How can constellations convey the nature of scientific knowledge?

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Description of the teaching package

This teaching package may be used as an introduction to the discussion on constellations found in Grade 9 Earth and Space, Unit 3, Module 3. The package includes a PowerPoint presentation, guide, and activity sheet.

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PowerPoint Presentation Guide

Title: How can constellations convey the nature of scientific knowledge?

The usual practice in science classes is to start the academic year by describing what science is. It is commonly defined as a “way of knowing.” However, this is never revisited throughout the academic year and even in the next grade levels. Thus, it is easier for students to explain a science concept than to describe how it was generated. Learning how scientists come to know about a science concept is as important as learning about the science concept itself.

In teaching science, attention is mostly focused on understanding scientific knowledge and seldom on how it is generated. Students do not learn how scientific knowledge is generated simply by engaging in an activity. The activity itself should simulate how such knowledge is created. After the activity, the students in a group must be given an opportunity to reflect on how they worked as a team and share this with the class. This strategy is intended to demonstrate how scientists come to know about the different science concepts that students will eventually learn in school.

One of the misconceptions of students about scientific knowledge is that it is absolute and final. But the nature of science is such that it is an ongoing quest. Scientific knowledge, therefore, is only as good as the current evidence that supports it and may be modified when more and newer evidence is discovered. Since scientists come from different parts of the world with different cultures and ways (methods and equipment) of doing things, they may provide different terms and explanations for different aspects of the same object or phenomenon under study. However, in the end, groups of scientists discuss and may agree on which explanation is backed up by acceptable evidence. The Powerpoint in this package will teach students how creativity and different backgrounds of scientists affect the generation of scientific knowledge.

The slide presentation has three parts. The first part (Slides 2-10) serves as a pre-activity that familiarizes students with some of the known star patterns in the night sky. The slides focus on the Big Dipper asterism as one of the most recognized patterns in Ursa Major, the Big Bear. A story about the Big Bear follows to explain how it got its name.

The second part (Slides 11 to 13) is about the constellation activity. Slide 12 introduces the activity. After showing this slide, the activity sheet is distributed. Working in their respective groups, students are free to create their own constellations and invent stories to explain how the characters or objects in the constellations eventually ended up in the sky. The purpose of this part is to let the students experience how different groups of people in the past created the constellations that we recognize these days. The groups will share their work with the class.

After the activity, the teacher will proceed to Slides 14 to 19. These slides will guide the processing of activity results, in particular, how the creativity of scientists and their varying backgrounds or cultures affect the development of scientific knowledge. To start the discussion, Slide 14 is shown. Students will answer the question, “Are there constellations drawn by your classmates that are similar to yours?” Expected answers are “None,” and “Similar star pattern but with the different name.” This is followed by another question in Slide 15: “Why did your class not come up with a similar star pattern having the same name and story?” Based on the try-out of this activity, the usual answer is, “Because of different types of creativity or different personalities.”

The questions will let students come to the realization that as a class they will never come up with only one constellation with a similar name and story. In fact, the process by which the “Big Dipper” got its various names is similar to the process by which different constellations and stories were invented by the class from the same set of “stars” in the activity map. Slide 17 shows illustrations from different cultures depicting the “Big Dipper” in different ways. The activity should impart the message that “science is a creative endeavour and it is affected by the social and cultural values of those who participate in it. (Slide 18)”

As a summary, Slide 19 points out that the different experiences, prior knowledge, and the kind of environment that members of the group have affect the way they see star patterns in the sky. As a result, there are various ways of observing, creating, and explaining patterns in the sky.

To know more about how scientific knowledge is created and other teaching strategies on how to integrate it, you may read the following articles.

Bell, R.L. (2008). Teaching the Nature of Science through Process Skills. Activities for Grades 3-8. Allyn & Bacon, USA.

Lederman, N. G. (2007). Nature of science: Past, present, and future. In S. K. Abell & N. G. Lederman(Eds.), Handbook of research in science education. Englewood cliffs, NJ: Erlbaum Publishers.

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