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Course description


Course Description

The instructional objective of Foundations of Scientific Inquiry 1-2IB is to develop a "tool-kit" of concepts and skills that will be used and built upon in subsequent higher-level science courses; and ultimately taken into students' lives well beyond graduation. It is a Freshman-level course (primarily for; but not limited to; those in the International Baccalaureate Program) that will incorporate basic ideas and modes of thought common to all scientific disciplines in an enriched cross-disciplinary classroom environment.

Core course objectives will include: recognizing reasoning fallacies and pitfalls; basic logic; observation and measurement; estimation; development of research questions; experimental design; data collection and analysis; problem-solving (including reading for specific information); and written and oral communication in a scientific context. Examples from fundamental concepts of biology; chemistry; and physics will be used as a substrate for the development of these ideas.


UNIT 1: Why Do We Need Science?

"Science is a long history of learning how not to fool ourselves"
-Physicist Richard Feynman

1. Limitations of the human brain
Recognize that natural selection is the primary force responsible for the diversity of life and the characteristics of all living things
Recognize that our brains are a product of natural selection; adapted to survival on the Stone Age savanna
See that intuition and "common sense" are thus heavily reliant on ascribing meaning to perceived patterns and constructing stories to explain that meaning
Recognize that "common sense" is therefore an unreliable way to solve many problems or determine deeper answers to many questions in the natural world.

2. Perception & memory
Recognize optical illusions as "hardwired" artifacts of brain processing
Recognize the selective nature of attention
Recognize that memory is not a "video tape" that can be replayed with 100% accuracy; but rather a story constructed in the mind that always misses details; distorts events; and fabricates occurrences.
Define and describe what is meant by "anecdotal evidence" and recognize why it is one of the most unreliable types of evidence.

3. Logical fallacies and other reasoning pitfalls
Identify and describe major logical fallacies: wishful thinking; correlation/causation confusion; and confirmation bias.
Recognize the the role of these fallacies in our tendency to justify our beliefs; decisions; and actions independent of any evidence that supports or contradicts them.
Recognize our tendency to see both ourselves as individuals and our species overall as "special" or "exceptional;" and identify the biases in reasoning that tendency brings with it.

UNIT 2: Uncommon Sense
"The most incomprehensible thing about the Universe is that it is comprehensible."
-Physicist Albert Einstein

1. Number sense
Grasp the distinction between 100; 1000; 1;000;000 and 1;000;000;000
Represent large and small numbers in standard and scientific notation
Develop methods to better visualize very large and very small numbers
Apply these methods to sizes; numbers of things; and intervals of time.

2. Probability and chance
Distinguish between true randomness and apparent randomness
Recognize that true randomness is "streaky"
Recognize the innate urge to impose meaning and special significance to this "streakiness"
Appreciate the Law of Large Numbers and its application to understanding seemingly "miraculous" events in everyday life

3. The pace of change
Use graphs to represent systems that change with time
Distinguish between steady (linear); accelerated (quadratic); and exponential rates of change
Apply this distinction to the special case of human population growth

UNIT 3: Evidence: The Good; the Bad; and the Anecdotal

"When you cannot measure; your knowledge is meagre and unsatisfactory"
-Physicist Lord Kelvin

1. Observation & Estimation
Determine that "observations" can be made via our 5 senses ("qualitative") or by employing some sort of measuring device ("quantitative")
Recognize that observed information is dependent on assumptions; which are frequently hidden or unspoken
Recall that anecdotal (qualitative) evidence is extremely unreliable; necessitating quantitative measurements in pursuit of better (closer to objective "truth") answers to questions
Estimate the value of unmeasured quantities to within an "order of magnitude" of their "true value"

2. Measurement
Distinguish between a "measurement" (an estimate for the value of a physical quantity compared to a standardized unit expressed to appropriate precision that includes an estimate of the uncertainty) and a "number" (a mathematical construct that is unit-less and perfect)
Recognize that estimation is inherent in the measurement process. [?If you?re not guessing you?re not doing it right?]
Recognize that repeated independent measurements maximize confidence in estimating the "true value" of a physical quantity. [?Where the range starts the average stops]?
Distinguish between "precision" and "accuracy"

3. Uncertainty
Determine the uncertainty introduced into a measurement based on the instrument used
Distinguish between "random error" and "systematic error"
Determine the uncertainty due to random error of an average of multiple independent measurements. [?The largest absolute difference between the mean and the extremes?]
Determine the number of "significant figures" appropriate for a given measurement
Carry uncertainties and significant figures through calculations involving measurements.

UNIT 4: Experimental Design

"Supposing is good; but finding out is better."
-Mark Twain

1. Experimental Design
Define a "hypothesis" as a story or claim to be tested by experiment
Recognize that a hypothesis must be falsifiable in order to be tested empirically
Define "null hypothesis" as the claim that no effect or relationship exists
Recognize that the core of experimentation is observing or producing an environment where only one variable is manipulated; either naturally or by design of the experimenter
Therefore recognize the need to hold constant all other variables where it is possible to do so.
Define "independent variable" as that which is manipulated; "dependent variable" as the measured outcome; and "controlled variable(s)" as all potential independent variables held constant by conscious choice of the experimenter(s)
Recognize that the method of data analysis must be stipulated as part of the design of the experiment.
Recognize the importance of replication within the experimental design and across experiments.
Recognize the importance of sample size as well as of varying independent variables over a sufficiently large range of values
Use data tables and appropriate graphs to collect; organize; and analyze quantitative data.

2. Drawing conclusions from data
Recognize that hypotheses can be supported or rejected; never "proven."
Articulate conclusions in sufficiently tentative terms to reflect the uncertainty existing in the data
Estimate the level of confidence in the conclusion in light of the data
Analyze experimental procedure and identify specific sources of uncertainty; random error; and systematic error
Suggest specific modifications to the procedure that could result in reducing the uncertainty in subsequent iterations
Appreciate that experimental results; and the conclusions drawn from them; are always uncertain; and thus perpetually open to rejection; alteration or improvement
Apply ?Occam?s Razor? to competing explanations of the same set of data or observations.

3. Communicating
Recognize the importance of peer-review and collaboration in all aspects of research; including design; analysis; and drawing conclusions
Organize and present written reports of experiments that include design; data collection & processing; conclusions and evaluations
Use relevant vocabulary and language in written and oral forms where appropriate


1. Natural selection simulation
2. Optical illusions investigation
3. Size of image in a plane mirror: effect of changing distance
4. ?Lunar effect? investigation
5. Confirmation bias: Research for disconfirming evidence
6. Scaling: One Thousand Dots
7. Scaling: Solar System--Earth as Peppercorn
8. Scaling: Toilet Paper Time Line
9. Randomness in action: Real and imagined patterns in random events
10. Randomness in action: does a penny on its side fall fairly?
11. Pace of change: constant rate
12. Pace of change: accelerated rate
13. Position and time for a marble on an incline
14. Pace of change: exponential rate
15. Calculations using measurement: Perimeter & area with rectangles
16. Precision & Accuracy: Circumference vs. Diameter for a circle
17. Qualitative experimentation: requirements for lighting a light bulb
18. Semi-Quantitative experimentation: Variables in a circuit affecting compass needle deflection
19. Design & Replication: Limited Materials Lab
20. Isolation of variables: Factors affecting the Period of a Pendulum

School country

United States

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School / district Address

4502 N. Central Avenue

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Approved competency code

  • LINT
  • Integrated science

Approved date

Online / Virtual