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Charged! MacDiarmid’s Electroplastic Capability: Gather & Interpret data NoS achievement aims: Understanding about science Contextual strands: Material world Level : 5

Author: Pat Quinn. Applications, 2003

This resource illustrates how one of the Applications readers can be used to provide opportunities for students to strengthen their capability to use evidence to support ideas in the context of science.

Curriculum Aims and AOs

The Nature of Science strand

Aim

Achievement objective relevant to this resource

Understanding about science

Students will learn about science as a knowledge system: the features of scientific knowledge and the processes by which it is developed; and learn about the ways in which the work of scientists interacts with society.

L5:

Understand that scientists’ investigations are informed by current scientific theories and aim to collect evidence that will be interpreted through processes of logical argument.

Material World

Aim

Achievement objective relevant to this resource

Chemistry and society

Make connections between the concepts of chemistry and their applications and show an understanding of the role chemistry plays in the world around them.

L5:

Link the properties of different groups of substances to the way they are used in society or occur in nature.

Learning focus

Students discuss the way in which disconfirming evidence can play an important part in exploratory investigations.

Learning activity

Charged! McDiarmid’s Electroplastic tells the story of the discovery of the group of substances called electroplastics and discusses the importance of this discovery in terms of the many potential uses for plastics that can conduct electricity. The reader emphasises the importance of cross-disciplinary teams where different scientists bring different expertise, and the importance of other teams being able to replicate processes to confirm the claim(s) being made. 

Adapting the resource

After reading the story, and exploring the group of materials called electroplastics, focus on the “Quotable quotes” on the final page and in particular the statement that “Most research is failure”.

  • Ask what students think this means. Is it a good thing or a bad thing if most investigations “fail”? [You may find that students hold the view that failure means the research was not properly designed – that the scientists made a mistake or wasted time and money.] 
  • Ask the students to find the pages that specifically discuss the role that failure played in the discovery of electroplastics (pages 9-11). What did the scientists do when they found the evidence did not support the prediction they had made? [They looked for an alternative explanation, used this to make a new prediction, and then tested that.]
  • Introduce the term “disconfirming evidence” and challenge students to find another example of an investigation where it has played an important role. 

Alternatively, if this feels like a more fruitful discussion, you could also introduce the idea of confirmation bias. Part of the challenge of being disciplined as a scientist resides in remaining open-minded and taking extra care to avoid confirmation bias. There is a simple but easily accessible discussion of how confirmation bias can impact on our daily decision-making on  this blog site .

What’s important here?

“Recipe” type practical work can leave students with the impression that research “proves” a foregone conclusion, and that when investigations do not go as predicted a mistake of some sort has been made. Journalists sometimes pick up on such instances when research is controversial, in order to sensationalise the inadequacies of the science (as they choose to portray these). As informed adult citizens, students will need to be aware that disconfirming evidence can be just as important, if not more so, than evidence that confirms a prediction. Disconfirming evidence does signal that the explanation is not yet correct, but then the purpose of investigations is to test ideas, not just to rubber stamp them.

Developing an appreciation of what counts as evidence in science supports students to become scientifically literate, i.e., to participate as critical, informed, and responsible citizens in a society in which science plays a significant role. (This is the purpose of science in NZC.)

What are we looking for?

Do students show an understanding that disconfirming evidence plays a critical role in science investigations?

Can they find and describe another example that illustrates this idea?

Alternatively, are they now aware of the possibility of confirmation bias and the importance of guarding against this in science?

Can they identify a time when confirmation bias influenced their own thinking?

Opportunities to learn at different curriculum levels

For suggestions about adapting tasks in ways that allow students to show progress in using evidence to support ideas see Progressions.

Exploring further

A TED talk called  What Is Skepticism, Anyway?  sets the idea of disconfirming evidence within a wider set of principles for thinking sceptically (“scientifically”) about knowledge claims.

Other resources for this capability

The White-tailed Spider (L1 & 2) Ready to Read series, 2010, Guided Reading level: Gold 

The Air around Us: Exploring the Substance We Live in (L1, 2, 3 & 4) Building Science Concepts, Booklet 30

Floating and Sinking (L1, 2, 3 & 4) Building Science Concepts, Booklets 37 & 38

Chemical Popguns (L1, 2, 3 & 4) Making Better Sense of the Material World

Tomato – Fruit or Vegetable? (L2 & 3) Connected 2, 2000

Solar Energy: Sun Power on Earth (L2, 3 & 4) Building Science Concepts, Booklet 29

A Bird in the Hand (L3 & 4) Connected 3, 2007

The Night Sky: Patterns, Observations, and Traditions (L3 & 4) Building Science Concepts, Booklet 28

Food of wild cats (LW1019) (L5) Assessment Resource Banks

Takahē: Back from the Brink (L5) Applications, 2007

Conflicting theories for the origin of the Moon (L5) Science Online

Speed and distance: It’s a drag (L5) Digistore on TKI

Key words

Applications, plastics, semiconductors


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