Science for Citizens

A Case-Based Exploration of Science as a Way of Knowing

Course Description

Science is all around us! The rationale for this course is to enhance scientific literacy by making science both interesting and relevant to students. This will be accomplished by helping students understand how science works and how they can apply science in their daily lives, especially when evaluating claims, both ordinary and extraordinary. This course uses a series of case studies to engage students in the practice of evaluating claims using scientific concepts and processes.

The interactive and multidisciplinary approach of this course is particularly appealing to non-science majors. Content and concepts derive from the natural sciences, psychology and paradigms of critical thought. Case studies and claims are tied to medicine, environmental policy, UFOs, extra-sensory perception (ESP) and mysterious creatures like the Loch Ness Monster.

Throughout the course, students are gradually introduced to scientific concepts (principles, facts, laws and theories), scientific processes and the differentiation of science from non-science (or pseudoscience). While science is deemed measurable, religion and beauty are briefly presented—without judgement or value statements—as outside of the realm of science. The concept of “what is science” emerges as students explore the evolution of science throughout history. Ultimately, the critical thought and understanding of science cultivated by this course will foster the development of well-informed and engaged citizens in a democratic society.

Key Learning Outcomes:

By the end of the course, students will be able to:

  • Appreciate the natural world in a new way;
  • Analyze the sciences as a reliable method of understanding the natural world;
  • Distinguish scientific from non-scientific/pseudoscientific resources and ways of thought;
  • Apply basic scientific principles, facts, laws and theories;
  • Use critical thinking skills, in light of scientific knowledge and processes, in order to make more informed decisions; and
  • Synthesize and communicate the influence of science on policy, democracy and the world.
Activity 1
Is the scientific method linear? Is there room for creativity? What do hypotheses become?
Is the scientific method linear? Is there room for creativity? What do hypotheses become?
Students will create a concept map of words associated with the scientific method. They will then view and discern the strengths and weaknesses of models found online and in classrooms (standard/linear, recursive) before editing their own. A follow-up, exploratory, activity will reinforce the creative and recursive nature of the scientific method, challenging preconceived notions of linearity and limits.