratory would seriously jeopardize one of the core area objectives: to enable students to understand and apply basic investigative skills in a problem-solving context. A hands-on, problem-solving approach to scientific investigation necessarily takes time. In order for this process to be profitable to the students, this time must take place with the guidance and supervision of a course instructor. The experimental laboratory component of this class (see below) has been conceived and designed specifically to address this core area objective.
Reduction of the bi-weekly class sessions to 50 minutes each would hamper our ability to employ cooperative learning methods as a way of introducing students to, "the mode of inquiry of the natural sciences." We feel that 75-minute classes in which a cooperative learning period follows and builds on a period of lecture and directed discussion will be a powerful tool for developing in students an appreciation of the scientific method.
Reducing this course to 3 credits would also hamper our ability to knit together a series of scientific discoveries into a coherent ‘story line’ reflecting the essential ideas in the modern scientific understanding of the natural world. Unlike current science classes, this course is intended to bridge physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, and mathematics. Unless the experimental laboratory component were eliminated (which would eliminate altogether the problem-solving aspect of the course), the part of the course devoted to breadth of material would be reduced effectively to two credit hours. This would be unprecedented in an introductory laboratory science course.
As noted in the final report of the INW working group, the American Association for the Advancement of Science has recommended that 16 credit hours of science be the minimum requirement for all graduates of U.S. colleges and universities. Many schools that are now revising their curricula are doing so in the direction of more rather than less science, while we are reducing our natural science requirement from nine hours to four, as recommended here.
Laboratory science courses are generally 4 credit hours. A 4 credit-hour course should therefore be more readily accepted by accrediting agencies, other educational institutions, and state certification boards as satisfying requirements for a laboratory science elective.
In the following two sections, the rationale and general schema for each of the two components of the course are described in detail.
Structure of the 75-minute class sessions
In this component of the course, instructors will introduce students to
the nature and theory of scientific inquiry
key discoveries in the history of science
The introduction of key discoveries serves a twofold purpose
to illustrate the process of scientific inquiry through real-life examples
to introduce students to the major concepts in the modern scientific understanding of the universe
The list of key discoveries has been selected both to illustrate various facets of the process of scientific inquiry and to provide a coherent ‘story line’ as provided for in the final report of the INW working group. For each discovery, instructors and students will focus on a number of topics related to the process of discovery, as outlined in the final report of the INW working group.
The 75-minute class sessions will be divided into two roughly equal parts.
They will begin with a period of lecture and directed class discussion in which the historical context, unanswered question, methods, findings, and implications of the discovery will be described.
This will be followed by a period in which students will work in groups in a cooperative learning mode. At the end of the cooperative learning period, one group will be randomly selected to present the results of their deliberations. Focus topics for cooperative learning exercises will include the following.
The lecture / directed discussion period concludes with a demonstration of an intriguing natural phenomenon. The students then work in cooperative learning groups to devise a testable hypothesis to explain the phenomenon, design an experiment to test their hypothesis, interpret potential results of that experiment, and indicate follow-up experiments that may be necessary to further explain the phenomenon.
Students consider the social, spiritual, or ethical implications of a new scientific discovery.
Students debate aspects of the historical context, methods, findings, and implications of a scientific discovery.
Structure of the experimental laboratory
The experimental laboratory is intended to provide time in class for students to work in groups to design experiments, analyze and interpret data, and consider the implications of scientific findings. Unlike a traditional scientific laboratory, this component of the course will not focus on the performance of technical laboratory procedures. Instead, data will be collected by simple procedures or even provided to students based on experiments performed elsewhere. By streamlining the process of collecting data, we will free students to spend more time on questions of experimental design, analysis and interpretation of data, and generation of further hypotheses and experiments based on their findings. We hope thereby to emphasize science as a process as well as to demonstrate how scientific inquiry can be applied to everyday phenomena that often are taken for granted.
