Meet the Scientist
By reading and writing about the lives of real scientists, students can learn more about the nature and history of science and how important scientific discoveries were made. Students may also begin to see themselves as scientists by trying on scientists' lives for size.
Teachers can engage students in this research and role play strategy to help them discover that science is a human endeavor. Research has shown the effectiveness of drama and simulations (Bailey & Watson, 1998) and video recordings and puppets (Rollnick, Jones, Perold, & Bahr, 1998) in science instruction. By reading and writing about the lives of real scientists, students can learn more about the nature and history of science and how important scientific discoveries were made; the historical view of science, which stretches back thousands of years; how scientists dealt with other people when their discoveries were not aligned with the prevailing view of the world at the time; and how women and members of other underrepresented groups in the sciences were able to persevere. Students may also begin to see themselves as scientists by trying on scientists' lives for size.
As students learn about science history and the history of scientists, they can discover that there is not only one type of scientist that has made a contribution to the field. Studies have shown that students often perceive scientists to be males who live in a lab, wear a lab coat, and are removed from normal life (Bodzin & Gehringer, 2001; Finson, 2002; McDuffie, 2001). Gender equity in science education is an issue. Beginning in the elementary school years, girls have less favorable attitudes toward science than boys (Andre, Whigham, Hendickson, & Chambers, 1999; Jones, Howe, & Rua, 2000). Students can read about and role play the lives of women scientists, scientists with disabilities, and scientists from different cultural and language heritages than their own and, in the process, not only break down stereotypes they may hold about who a scientist can be, but also open themselves to the idea that any of them can be a scientist — regardless of gender, heritage, language, background, or handicapping conditions (Lee, 2003; Lightbody, 2002). For a look at how 7th-grade students perceived scientists before and after they visited a science laboratory, read Kids draw scientists. There are some very interesting contrasts between the stereotypical before view and the view after the students met and talked with real scientists.
Put together a text set of grade-appropriate books on types of scientists, individual scientists, science and scientists in a specific time period in history, or on a topic that relates in some other ways to the science curriculum in her or his class.
After a period of reading literature or reading online and discussing scientists or the history of science, and further researching in small groups or individually, plan to Meet the Scientist with students. They can use notes to summarize important events and dates in the life of a scientist, what the world around them was like, and the impact their scientific work had on others. This can be done by taking dictation on chart paper for younger students; older students can keep notes on their own.
Next, model one of several ways for the class to prepare to Meet the Scientist, depending on the ages, interests, and abilities of the students. For example, use interactive writing to create a description of scientists with young students. Using this as a script, students can dress as one of these scientists, use appropriate props or do demonstrations, and do a choral reading of the description they have written. Or help students create and perform a reader's theater script, write a script for a scene or scenes from the life of the scientist, or prepare a script for an interview with the scientist who would answer the questions. To contextualize the scientist's life, especially if they lived in an adversarial world that was not open to their ideas, discoveries, inventions, or innovations, students can research the controversy, choose the pro- or anti-scientist side, and stage a debate.
These dramatic representations of scientists and the history and nature of science can be performed for other members of the class, other classes, or they can be video recorded to communicate what students have learned to others.
As students pursue a line of inquiry in science in the classroom, they may call on experts in the field through the website Ask a Scientist. To do this, they must have a problem they are trying to solve, be able to identify the problem they are having with solving it, and articulate specific questions they need answered that go beyond the investigation and reading they have already done.
Young students can be introduced to the field of science by learning about different types of scientists. Pose this question: What do scientists do? Books about scientists in different fields can be read and discussed, student ideas can be written on a chart, and interactive writing can be used so that students can take the pen and add to the information on the chart themselves.
The class can work in small groups, each group learning about a different type of scientist (e.g., biologist, naturalist, physicist, or rocket scientist). Write a summary with students in the form of an interactive script with one sentence on each line. Students can be assigned to read each line. They can wear costume pieces that would have been worn by that type of scientist and use props, do demonstrations, or copy gestures used by the scientist. Each line can be color coded and students can read directly off the chart paper.
Students can be put into small groups, with each group writing about a different type of scientist, and they can present their Meet the Scientist activity to the rest of the class.
Here are books about different types of scientists.
Recommended children's books
- Mother to Tigers by George Ella Lyon
- Earth Heroes: Champions of the Wilderness by Carol and Bruce Malnor
- Into the Deep: The Life of Naturalist and Explorer William Beebe by David Sheldon
- How Ben Franklin Stole the Lightning by Rosalyn Schanzer
- Galileo's Leaning Tower Experiment by Wendy MacDonald
3rd Grade–5th Grade
Read aloud the biography of one scientist and discuss it with the class using reader response questions and prompts:
- Was there anything you wondered about this scientist?
