MSSE Program, Montana State University Online Courses


General Science and Teaching


Author Post
Kathryn Kennedy Kathryn Kennedy 9055 Points

Hi all - I'm about to introduce our new unit in physical science (9th grade) and want to start with a lesson about the kinetic theory. Does anybody have a favorite lesson or activity dealing with what a theory actually is and how it is different from everyday speech, how it is different from laws and how it is different from a hypothesis? I'd love any and all advice, ideas, lessons and/or activities. Cheers! Kathryn

Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 91561 Points

This is my favorite resource on this topic, Kathryn.
Science 101: How does a scientific theory become a scientific law?
Dr. Robertson also has a Podcast about Kinetic Theory that might be helpful to you. It was part of a web seminar where Dr. Robertson taught about energy based on his Stop Faking It: Energy book that you can purchase through the NSTA book store. Anything by him is GREAT!
Hope this helps.

Betty Paulsell Betty Paulsell 48560 Points

Katheryn, There is a great article entitled "Science 101: How does a Scientific Theory become a Scientific Law". It is in the January 2009 issue of Science and Children. You can do a search for the title or just go to NSTA Journal articles under Learning Resources and Opportunities.

Kathryn Kennedy Kathryn Kennedy 9055 Points

Thank you for all the ideas! I'm definitely going to use the journal article about hypotheses, laws and theories and I'm currently reviewing the model book chapter. Thank you again for all the advice and links to resources. Cheers! Kathryn

Eric Carlson Eric Carlson 30050 Points

Carolyn, when I first saw the title of the article, I was mortified, because I knew the answer was that they didn't. It was a great relief to see that was the author's main message! Kathryn, I piloted a lesson this year that I thought went decently well for a first go around. After having students read the books definitions (which for most of them was a meaningless set of words to regurgitate), I had them get with a partner and formulate their own scientific laws, then match up with another group of two and state their law and defend their reasoning for it. Afterwards, I asked for a few class examples and explanations. Some laws they came up with were: The law of evaporation (water will always evaporate) The law of day and night (day always follows night, night always follows day) The law of density (if an object is more dense than a liquid, it will sink, if less dense, it will float) I also encouraged them to think of things that would break their law, such as floating a needle on water (which can be done), and if there were any qualifications on their law (that water must be in an open container was an added qualification after discussion). I think a possible extension to this would include giving them a number of written statements and having them classify them as laws, hypothesis, theory, or none . As was, I think the lesson did a pretty good job of conveying what is meant by scientific law.

Kathryn Kennedy Kathryn Kennedy 9055 Points

Hi Eric - What a great activity! Thank you so much for sharing that idea. I'm going to use that for my lesson activity tomorrow. I also had the idea of asking students to tell me what they know about hypotheses, laws and theories and how they relate to each other. It's always interesting to hear what sticks with them. Thank you again for sharing. Cheers! Kathryn

Eric Carlson Eric Carlson 30050 Points

Glad I could be of help. Let me know how it goes, and if you find a good way for giving them a sense of what is meant by theory and hypothesis, I'd love to hear it.

Jennifer Rahn Jennifer Rahn 67955 Points

Kathryn, The relationships between hypotheses, theories, and laws have been the subject of many discussion threads on the NSTA listserves. I will second the suggestion to look at the Robertson article, and might also suggest "The Prepared Practitioner: Why Theories Never Become Laws" and a UC Berkeley site about how science really works. Links to all are included in the attached collection.

Hypotheses, Theories, Laws Collection (4 items)
Kathryn Kennedy Kathryn Kennedy 9055 Points

Hi all - Thank you so much for posting regarding this question. I wanted to share a formative assessment that I made to give to my students to see what they understand. This assessment is modified from the article, Myths in Science, in the November 2004 issue of "The Science Teacher". I plan on having them take it individually, then as a table. After they take it as a table, different groups will present their ideas for select questions and we'll discuss to build meaning. For homework, their job will be to 'find' as many scientific laws and scientific theories and briefly justify why they are considered a law or theory. Again, thank you for assisting me as I struggled with this topic. Cheers! Kathryn

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