Common syllabus and course director
We strongly feel that this course must have a common syllabus. The idea of common syllabi for the core area courses is perhaps the greatest strength of the proposed new core curriculum. It ensures that a standard of achievement will be required of all students in the course, regardless of section, and it provides all St. Bonaventure students with a common educational experience.
While it will not be necessary for all faculty to discuss exactly the same subjects in exactly the same ways in each and every class, we should strive for as much commonality as is consistent with the instructional style of each faculty member. Certainly there should be common exams. The faculty should also agree upon which pivotal scientific discoveries will be emphasized in each week of the course as well as what topics the students will discuss during cooperative learning exercises. And of course the subject matters of the experimental laboratories should be the same in all sections.
A large, integrated, multi-section course such as Inquiry in the natural world does not run itself. If we hope to achieve a common focus and design, it will be necessary to have a course director who will coordinate and oversee the activities of all participating faculty. This course director should be compensated for their additional effort, preferably by a 3-credit reduction in teaching load.
The table below describes, in a preliminary form, the subjects to be covered in Inquiry in the Natural World. We have expressed each subject in terms of summary statements of ideas to be conveyed, with the names of some scientists and philosophers who performed key experiments in the discovery of those ideas.
Science is not a set of facts but a way of studying the world.
The universe is very old and it is organized very differently than people imagined before they investigated it scientifically.
Cosmology and mechanics were integrated by Newton and Galileo.
Energy exists in many forms (chemical, kinetic, etc.).
Energy can be converted from potential to kinetic but the total amount of energy is conserved.
Entropy increases in any transformation of energy.
Scientific Theories must be supported by empirical data.
Quantitative relationships between variables are expressed as laws (e.g., the gas laws).
The periodic table of elements expresses patterns of chemical reactivity and physical properties of the elements.
The atom, the smallest unit of an element, is itself composed of subatomic particles.
New ways of thinking about light led to new ways of describing electrons in atoms.
The forces in an atom cause atoms to combine in molecules.
In most chemical reactions, matter achieves a more stable state, releasing energy.
The energy of chemical reactions is harnessed by living things and used to drive other (endergonic) chemical reactions.
That energy is harnessed to produce organized structures by enzymes and other proteins.
Michaelis and Menton
The proteins in a cell are built from instructions in a cell’s DNA.
DNA is a molecule that contains information in the sequence of nucleotides and that can be replicated, permitting reproduction of living things.
Imperfect replication of DNA produces mutations, changing the properties of the living thing.
Watson and Crick
Jacob and Monod
Living things have evolved by a process of natural selection.
DNA and the genetic code date back to the earliest living things (3.5 billion years ago).
Living things have evolved over that time as beneficial random mutations in DNA sequences have been selected for.
The evolution of living things has changed the chemistry of the earth and atmosphere.
The changing earth has also affected the evolution of living things. In the present, biochemical processes change the local and global environment.
Humans naturally contribute to those changes.
Animals are one type of living thing—multicellular, getting nutrition by ingestion and digestion of other organisms.
Being active, animals have brains to help them make decisions (find food, reproduce, avoid predation).
Brains contain cells that are specialized to send electrochemical signals from one part of the body to another.
Drugs that act on brain cells affect conscious experience.
The human brain is among the most complex of brains.
Humans developed such complex brains because their social structure favored empathy and cooperation within groups.
Development of language further increased consciousness of self and the potential for cooperation among humans.
We fully expect that the above schematic will be modified as the instructors who will be teaching the course give it more detailed consideration over the next year and a half. It should also be subject to revision from year to year as instructor’s gain experience in presenting scientific ideas in the context of this course.
The material described in the above table will be addressed in three ways
the lecture and directed class discussion at the beginning of each class
the cooperative learning exercises during the latter half of each class
the experimental laboratory each week
As far as possible, the cooperative learning exercises and experimental laboratories will address the same questions as are being discussed in the lecture / directed class discussion part of the course. There will however be times when we will want students to consider some more general aspect of science or the scientific method in the exercises and laboratories. These instances will be more common in the first weeks of the course.
