I am a Scientist Project (FREE ONLINE RESOURCE)
By Megan Maddalena
If someone asked you to describe what a scientist looks like, what are some of the first things that come to your mind? When I asked my students this question, many of their answers were very similar. If I were to summarize their responses into one it would be, “An older white male wearing a long white lab coat that sometimes has crazy white hair working in a lab.” This is a common stereotype of what scientists look like and I would wager that your description was probably not very far off from the ones my students gave me.
There are many issues with this stereotype and two of them stand out to me as being particularly detrimental to young students who are learning about different scientific concepts. One is implicitly telling students that if you want to work in science then you will always be cooped up in a lab researching and performing tests. The other, which is arguably more detrimental especially with ongoing calls for more diversity and inclusion in STEM careers, implies that most if not all scientists are white males.
As a science teacher, I know that not all of my students will go into STEM careers, however, it is my goal to let my students know that careers in STEM fields are not closed off to them simply because of their race or gender identity. I also want to broaden my student’s idea of what a workday in the life of a scientist can look like and it does not always involve working in a lab. Scientists that are currently working in all different scientific fields are more diverse than students might expect, but they need to be exposed to that diversity of people and research topics in order to realize that. This is where the “I am a Scientist Initiative” comes in.
The objective of the initiative is to “bring the science and stories of real-life researchers to classrooms nationwide”. This initiative has an amazing website full of FREE resources to help teachers introduce students to diverse, practicing scientists, in all different fields of research in STEAM careers. The site highlights individual scientists and goes into some detail about their childhood, schooling, hobbies & interests that they have outside of science, and of course what they research. The website alone has many great resources that can be used to create lessons for your students. I have come up with 3 different example lessons or projects you can do with your students that highlight this website. There is also a bonus example that can be used for young elementary grade levels. I myself have done examples 1 & 2 with my classes during previous school years and am continuing to do so this year. Example 1 was early on in the school year and Example 2 was right before and after winter break. All of the examples are great options or you can utilize the resources in any way that works best for you & your students in your classroom!
Example Lesson 1: Breaking the Stereotype & Exposure to the Scientists
When I first introduced the students to the I am a Scientist website it was really a 1-day lesson just to get them to recognize the stereotypes of scientists when portrayed in the media or even the ones that are talked about in our history. I showed them this video to kick off the lesson. It got them thinking about the stereotypes around scientists and it also got them to realize they did not really know of any current practicing scientists.
I then showed students the Scientists Story Kits on the website and how to navigate between the different scientists. “The Slides” is a great option for students to use when looking at any one scientist in particular as it breaks down that scientist’s life story and what they research in a simple and digestible way.
After I showed them how to navigate through the different scientists I gave them some time to browse the ones that stood out to them to read more about them. Before they started browsing, I made sure they knew their goal was to read about at least 3 different scientists and decide to highlight 1 that stood out to them the most.
I had students complete a Google Form reflection to tell me about the scientists they read about, who stood out to them the most and why, and if anything was surprising about any of the scientists they read about. You can also have students share out in small groups so students can hear about other scientists or can share together if they read about the same one.
Example Lesson 2: What do they study & Who stands out to you?
This example is a 1-day class activity that leads into a small project. The project can be scaled up easily for higher grade levels or if you want the project to last a longer length of time.
The 1-day activity portion of this example is a jigsaw lesson to have students investigate what each of the scientists on the website actually studies. Some students might find what a particular scientist studies to be quite interesting, however, they might not realize it without taking a look first. This activity is meant to have students work together and divide and conquer.
All students should receive a copy of a worksheet (digital or physical) that lists all of the different scientists’ names and the short term used to describe their research field on the main Scientist Story Kits Page. For example, the first person on the list is Noor Al-Alusi and she is an Epidemiologist. Some students might know what an epidemiologist is depending on the grade level but a majority likely have no idea that she studies the spread of diseases in communities (quite relevant to everything currently going on in our world right now).
Each student should look up a few different scientists (this will vary depending on your individual classes and the grade level of your students). Once students have filled in the scientists they were responsible for they will come back to their group and share their answers. By the end, all students should have a complete worksheet that lists each scientist and a simple explanation for what they study.
This can then lead to a small project. You can have students select 1 or 2 scientists from the list they are the most interested in. I had my students select 2 scientists. The first was to be chosen because they found what that scientist studied interesting and the other could be anyone they wanted, chosen for any reason. If you don’t want the project to take as long or if you need it to be longer you can have students select more scientists or only 1. With their scientist(s) selected, students then had to answer these 5 questions for EACH scientist they chose.
1. If you could meet this scientist what are some questions you would like to ask them?
2. Did you learn anything that surprised you about this scientist?
3. What do you have in common with this scientist? Or perhaps talk about how you are different.
4. Describe the scientist’s research field. Go into detail about what they study.
5. What questions do you have or problems do you see in the world that this type of science could help you address?
I gave my students choices for how they wanted to answer the questions. They could have longer written responses in a Google Doc, Shorter responses that included visuals in Google Slides, and a Video recording of them answering the questions out loud. You can give students more options or fewer options as you see fit.
An optional extension is to have students share out in small groups about the scientists they chose. This was an opportunity to get the students to engage with each other about their projects and also continue to learn more about other scientists they did not choose.
Example Lesson 3: Biography of a Scientist Presentation
This example could be if you wanted students to take a deeper look at one scientist in particular. This could be paired with the 1-Day activity from example 2 (above) but it is not required. The idea is that you would have students select 1 of the scientists that they are going to take a deep look into.
Students will prepare a presentation that they will share with the class about their scientist’s life, their hobbies, what their schooling was like, what they have researched in their career, and what they are currently researching now. I would recommend having students utilize “the slides” and more specifically have them look at the slide titled “His/Her path to science” to help guide students with this. The slides for each scientist can be accessed by clicking on them from the Scientist Story Kits Homepage.
For older grades, students can be tasked with taking an even deeper look at what the scientist studies beyond the information provided on the I am a Scientist Website. Students would then present to the class or perhaps you could have them practice by presenting in small groups first. Students could give peer feedback before their final presentation. This is all up to your own discretion.
Bonus Example for Young Elementary Grades:
In young elementary grades, teachers can set some class time aside to show students one of the scientists from the website. Perhaps it could be a once a month activity for the students to see and hear about a scientist. Teachers can use the Scientist Story Kits to show students about the specific scientist for that day. If teachers utilize “the slides” that go along with each scientist they can tell students about that scientist’s life, what they study, what hobbies they have, and the students would also be able to see what that scientist looks like from their photo.
One Scientist that could be a great starting point is Noor Al-Alusi because she is an epidemiologist which means she studies the spread of diseases in communities which is quite relevant to everything currently going on in our world right now which would likely resonate with your students.
Teachers can just have students listen and view the resources. They can also have students come up with or even practice writing questions they would want to ask the featured scientist if they were to meet them. Students can also come up with scientific questions (at an age-appropriate level) about what that scientist studies.
Elementary Teachers can also show students this video during the first session of highlighting a scientist to help them realize the importance of seeing diverse scientists and hopefully seeing a path for themselves to possibly pursue STEM in the future.
Homepage for the I am a Scientist Initiative: https://www.iamascientist.info/
Vision for the Initiative: https://www.iamascientist.info/vision
Scientist Story Kits Homepage: https://www.iamascientist.info/collection
Resource Library: https://www.iamascientist.info/resource-library
Breaking Down Stereotypes Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E0ZFXUpZ0-Y&feature=emb_title