January 12, 2022

Starting the semester with understanding, decoding, and the process of science

Posted by Laura Guertin

I recall the first week of the semester in my university-level science courses, and the first chapter in my introductory-level science textbooks… all involved an introduction to science and the scientific method, with the scientific method as a very linear process. Now, introductory-level STEM courses for majors and non-majors is better at representing science as non-linear, even using terms like messy and frustrating. And instructors are emphasizing the focus on the “process” of science, instead of stating that science always and immediately concludes with a “product”.

Below are a few resources that may be useful to share with students as one kicks off the semester and starts talking about how we know what we know.


Decoding Science

In 2020, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) published a free resource titled Decoding Science. On their website, the resource is described as including “a 90-second explainer on how science works, clear answers to challenging questions, stories from real-life scientists, and quizzes to test students’ learning.” The web page provides links to material that responses to the questions:

  • How does science know what it knows?
  • What if scientific studies disagree?
  • Can I use science to make decisions?

This was a fun site for me to explore, and I appreciate the links to articles that easily describe and support these topics for decoding science.


Screenshot of the front page of the Process of Science learning modules from Visionlearning

Visionlearning – Process of Science

This is another great resource that has an incredible depth and breadth of information set up as a library of learning modules that “go beyond facts and dates to examine how we’ve come to understand the concepts, the people who have contributed to our understanding, and the ongoing research that builds our scientific knowledge”. The Visionlearning collection consists of peer-reviewed modules perfect for introductory-level STEM courses, complete with questions, checkpoints, and quizzes for comprehension and understanding for students. The table of contents from the Process of Science module includes the main headings of the introduction, culture of science, ideas in science, research methods, data, and scientific communication.


Screenshot of the main webpage of UCMP Berkeley's Understanding Science site

Understanding Science

Produced by the UC Museum of Paleontology of the University of California at Berkeley, the Understanding Science site is another free resource “gives users an inside look at the general principles, methods, and motivations that underlie all of science.” Note that there are materials to support teachers in grades K through college, and a section of resources for teacher educators. Some of the suggested places UCMP suggests starting an exploration of Understanding Science 101 includes the following:

The Resource Library also has useful materials that explores misconceptions, video clips, and interactive flow chart of how science works.


If there are any other sites you have utilized to help students understand the nature and process of science, please leave suggestions in the comments box below!