A detailed elaboration of the subject matter for the cooperative learning exercises and the experimental laboratories is beyond the scope of this request for course approval. That will entail a fairly considerable investment of time and effort on the part of the instructors who will be teaching the course. And here especially, exercises and laboratories will most probably be added and subtracted from the course year-by-year as instructors gain experience and discover which subjects engage students interest and are workable in the format being used.
We have, however, conceived a handful of examples of the sort of subjects that we feel would be appropriate for the cooperative learning exercises and experimental laboratories. While not all of these will likely be part of the course in its finished form, they should convey an idea of the sort of inquiry we hope to stimulate in the students who take this course.
Examples of cooperative learning exercises
Week 1: Is science good or evil? Has it made life better or worse for humanity? Is it sufficient to consider only the costs and benefits for humanity or should we also consider other living or non-living things?
Week 1: How do you determine whether your sense perceptions are caused by events in a physical world? Is there, in other words, anything ‘out there’, and why might you think so?
Week 2: What causes objects to be different colors? Do red objects add something to light to make it red or is something taken away? What sort of tests could you perform to distinguish between these hypotheses?
Week 2: Which model of the universe is better, Ptolemy’s or Copernicus’? What sort of additional evidence would be needed to be able to prove one more true than the other?
Week 3: Whose mechanical ideas were sounder, Aristotle’s or Galileo’s? If one is clearly right, why would people have ever believed the ideas of the other?
Week 3: How many different kinds of energy are there? List various examples of energy in the world. Can you group these examples into a small number of general types of energy?
Week 4: Why is air pressure nearly the same everywhere? What are the chances that all of the molecule of air in a room might at one instant be on one side of the room rather than the other?
Examples of experimental laboratories
Weeks 1 and 2: To get students accustomed to the idea of experimentation, we will ask them to perform an experiment of their own devising. They will choose the dependent and independent variables and will frame a plausible hypothesis as to how the dependent variable might be affected by the independent variable. They will then perform the experiment and write up the results in standard scientific format.
Week 3: Students will replicate some of the experiments that Galileo performed to test his hypotheses concerning the nature of motion. This will entail timing (with their own pulse as well as more modern, sophisticated devices), the motions of balls rolling down inclined planes and of pendulums. They will compare their expectations and conclusions with those of Aristotle and Galileo.
Week 5: Students will be provided with data from historical experiments in chemistry and use them to test hypotheses about the nature of matter. These exercises are intended to confront them with the importance of careful measurements and statistical analyses in distinguishing between rival hypotheses.
Week 7: Students will replicate some of the classic experiments that demonstrated that light behaves as a wave, even though in other ways it appears to behave as a particle.
Week 14: Students will perform some of the classic experimental protocols that have been used to test for extrasensory perception in humans. The results of individuals and the class will be analyzed and the statistical probabilities of students guessing at higher than chance levels will be determined. There will be a discussion of what can reasonably be concluded from such experiments, when apparently positive results are obtained.
This course, like most of the core area courses, is interdisciplinary by design. In the new core curriculum, we are emphasizing the integration of knowledge. We in the natural sciences feel that fragmenting the instruction in an interdisciplinary course sends students the wrong message. It is better to have faculty teaching outside of their areas of specialization than to communicate to students that only ‘experts’ can make adequate sense of any particular subject.
There are, however, advantages to having any course taught by an expert. Although a non-expert should be readily able to master the core content that we are expecting students to grasp, an expert is bound to be better able to
present the core content in the most intelligible manner by emphasizing the key themes underlying a multitude of details
reflect critically on current ideas and interpretations of the subject
answer questions that go beyond that core content
introduce stimulating examples that give life to the core content.
