The National Standards
The National Science Education Content Standards "outline what students should know, understand and be able to do in the natural sciences over the course of K-12 education." Although most science teachers are aware of the subject matter understandings (i.e., Physical Science Standards) in their respective disciplines, too little attention is devoted to the categories of:
- Science in personal and social perspectives
- History and nature of science
- Science and technology
- Science as inquiry
This exhibit provides material that speaks to these dimensions of science content knowledge as well as the required Physical Science Standards. This exhibit is an excellent vehicle by which to bring the full Content Standards to the science classroom.
Physical Science and Earth & Space Science Standards:
The Pulsar Discovery includes some subject matter understandings from both the 9-12 Physical Science and Earth & Space Science Standards. The size of the pulsar leads to exercises concerning rotation rates and nuclear forces and magnetic fields. The decrease in the rate of spinning provides an example of energy conservation. The exhibit also provides insight into stellar evolution.
Science in personal and social perspectives:
The investigation of pulsars appears not to have direct impact on the health or well-being of our society. Students should have an opportunity to discuss some of the issues which policy makers must address: Should such investigations be supported with tax dollars? Who makes decisions on which proposals will be funded and at what cost? Should research with pre-determined applications be the only ones that are funded? Should pulsars only be studied if they can produce a better clock?
History and nature of science:
The Pulsar Discovery unit and related teachers' guide provide an example of curriculum materials that support this content standard. The script and exercises emphasize Science as a Human Endeavor, speak to the Nature of Scientific Knowledge and provide Historical Perspectives. A student gets a rare glimpse into the creation of new knowledge as a real-time tape provides an account of scientists with their guard down.
Science and technology:
The scientists involved in the discovery of the pulsar note the interplay of science and technology in various discussions. Cocke and Disney needed the "ideal piece of equipment belonging to Don Taylor." In contrast to the sophisticated equipment, they had to build for themselves a tiny diaphragm out of a piece of aluminum foil.
Science as inquiry:
One component of the inquiry content standard is that students should understand that scientists engage in inquiry and the nature of that engagement. In the Pulsar Discovery, students learn about the types of questions that scientists ask, how they rely on technology to gather data, how mathematics is used and how scientific explanations must adhere to specified criteria. They are also introduced to different kinds of investigations and communications of scientists. Students get to examine the laboratory notebook as a primary source illustration of the artifacts of science as inquiry.