SNIPPET LESSON PLAN FOR:
This Snippet Lesson Plan is in preparation and is not complete.
These visuals are designed to supplement existing lessons on tornadoes.
Ages: 12+; Middle School and High School
Length: Film Clips: Approximately 9 minutes in three film clips.
Learner Outcomes/Objectives: Students will understand how scientists work and how science has advanced.
Rationale: Science taught in class focuses on concepts and skills that will enable students to pursue scientific choices in school and in their further studies. As science topics are perceived hard to learn, many teachers feel the need to make their lessons more attractive, sometimes ending up presenting science as "fun". Lessons can be made more or less enjoyable, but conveying the message that science is fun can be misleading and the seed for disappointment in students when they late encounter the true reality of scientific research. For this reason it is important to help teachers and students alike to keep in mind that science involves persistent, sometimes tedious, work, coping with failure, preparing publications for peer-review, competing for funds, developing team work skills etc...
We are not going to address here the question whether the movie Twister is scientifically accurate throughout. Filmmaking inevitably has to adapt fact to its main goal of entertainment, and therefore there are various sequences in the movie that are not completely realistic from the scientific point of view. Even so, this movie fares quite well among scientists and particularly among meteorologists. Most of the inaccuracies are minor, and overall the movie does a good job at showing how tornadoes and tornado-chasers work and provides a good insight to how scientific research works.
Description of the Film Clips:
Clip 1 introduces meteorology as team work. A brief sequence that shows how data from a weather satellite are received in a lab and need a large team to be processed into a forecast.
Clips 2 and 3 show failed attempts of data collection from the funnel of a tornado. All the equipment and the time devoted to it is wasted.
Clip 4 shows the final successful attempt to release the probes into the tornado and how the data flow into the computer and provide a computational characterization of the internal structure of the tornado.
Science can not distance itself from the world it seeks to describe. Data collection, through experimentation or observation, is paramount. In movies, the process of data collection and processing is usually not shown in its true proportion, because it is repetitive, tedious and slow, and often involves various attempts and failure in most of them. Twister gives us some hints about this aspect of science, although necessarily in a cinematic and adventurous manner. Data collection is often also costly, in terms of working hours, travel and equipment, and the lead scientists' research institution and/or public funds are limited.
This framework explains why most of research groups or institutions set some embargo time for the data they have obtained before they make them public. Any scientific claim needs to be reproducible by any scientist and therefore transparency requires data to be available for scrutiny at some point. (Also, data are expected to be made publicly available also in order to allow for studies other than those performed by those who acquired them.) But to give themselves a head start, scientists or their institutions establish that during a certain time the data will only be available for themselves. Embargoing data can be considered within the limits of fair practice. There is an growing number of voices who are advocating for Open Science, whereby scientists are expected to adhere to a permanently transparent and accessible way of conducting research that can be followed in real time by anyone, as far as legitimate embargo times allow.
At the same time, the advancement of science has converged towards the current procedure of results having to be published in a peer-reviewed journal to be considered a valid scientific claim. The reputation of scientists, which will most often determine their chances for successful bidding for funds or sponsorship, is built primarily through the number of publications in relevant journals. Journals in turn are deemed more or less relevant depending the number of citations their articles get. The peer-review process takes the form of refereeing, by which the editor of a journal sends the submitted article to (usually two) other scientists in the corresponding area of expertise, who will then scrutinize the work and point out weaknesses and room for improvement (or plainly reject the paper if not worthy for publication at all). Sometimes a problem arises from the fact that in an increasingly specialized science, those other experts are bound to be potential competitors of the author, as they are working very specifically on the same topic. The temptation lies close to deliberately delay publication of the paper by slowing down the refereeing process if the referees' own research groups are about to publish similar results, which is usually the case, as similar tools and equipment become available to all at the same time. Fair play requires them to be objective nevertheless!
Despite the need to get as many articles published as possible which in the past has led to sceintists not being particularly keen on teaching, and especially public engagement , there seems to be a change in that trend for various reasons that make communication of science to the public increasingly perceived as necessary. Various arguments are often mentioned in this regard, such as the need to be accountable to society about what is being done with taxpayers contributions towards research, the need to equip modern citizens with the necessary knowledge to deal with an increasingly technology-driven society, or the need to ensure sufficient new young students are inspired to take up scientific careers in a society which very much depends on a now scarce scientifically qualified workforce.
There are clearly two main different types of funding available for research. Much of the research performed in universities and research centers is funded through government grants and programmes which are highly demanded and therefore very limited. There is another way to fund research, which is through corporate sponsorship, or even direct employment by big corporations. This funding is usually much more plentiful but it is perceived by many as being capable of endangering the objectivity and neutrality of science by putting research at the service of possibly dubious interests. This occurs especially in areas like pharmaceutical research and more recently climate change. There is a competing team of well funded scientists in Twister illustrating this reality. They are accused of being "in for the money".
Twister also shows us some characteristics of scientific research that are not usually portrayed in fictional film. In Twister we can clearly see how the collection of data leads to the computation of models which in turn are devised in order to improve the predicting power. As becomes more obvious than ever in connection with life-threatening phenomena like tornadoes, the models are only as useful as they can correctly predict an event. This is the case in all scientific disciplines: data are interpreted with hypotheses which in turn are represented by models. Hypotheses (and therefore models) are tested through their predictions and only confirmed once correct predictions occur in a statistically significant manner.
There is the interesting case of String Theory, an idea devised by theoretical physicists in order to explain certain properties of matter at its most fundamental level while at the same time unifying the hitherto incompatible realms of Relativity and Quantum Mechanics. Without going into the details about the idea, what is interesting for the scope of this lesson plan is to point out that it is not (yet) considered a `theory' by the scientific community because its defenders have not come up with experimentally testable hypotheses. The main goal of the physicists working on String Theory now is to work out measurable predictions of their so far only "beautiful" idea.
Although there are plenty of historical figures of scientists that single-handedly changed the course of science, the usual way scientific research is carried out, especially nowadays, is through collaborations, among individuals, institutions and even countries, when it comes to fund large facilities whose cost is too high to bear by just one. Collaborative work skills are highly valued and sought by employers. In science they are essential, too, as researchers work in teams, as can also be seen on many sequences of Twister.
Clip #1: 00:04:40 – 00:05:20
Clip #2: 00:56:00 – 01:00:30
Clip #3: 01:25:00 – 01:26:00
Clip #4: 01:32:00 – 01:34:30
Possible Problems for the Clips Used in this Snippet Lesson Plan: None.
What about using the whole movie? The whole movie shows many of the aspects mentioned here throughout. It needs to be known however, that there is strong language at times.
Give us your feedback! Was the Guide helpful? If so, which sections were most helpful? Do you have any suggestions for improvement? Email us!
Using the Snippet in Class:
1. Read the Helpful Background section of this Guide.
2. Be familiar with the location of the clips on the DVD and how to quickly get from one film clip to another.
Step by Step
1. Show clip 1 to introduce the lesson, and get students to discuss in class what they think are important features of scientific research. The introductory clip can then be used to mention the importance of team work. 2. Direct the discussion towards a list of features that contains those mentioned in the Helpful Background section. 3. Show the rest of the clips as an example of various of the elements of the list, such as the costs of research, the need for persistence and patience and the modelling of computational data, all of which are present in these clips.
1. Students can be asked to research and write an essay or a report to the class (or both) on the following questions:
Other Helpful resources
There are not many resources about this approach of explaining what scientists do. How science works by the University of Berkeley elaborates on some of the features mentioned in this lesson plan.
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