An essential part of the evolution of any integrative course should be a system whereby all faculty teaching the course can be educated by those faculty who have more expertise in each component subject area. As long as it is understood that such a system needs to exist, that system should evolve naturally over time as the course is being planned and then offered. We anticipate a number of mechanisms for educating the faculty of Inquiry in the Natural World:
Natural science faculty (including but not limited to those who will be teaching the course) should contribute articles that they have come across which present ideas in their areas of specialization in an interesting and enlightening manner to a more general audience.
Natural science faculty should also generate text of their own, explicating and putting into perspective those concepts in their areas of specialization that they think are most pivotal and intriguing.
Before the beginning of a semester in which the course is to be offered (and especially during the summer before the first offering), faculty who will be teaching the course should get together and discuss the ideas in the course and how to present them.
Each week during any semester in which the course is offered, faculty teaching the course should get together and go over the material to be presented in the coming week.
Teaching any integrative course requires a special commitment on the part of faculty. The additional effort required will of course be greatest during the first semesters that any faculty member teaches the course, but contributing to such a course should also entail a continuing process of broad self-education. For dedicated faculty, such a process yields rewards of its own in more widespread knowledge and insight. Those rewards will hopefully draw those faculty to the course who are most enthusiastic about integrating their own knowledge across the natural sciences.
Mechanisms such as are outlined above are necessary to support participating faculty in their own efforts to educate themselves more broadly. To enable this course to be taught in a credible manner from its inception, it will be essential now or as soon as possible to begin the work of accumulating the readings and internally generated text that will comprise a sort of instructor’s manual for Inquiry in the natural world.
Inquiry into the Natural World: A Prospectus
Participants in Working Group:
Joel Benington, Ted Georgian, Romy Knittel, John Kupinski, Jim Miller, Patty Parsley
Chris Marks, Larry Wier
Dalton Hunkins, chair of working group
The INW Working Group was charged with constructing a prospectus for the Clare College core course Inquiry into the Natural World. The prospectus provides guidance on how the course should be structured to meet its area objectives as established by the Faculty Senate. Those objectives are
to introduce the mode of inquiry of the natural sciences
to enable students to understand and apply basic investigatory skills in a problem solving context
to examine a sample of fundamental discoveries of the natural sciences
The content of this report will be the basis of a summer commission’s work. The summer commission will address the detailed lesson by lesson topical coverage with student based objectives and the actual structure of the course.
The working group defines the following orientation for the course and, in turn, the main theme of the course.
Inquiry into the Natural World is centered around the process of scientific inquiry (i.e. how science works) with discoveries in science providing examples of the process. Although the use of discoveries helps make the process concrete, there is a thread through the discoveries, called a story line, that gives the student a cohesive understanding of the scientific explanation of the natural world.
Three areas are encompassed within the main theme and are described further within this prospectus. The areas are
the process of scientific inquiry and a related set of student based objectives
a set of student based objectives relative to the discoveries which are generic and applicable to any one of the discoveries.
a "story line" and a listing of discoveries that fit the story line. The story line establishes a thread through the discoveries and, in turn, provides justification for a particular discovery’s inclusion in the topical coverage of the course.
The report concludes with a section on recommendations for credit hours, course structure and course administration.
The Process of Scientific Inquiry
This section is in three parts. The first part, Description, defines the process for this document (and possibly the course itself). However, the student based objectives listed below will be the basis for the course content relative to the process. The second part is organized into general expected outcomes followed by specific student based objectives. The third part, Experiencing the Complete Cycle Using Formal Statistical Methods, lists objectives for an important component of the course. Although the student will experience various aspects of scientific inquiry throughout the course, the student should experience the complete cycle of steps towards the conclusion of the course, using one application and applying formal statistical methods.
