The Social Nature of Scientific Research

How do social forces shape how science is conducted, funded, communicated and reviewed? Do the practices and processes employed in biomedical research—collaboration, communication, skepticism, and peer review—lead to a valuable and objective way of learning about the world?

This curriculum introduces students to ways in which scientific research is conducted, how social forces influence scientific priorities, and how basic scientific research may, or may not, support medical applications for human health. Throughout the unit, students are asked to consider their roles and responsibilities in being scientifically literate citizens.

The 118-page curriculum constists of five lessons, formative and summative assessments, and student media review and analysis handouts. Download the complete curriculum here

An article about Gummy Bear Lab Meeting: Social Practices in a Scientific Community was recently published in the 2013 summer issue of NSTA's publication The Science Teacher.

Lesson descriptions and supporting materials can be found under the Lessons page.

"I use this to begin the school year in my level science class and then refer back to it often when beginning new inquiry units."

"Use this to generate some GREAT science discussions whose issues would resonate all year long in students. EASY to insert into any high school science class!"

"I use this to introduce how science works and what science is (early and after ethics). It is great for getting students to think of process."







The Social Nature of Scientific Research Individual Lessons


    Complete Lesson Plans
  • Curriculum Overview, Credits, Science Standards PDF icon 0Credits_Overview_Standards_SNoSR.pdf

    This document provides an overview of the five lessons in the curriculum, the formative and summative assessments, and student media review resources found in the appendix. It also gives credit to the authors and contributors, and maps the curriculum to the Framework for the Next Generation Science Standards, National Science Standards and Common Core State Standards.

  • Formative Assessment and Graphic Organizer PDF icon 0Form_Assess_Graphic_Organizer_SNoSR.pdf

    Identifying Misconceptions -- Formative Assessment
    The formative assessment is an “engage” activity in which students consider whether they agree or disagree with statements about the nature of scientific research. Students first talk in pairs, then “vote with their feet” by standing along a continuum that best represents their position on the statement. This serves to take students’ prior knowledge into account for the remainder of the unit, and uncovers potential misconceptions about the nature of scientific research.

    Graphic Organizer
    The unit graphic organizer helps students to consolidate concepts and show relationships between subsystems of scientific research they will learn in this unit. This organizer will be revisited at the end of each lesson. 

    Download a blank Graphic Organizer.

  • Lesson One Gummy Bear Lab Meeting: Social Practices in a Scientific Community PDF icon 1GummyBearLabMeeting_SNoSR.pdf

    In this lesson, students participate in a scenario-based lab activity designed to help them define qualities that result in reliable and meaningful scientific research.  By having students conduct an investigation  that gives highly variable results within and between lab teams, students learn the importance of making strong arguments in science as they use evidence and reasoning to support their claims.  They also communicate, collaborate, and skeptically evaluate each other’s claims. Other aspects of scientific practices that the lesson raises include the importance of repeated trials, replicable methods, and integrity and honesty in data collection.  After a class discussion of the checks and balances in place to ensure good science, teams repeat the lab activity with a protocol that they decide collaboratively. Lastly, students prepare to “submit their results for publication” and learn about the peer review process.  

  • Lesson Two "Stupidity" in Science: A Text-based Discussion PDF icon 2Stupidity_in_Science_SNoSR.pdf

    Students participate in a text-based discussion of the article “The importance of stupidity in scientific research” by Martin Schwartz. Using evidence found in the text, students consider how success is defined in scientific research and discuss how scientific pursuits may require persistence despite setbacks and a tolerance for not knowing much of the time. Students then relate their experiences of not knowing during the gummy bear lab from the previous lesson of to the nature of scientific research. This type of text-based discussion is a Socratic Seminar.

  • Lesson Three Science through the Centuries PDF icon 3Science_through_Centuries_SNoSR.pdf

    Students participate in an historical activity demonstrating how current research builds on prior understanding, and how scientific priorities are influenced by the social and health concerns of the time. This is a “jigsaw” activity, in which students are first divided into four different time period groups (1700s, 1800s, 1900s, and 2000s) to discuss social concerns and medical technology of the time.  Each time period in seen through the eyes of four individual characters: a citizen, a medical practitioner, a person with Type 1 Diabetes, and a scientist. The students then regroup into character roles to compare themes over time. Lastly, students are introduced to translational research and see that, in many cases, basic research and the resulting application to human health are many decades apart.

    Download the CARD SET for this lesson.

    Download the PowerPoint slides that accompany this lesson.

  • Lesson Four The Process of Scientific Research PDF icon 4Process_Scientific_Research_SNoSR.pdf

    Students arrange sets of cards to show their understanding of the process of biomedical research.  Students see how basic research may lead to studies involving both animals and humans and may culminate in the availability of new treatments and medications. Students then apply their understanding of the overall progression of biomedical research to early chromosomal studies and the story of Gleevec, a drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2001 to treat chronic myelogenous leukemia. Lastly, students consider the ethical guidelines that inform scientists in every stage of research. This lesson includes instructions on how to arrange the cards using a foldable.

    Download the PowerPoint slides that accompany this lesson.

  • Lesson Five Who Should Decide Basic Science Funding? A Structured Academic Controversy PDF icon 5Deciding_Science_Funding_SNoSR.pdf

    In this lesson, students participate in a Structured Academic Controversy around the question, “Should citizens have input into which science grant proposals receive funding?  The general public can often see the importance of human research and clinical trials, but they may not be able to see the value of basic research, especially when the budgets are tight.  The National Science Foundation (NSF) distributes funds for basic research, and because the applications of the research are not always directly applicable to a health treatment or cure, questions can be raised about the usefulness of the study.  Students explore both sides this issue before examining their own personal views.

    Download the PowerPoint slides that accompany this lesson.

  • Summative Assessment Searching for a Cause: CFS PDF icon 6Summative_Assess_CFS_SNoSR.pdf

    Students apply the concepts they have learned during the unit to a case study or other chosen material from the class. From their completed graphic organizers, students choose three concepts to evaluate and explain how the concept contributes to the process of scientific research. Students also communicate the importance of being scientifically literate in their roles as science students, members of society, users of medications, and potential voters and taxpayers.

  • Appendix and Supplementary Tools PDF icon 7Appendix_SNoSR.pdf

    Teachers are provided with a Media Review and Analysis worksheet which can be used to support students in analyzing media for purpose, perspective, assumptions, claims and impact. This worksheet can be used in any subject and for most types of media. An optional section on scientific process can be used for students analyzing scientific articles. Students are further supported in thoughtful analysis by using a handout entitled My Evolution of Thought, which helps students in identifying their disposition towards a subject before and after analysis. These tools help students explore the importance of being scientifically literate about the nature of scientific research in a world impacted by mass media.

    Dowload the Media Review and Analysis student handout.

    Download the My Evolution of Thought Article Review student handout.


The PowerPoint presentations that accompany Lessons Three, Four and Five can be found below.

  • Science through the Centuries PPT File Lesson_Three_Science_through_Centuries.pptx

    This PowerPoint presentation provides historical pictures to accompany each of the centuries presented in the lesson. It also contains the text for each stakeholder card so that students can follow along as each stakeholder presents.

  • Process of Scientific Research PPT File Lesson_Four_Process_Scientific_Research.pptx

    This PowerPoint presentation contains the slides referred to in the lesson procedures.

  • Who Should Decide? SAC File Lesson_Five_Who_Should_Decide_SAC.pptx

    This PowerPoint provides the framing questions for the lesson, background on the U.S. federal budget, and step-by-step instructions for a Structured Academic Controversy (SAC).

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