- Has anything like this ever happened in your life?
- How would you feel if you were this scientist?
Do a book talk on several books to introduce different scientists to students, and prepare a list of scientists and books to begin reading about them (see Books below for suggestions). Students can form groups and choose a scientist from a suggested list. After reading the recommended books, and reading other books and doing online research, the students can write a reader's theater script. In order for each student in a group of four or five to have a role, the script can be written for parts as follows:
Here is a list of books about scientists for students to begin reading and researching.
Recommended children's books
- A Picture Book of George Washington Carver by David Adler
- The Boy Who Drew Birds: A Story of John James Audubon by Jacqueline Davies
- Guinea Pig Scientists: Bold Self-experimenters in Science and Medicine by Mel Boring and Leslie Dendy
- Rachel: The Story of Rachel Carson by Amy Ehrlich
- Albert Einstein by Kathleen Krull
- The Boy Who Invented TV: The Story of Philo Farnsworth by Kathleen Krull
- Always Inventing: A Photobiography of Alexander Graham Bell by Tom Matthews
- The Kid Who Named Pluto: And the Stories of Other Extraordinary Young People in Science by Marc McCutcheon
- Inventions by Glenn Murphy
- Secret Subway: The Fascinating Tale of an Amazing Feat of Engineering by Martin Sandler
- The Sky's the Limit: Stories of Discovery by Women and Girls by Catherine Thimmesh
- Benjamin Banneker: Pioneering Scientist by Ginger Wadsworth
- The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau by Dan Yaccarino
English language learners
English language learners benefit from engaging activities like dramatization, and they can participate in many different levels of speaking parts. They can also participate through gestures, by doing demonstrations or showing props and models, and because scripts are written, they can learn their lines ahead of time and use the script for support.
Also use online resources to find scientists in the community who are members of the same language groups as students and invite them to speak to the class and answer questions in both English and their first language, thereby providing primary language support for students.
Seek out books on scientists from the same language groups of students (e.g., Carolus Linnaeus, who created the taxonomy of animals).
Provide a writing frame to scaffold learning about different types of scientists or about one particular scientist. After reading about a scientist, use guided questioning to enable students to answer the questions, and take dictation and write the students' responses on chart paper with the frame. Students can also use individual copies of the same frame to copy their responses and then add notes after further reading with the help of an adult or peers.
Students can write a summary of what they learned about the scientist they presented to others or write about the scientist presented by another group. A peer-assessment form can be used for students to assess, write comments, and tell what they learned about another groups' Meet the Scientist presentation. Use a rubric to assess the reading, research, and presentation of an individual or group Meet the Scientist.
Lawson, K. (2003). Darwin and evolution for kids: His life and ideas with 21 activities. Chicago: Chicago Review Press.
Panchky, R. (2005). Galileo for kids: His life and ideas, 25 activities. Chicago: Chicago Review Press.
Click the "References" link above to hide these references.
Andre, T., Whigham, M., Hendrickson, A.,& Chambers, S. (1999). Competency beliefs, positive affect, gender stereotyping of elementary students and their parents about science versus other school subjects. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 36, 719–747.
Bailey, S., & Watson, R. (1998). Establishing basic ecological understanding in younger pupils: A pilot evaluation of a strategy based on drama/role play. International Journal of Science Education, 20(2), 139–152.
Bodzin, A., & Gehringer, M. (2001). Breaking science stereotypes. Science and Children, 25(5), 36–41.
Finson, K. D. (2002). Drawing a scientist: What do we know and do not know after fifty years of drawings. School Science and Mathematics, 102, 335–345.
Jones, M. G., Howe, A., & Rua, M. J. (2000). Gender differences in students' experiences, interests, and attitudes toward science and scientists. Science Education, 84, 180–192.
Lee, S. (2003). Achieving gender equity in middle school science classrooms. Science Scope, 26(5), 42–43.
Lightbody, M. (2002). Countering gender bias in the media. Science Scope, 25(6), 40–42.
McDuffie, T. E. (2001). Scientists — geeks and nerds. Science and Children, 38(8), 16–19.
Rollnick, M., Jones, B., Perold, H., & Bahr, M. A. (1998). Puppets and comics in primary science: The development and evaluation of a pilot multimedia package. International Journal of Science Education, 20(5), 533–550.