The process of scientific inquiry (i.e., the scientific method) can be broken into the following four parts.
making observations through identifying patterns and regularities that exist in nature or obtained through experimentation
forming a testable hypothesis based on observations
constructing tests and predictions on test outcomes to support or reject an hypothesis
carrying out tests that support, reject or modify the hypothesis based on test results
It is understood that the scientific method is iterative and can be entered at any one of the four parts. Also, not all discoveries follow the four parts in a fixed manner (for example, an hypothesis may be based on observations of occurrences or may be based on experimentation). Further, two competing ideas may arise but there must be an acceptable criteria when choosing between the two. In any event, the method differentiates science from pseudoscience in that accepted ideas in science have been verified through tests that are reproducible which is not the case for pseudoscience.
Student Based Objectives Related to the Process
know the four parts of the scientific method
understand the role each part plays in acquiring scientific knowledge
understand why the process of scientific inquiry is iterative
understand why the process need not start with the first part of the method
be able to identify each part of the scientific method exhibited in a specific scientific investigation or discovery when given a narrative description of the specific investigation (for example, Mendel’s experimental crosses of peas)
be able to formulate an hypothesis when given a set of data and/or observations
be able to define a procedure by which an hypothesis can be tested when given the hypothesis and its context
understand the difference between experiments designed to (a) support an hypothesis; (b) evaluate alternate hypotheses; (c) reject an hypothesis.
understand when test results provide sufficient evidence to support or reject a given hypothesis
be able to formulate a new hypothesis when test results indicate that the original hypothesis needs to be modified
be able to critique an example of weak science (or pseudoscience) by identifying the parts of the scientific process which were omitted or not performed properly (for example, an uncontrolled experiment which claimed to demonstrate the effectiveness of a drug but didn’t rule out the placebo effect)
be able to discuss the status and degree of certainty that should be ascribed to a currently held scientific explanation. (for example, how certain is the hypothesis of human-generated global warming)
understand whether or not scientific knowledge progresses toward a better and more consistent description of nature
understand what is meant by the statement individual scientists are often wrong, but the scientific process is inherently self-correcting
understand the episodic nature of scientific progress as demonstrated through an analysis of a case in which current researchers in a field are in major disagreement (for example, steady state vs. expansion models of the universe, graduated vs. punctuated equilibrium views of evolution)
understand implications of answers to the question Is scientific knowledge "objective", or is it conditioned by personal and/or social beliefs?
understand some ways in which scientific knowledge and associated technology have affected current beliefs and living conditions.
Experiencing the Complete Cycle Using Formal Statistical Methods
Expected Outcome: Students will be able to carry out a complete cycle of the steps of the scientific method in the investigation of a phenomenon.
Expected Outcome: Students will be able to apply statistical methods in this investigation.
be able to choose an appropriate phenomenon to study (Choose a random variable as opposed to a qualitative variable.)
be able to collect a sample of data for this phenomenon (Assign numerical values to the random variable for a small number of elements in the sample space.)
be able to form a testable hypothesis about the phenomenon based on knowledge or intuition about the population from which the sample data was taken (Choose a null hypothesis.)
be able to form a counter hypothesis based on the sample data (Choose an alternative hypothesis.)
be able to test the hypothesis using an appropriate statistical test
be able to choose a significance level for the test
be able to determine a critical value for the test based on the distribution of the population and the significance level
be able to compare the critical value with the appropriate value from the data
be able to reject or support the hypothesis based on this comparison
be able to revise the hypothesis, if necessary, based on the test results
Student Based Objectives for the Discoveries
Although the course must introduce students to a sample of fundamental discoveries as mandated by the third area objective given in the introduction, these discoveries should be presented as real-life examples of the process of scientific inquiry. This approach involves a somewhat historical mode of presentation from which students develop an appreciation of how the discoveries came about – that is, what circumstances favored them and what circumstances held them back. Therefore, students will accomplish the following objectives for a number of key scientific discoveries.
know the question that was to be answered
understand the design of the experiment and/or the methods of the observations
know what data were collected
understand what conclusions were drawn and why
know what issues remained unresolved
know what motivated the investigator
know what prevented others from making the discovery earlier
understand how the discovery has changed our world (physically and conceptually)
Some of these objectives correspond to the four parts of a standard scientific article. The first is introduction, the second is methods, the third is results, and the fourth and fifth are discussion. The sixth and seventh get into the psychology and logistics of the scientific enterprise, and the last addresses the effects of the discovery on our lives.
