Lesson Plan – Scientists

scientists_04.jpgScientists – Lesson Plans

Central questions:

  • How do scientists learn about our world?
  • What questions are scientists currently asking about the Polar regions?
  • What is it like to be a scientist in the Polar regions?


  • Each student will read about a scientist and his/her work.
  • Students will introduce their scientist to their classmates.
  • Students will discuss how the work of numerous scientists contributes to knowledge.

Time Needed: At least forty-five minutes

Grade Level: Middle School or High School

INTRODUCTION (5 minutes)

Explain to your students that scientist is just another word for investigator. Similar to detectives, scientists look at the world with a curious perspective and then work to discover new knowledge. Individual scientists or teams of scientists work to answer specific questions on narrow topics. Large groups of scientists then analyze many studies to try to develop a logical explanation of how a system works. Scientists then continue to test their explanation. An explanation gets stronger and stronger as more and more scientists design ways to test the model.

According to the National Academy of Sciences (2005), “Some scientific explanations are so well established that no new evidence is likely to alter them. The explanation becomes a scientific theory. In everyday language a theory means a hunch or speculation. Not so in science. In science, the word theory refers to a comprehensive explanation of an important feature of nature that is supported by many facts gathered over time. Theories also allow scientists to make predictions about as yet unobserved phenomena.”

Because so many different and independent studies contribute to the formation of a theory, one single study that disagrees with the theory does not overturn it. Instead, if the results of a study appear to disagree with an established theory, other scientists review the study, try to replicate its results, look for errors, or try to figure out why it got the results it did.

For example, from 1979 to 2001 some satellite measurements of the temperature in the atmosphere were suggesting that the lower atmosphere was not warming. This finding did not agree with the well-established theory of global warming. Scientists worked to figure out what was causing the disagreement and in 2002 found that the satellite measurements needed a number of adjustments and calibrations. Once corrected, the satellite measurements confirmed the theory of a warming atmosphere (Source: Mears, C.A., Schabel, M.C., & Wentz, F.J. Journal of Climate, May 23, 2003).


Explain to your students that they will have the opportunity to become familiar with some of the scientists doing work in the Arctic as part of the International Polar Year (IPY). The IPY runs from March 2007 to March 2009 (it is really two years so it can include two research seasons at both poles) and is coordinated by the International Council for Science and the World Meteorological Organization. Its goal is to focus scientific attention on the Polar Regions.

Explain to the students that you will distribute a “Meet a Scientist” hand-out to each student. The students will have five minutes to read the hand-out. They will then have another two minutes to take notes on the scientist’s work and life in the field. Each student will use his or her notes to give a two-minute introduction of his or her scientist to a small group of classmates. Each student’s presentation should cover:

  • The scientist’s name
  • The question the scientist is trying to answer
  • The importance of that question
  • How the scientist is attempting to answer the question

Each student’s presentation should also include a short re-telling of an incident the scientist experienced in the field or a creative story about what the scientist experiences in a typical day. Explain to your students that humans have been using storytelling for generations to pass on knowledge and to entertain. Storytelling can make distant experiences “come alive” for an audience.
Give your students some basics on storytelling (source: http://www.timsheppard.co.uk/story/):

  • Pretend you’re confident.
  • Relax, breathe and have fun with it.
  • Use your own words—don’t try to memorize.
  • Just remember a few parts of the plot.
  • Let your imagination create the magic.
  • If you get stuck, don’t frown, curse or apologize—keep going by describing details of sounds, colors, smells, etc. until you remember the story


  1. Divide the class into groups of no more than six. Distribute one “Meet a Scientist” hand-out to each student. (2 minutes)
  2. Each student reads his or her hand-out. (5 minutes)
  3. Each student takes notes in preparation for his or her presentation to the group and mentally prepares for storytelling. (2 minutes)
  4. Each student presents on his or her scientist to his or her small group for a maximum of two minutes. (15 minutes)

Bring the class back together in one large group to discuss the activity. Here are some example questions you might choose:

  • Who can explain how scientific knowledge is gained?
  • What new insights did you gain about how science works?
  • How do the studies one scientist or group of scientists is doing fit in with studies other scientists are doing?
  • What aspects of the being a scientist do you think would be exciting? Rewarding? Frustrating?
  • Do you think most people understand how scientific knowledge is gained?
  • Scientists analyzed thousands of studies to produce the Fourth IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) Report. This report finds that most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic (man-made) greenhouse gas concentrations.”
    • Do you think if some people do not understand how scientific theories become well established, that they might get confused about a well-established theory like global warming if they see one or two studies that seem to disagree with it?

Notes to teachers:

  • While your students are reading their hand-outs, preparing for their presentations, and presenting to each other circulate among them to make sure they are staying focused on the task and to answer any questions they might have.
  • There are more than six hand-outs. You can chose which ones will be most appropriate and engaging for your individual students.
  • Will Steger’s Global Warming 101 expedition to Ellesmere Island in the high Arctic will draw attention to some of the scientific projects being conducted as part of the IPY. You and your students can follow the expedition on www.globalwarming101.com.


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