Science Teaching Series

Internet Resources

I. Developing Scientific Literacy

II. Developing Scientific Reasoning

III. Developing Scientific Understanding

IV. Developing Scientific Problem Solving

V. Developing Scientific Research Skills

VI. Resources for Teaching Science

Problem-Based Learning

(From the Sourcebook for Teaching Science, Norman Herr; 465-466)

Although much legislation deals with issues related to science and technology, few legislators have a strong background in science, as most have been trained in political science, law, and related social sciences.  Legislators often rely upon commissions, “think tanks”, special interest groups, lobbyists, and others who have greater understanding of the issues.  The Brookings Institute, Rand Corporation, Hoover Institution, World Resources Institute, and Heritage Foundation are a few of the many “think tanks” that generate reports that legislators use to guide their decision-making process.  In the activities that follow, you will be a member of a “think tank" and will generate a report to share with “legislators”.  Follow the steps in the problem-based learning (PBL) model as you prepare your report, policy, or action plan.

  1. Knowns – What does your study group already know?  List all relevant information pertaining to the subject.
  2. Ideas – What ideas or hypotheses do you have based upon information you already posses?  List your current ideas prior to research.
  3. Unknowns – What do you need to know? What are your learning needs? Prepare a list of questions that should be answered before you proceed.
  4. Plan – Who will collect the information? Assign responsibilities for data collection.
  5. Problem – What is your problem?  Define your problem in a one to two sentence statement.  
  6. Analysis – What does the data say?  Analyze and discuss your data as it pertains to the problem.
  7. Report – Prepare a report in which you state your findings, inferences, predictions, and recommendations.  Support arguments, conclusions and recommendations with evidence, and state any assumptions that have been made.

Activity 22.3.1 – Preparing reports, policies, and action plans
Select one of the following issues and prepare a report following the PBL steps listed above.

Preparing for disaster -Your city council has just appointed you to an earthquake (or tornado, hurricane, flood, volcano, fire, meteor strike, or other natural disaster) preparedness committee.  Your committee is charged with assessing the risks, creating a disaster preparedness plan, and informing the community.

Saving endangered species - The mountain gorilla is a rare and endangered species living in the mountains of Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Develop a plan for saving the mountain gorilla from extinction.   Alternatively, your committee may develop a plan for saving the Asian elephant, giant panda, black rhinoceros, chimpanzee, tiger, or other endangered species.

Predicting the impact of tropical deforestation - Tropical rainforests comprise less than two percent of the Earth’s surface area, but account for more than 50% of all plant and animal species.  Satellite photos from NASA show extensive deforestation in the Amazonian basin, equatorial Africa, and southeastern Asia.   The United Nations has contracted your company to write a report predicting the biological, hydrological, climactic, economic, and social impacts of tropical rainforest deforestation.

Evaluating environmental legislation and treaties – The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer is an international treaty designed to protect the Earth’s ozone layer from destruction by man-made chemicals.  Nearly all nations have signed the treaty, making it the most widely adopted treaty to date.  The United Nations has hired your team to evaluate the economic, scientific, environmental, and social impacts of the treaty.  Alternatively, your team may select to evaluate the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the United States Endangered Species Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, or the National Environmental Policy Act.

Developing an energy policy - Many experts agree that we have passed the period of peak oil production and that worldwide demand for oil will continually exceed production in the years to come.  The United States Department of Energy has hired your company to serve as a consultant for drafting a new energy policy.  Your company must evaluate the seriousness of the issue and develop a plan that will incorporate a wide variety of innovative technologies to keep energy supply at pace with growing energy demand.

Serving as an expert witness in court – Lawyers often call upon the technical expertise of scientists when preparing their cases for the courtroom.  A prominent legal team has hired your company to evaluate the claims of clients who say that ground water pollution from a local landfill has entered the water supply, resulting in increased sickness in the community.

Judging medical malpractice – As a member of an arbitration team, you are often called to settle disputes.  Both parties agree to abide by your decisions, but expect a fair and impartial ruling based upon solid evidence.  Your current case deals with an athlete who claims that his physician did not adequately repair his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), and as a result, can no longer play professional football.

Protecting the coasts - More than 60% of the population of the United States lives within 50 miles of the coast (Pacific Ocean, Atlantic Ocean, Arctic Ocean, or the Great Lakes).  This percentage is expected to increase as America ages and retirees move to coastal communities.  Coastal development has resulted in degraded coastal water quality, a reduction in the quantity and diversity of coastal wildlife, increased coastal and shoreline erosion, decreased open space for public use, and other ecological problems. Develop a report for the United States Interior Department and state coastal commissions.  Your report should address concerns, trends, and propose workable solutions to protect coastal resources during a period of population growth.