It may not be necessary, desirable, or even possible to assign these objectives for every discovery, but this historical, process-oriented approach to understanding science should be emphasized throughout the course.
The Story Line and Discoveries
A list of discoveries follows this narrative and are referenced within the narrative. It is not the intention of the INW working group to present the list as the minimum set of topics for inclusion in the Inquiry course. The final decision on topical coverage belongs to the summer commission when it considers the detailed syllabus. However, the summer commission is strongly encouraged to make its selection from the list and in the spirit of the story line.
Narrative of Story Line
The scientific method is illustrated by our model for the solar system in Area 1 since it represents a model in which we have an extremely high level of confidence. The discussion of Area 1 could include a brief description of our address in the universe as well as a comparison with previous models and a history of how it became the accepted model. The historical discussion leads naturally to Newton’s theory of motion in Area 2 which "drove the nails into the coffin" of the geocentric model. This change in paradigm from a stationary to a moving earth allows for a brief history of motion from Aristotle’s theory to the modern reformulation of mechanics in terms of momentum and energy.
Conservation of energy and the "energy crisis", topics of Area 3, follow naturally. They can be illustrated by the first law of thermodynamics, which in turn leads to the second law and the direction of natural processes. The usefulness of the energy concept could also be demonstrated by discussing the possibility of perpetual motion machines. Thermodynamics’ macroscopic considerations can be brought to microscopic models through an example such as the free expansion of gases, and from there to the kinetic theory of gases.
Area 4 and a discussion of the atomic model including a history of its success in chemistry is the next topic in this story line. A treatment of models of the atom in Area 5 and the combination of atoms into molecules and cells in Area 6 would then follow naturally. This chemical description can then be connected to a description of rocks and minerals through the rock cycle. This, in turn, illustrates the principle of uniformitarianism which can be explained by plate tectonics in Area 7. It should also be noted how this relatively new theory explains catastrophic events such as earthquakes and volcanism. A brief history of how the elements formed might also be included here or in Area 5.
The topics thus far can be tied into Darwin’s theory of evolution for living matter on earth in Area 8. From there the macroscopic and microscopic explanations of biological processes can be treated in Area 9 and their implications for humans in Area 10. This story line can be concluded with Area 11 with an illustration of scientific understanding in a more embryonic, or less certain, case, i.e., the brain. If time allows, a discussion of animal and human behavior could also be added as Area 12.
The Discovery List
Area 1: The universe and our solar system
ancient/medieval view of the universe
Galileo and Kepler
Area 2: Motion and Energy
Newton (gravity and laws of motion)
conservation of energy
Area 3: Nature’s Arrow
Entropy. Why the sun can’t burn forever. The energy crisis
Thermonuclear creation of heavy elements (this relates back to the creation of the solar system)
Area 4: Atomic Model of Matter
Lavoisier’s law of conservation of matter
Dalton’s law of definite proportions
Mendelyeev’s periodic table
Area 5: Subatomic Structure
discovery of the electron and neutron
Rutherford and Bohr atomic models
atomic spectra (this ties into the idea of the red shift and an expanding universe in area 1)
Becquerel and radioactivity
Area 6: Atoms in Combination
What are molecules?
How do cells harness the energy of glucose to grow?
How long have cells been around? Fossils of unicellular life forms that are found in very old rock strata indicate life 3.8 billion years ago.
Area 7: The Changing Planet Earth
Why is the earth still hot inside? (this relates back to the creation of heavy elements in stars.)
Area 8: Darwinian Evolution
discovery of fossils in rock strata and an appreciation of the diversity of living things lead biologists to seek a coherent explanation
How did Darwin arrive at the theory of natural selection. What were the "holes" in his theory?
