Keeping a Science Journal


A revised version of an individual lesson plan developed by

Roseann Cirnigliaro, Northport High School, Northport, Long Island, NY

Courses for Which the Lesson is Intended:

Intended for use in any science class.

Types of Teaching/Learning Activities Employed in this Lesson:

Students keep a journal on current news coverage of science issues that have ethical dimensions.

Categories that Best Describe this Lesson:

All categories.

Ethics/Values Issues Raised by this Lesson:

Depends on the contents of the articles selected.

Lesson Plan

1. The teacher collects and copies articles in newspapers and magazines that deal with science related issues. These articles are distributed with appropriate questions for the students. The questions focus mainly on the ethical issues rather than on specific scientific facts (although getting clear about the ethical questions usually requires getting clear about some of the scientific facts).

2. Articles are distributed periodically over the entire school year. Students are invited to submit articles they find to the teacher for possible distribution to the entire class.

3. The level of sophistication of the articles depends on the grade level and the level of the class. Here is a possible format for a quarter:

Distribute approximately 10 articles for students to read and comment on. Each student keeps the articles and responses in a separate folder which will be graded. Each assignment will be graded on the basis of a possible 10 points:

3 points Brief summary of article

3 points Reaction to article

2 points Answer to a specific question

2 points Quality of writing (spelling, sentence structure, etc.)

4. Article topics will vary, depending on the course (e.g., biology, chemistry, earth sciences, physics). In 1995, for example, a controversy developed over a proposed Smithsonian Institution 50th commemorative exhibit of the 1945 dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Critics claimed that the proposed exhibit was biased, even "anti-American," since it seemed to show the United States as the aggressor and it placed more emphasis on Japanese losses than the United States's triumph. Articles detailing this controversy would be appropriate in physics or chemistry courses, since the development and use of the atomic bomb is a dramatic illustration of possible military uses of scientific knowledge; and important questions about the social responsibilities of scientists can be raised. Students could also read Albert Einstein's famous 1939 letter of warning to President Franklin D. Roosevelt that, in light of reports that Germany might be developing an atomic bomb, the United States needed to accelerate research in nuclear physics -- and Einstein's later regret when he said, "I made one mistake in my life when I signed the letter to President Roosevelt."

5. A journal entry consists of a summary of the main points of an article and some discussion of the ethical and value issues raised by the article. Teachers might assist the discussion of ethical and value issues by adding specific questions for students to answer. For example, "Why do you think Einstein thought he had made a mistake signing the letter to President Roosevelt?" "What kinds of questions should scientists ask about possible areas of research before they undertake them?" "Is science 'value-neutral'?" However, it would be useful to encourage students to develop their own questions, as well.

6. Journal entries can simply be turned in for teacher evaluation and grading; or they can provide the basis for class discussion, as well.


Journal assignments encourage students to connect their science studies with current events, as well as historically significant events that involve science. This is important both for students planning to undertake science careers and for the general student preparation for informed citizenship in a democratic society. Regular attention to science in the news helps students see the relevance of science studies to their lives outside the classroom.

Writing about ethical and value issues in science news not only places science in the context of our everyday lives, it also promises to deepen our understanding of those issues. As an individual activity, this can be quite valuable in its own right. However, these writing exercises can also prepare students for classroom discussion, which will further broaden and deepen their understanding of the social implications of science. Teachers might even want students to share journal entries with each other. However, if this is to be done, students should be told in advance that this will be done; and if the topics are particularly sensitive, this should be done only with their permission.

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