Area 9: Inheritance, Mutation and DNA
the origin of diversity (mutation)
DNA (Watson + Crick, Avery)
recombinant DNA technology – the biological revolution
Area 10: Human Evolution
what we know about the origin of humans
The Human Genome Project – future human evolution will be self-directed
Area 11: The Human Mind/Brain
mind = brain
inquiry into the workings of the brain. What we don’t know
Area 12: Animal and Human Behavior
language, emotions, intelligence, instincts
Recommendations on Credit Hours, Course Structure and Course Administration
It should be apparent from the course’s main theme as presented in this prospectus that students must be actively engaged in the process of scientific inquiry. Experience easily demonstrates that simply lecturing on the process would be rather ineffective especially for the non-science majors taking the course. Therefore, the course requires laboratory sessions where students gather with an instructor to gain first hand experience of the process of scientific inquiry. It is not intended that the laboratory sessions be laboratories in the traditional sense where students carry out "cookbook" experimental exercises. But instead, the sessions provide a "practicum/seminar" aspect to the course. The sessions will encourage learning through activities such as outside readings, use of mathematical analysis and computers, problem solving, cooperative learning, and oral and written reports.
As also noted from this prospectus, there is a content component to the course, namely, the discovery areas. Expecting students to learn about the discoveries strictly through readings would not be successful due to their technical nature. Therefore, lectures and/or directed discussions in which the discoveries are presented should also be part of the course structure.
The recommendations in 1 suggest a mixed mode of teaching which differs from the lecture-laboratory model that is traditional to science courses. Further, lectures and other passive learning situations should consume no more than 40 percent of the instructional time.
One method for handling the two components is to begin each unit of study with a keynote lecture attended by a large group of students. Breakout sessions would follow with an instructor meeting with smaller groups of students. Discussion of outside readings in conjunction with the content of the keynote lecture would be one aspect of the breakout session. Other aspects of the breakout sessions would be hands-on experience with the process of scientific inquiry. In general, the breakout sessions would be a combination of discussion and laboratory sessions providing the practium/seminar component to the course.
A keynote lecture followed by breakout sessions on a weekly basis is only one possible method for delivering the course. The actual weekly organization must come from the detailed syllabus once it is developed by the summer commission. However, the summer commission should not be wedded to a traditional organization. Also, an innovative organization may require non-traditional scheduling.
As already noted, the course requires the students to have "hands-on" experience in addition to studying discoveries in the sciences. Due to the uniqueness of the sciences and the dual components of the course, four student credit hours are necessary to handle adequately both components. In further defense of four student credit hours, the American Association of the Advancement of Science has recently recommended that 16 credit hours of science be the minimum requirement for all graduates of U.S. colleges and universities. Moreover, many schools that are now revising their curricula are doing so in the direction of more rather than less science, while we are reducing our natural science requirement from nine hours to four as recommended here.
The prospectus calls for the use of quantitative methods and, in particular, the use of formal statistical methods in a culminating experience related to the process of scientific inquiry. When the basic skills requirement is finalized and if it includes such quantitative skills, those responsible for the Inquiry into the Natural World course and its changes should consider the basic skills requirement as a prerequisite.
It has been implicitly indicated within this prospectus that all sections of the course would follow the same syllabus on a weekly, if not daily, basis. Therefore, one course instructor should be given the additional responsibility for coordinating the course. Coordination includes conducting meetings of instructors teaching the course and overseeing the preparation and distribution of syllabi, reading materials, materials for the laboratory sessions, and common tests/examinations. The course director must be compensated for these duties with additional credit hours towards his/her teaching load.
Assessment is important to fine tuning the course. If test and examination results are used as part of the assessment data, then it is necessary that all students in a given semester take the same major tests and final examination. Also, consistency in grading may require that the common tests and examinations be graded in an "assembly line fashion" similar to the method used by ETS in grading AP exams.
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