Purpose: Students will work in groups to research how a specific field of science has changed over time using the Science News archive and will conduct an interview with someone who experienced those changes. The student groups will then create a podcast using their research and the interview to describe the changes over time.
Procedural overview: After introducing students to the Science News archive, have the class brainstorm which scientific fields exist now compared with 100 years ago. During the discussion, have students make a list of fields. Then, divide students into groups. Each group will create four to five mini-podcasts detailing how a specific scientific field from their list has changed over the last 100 years. The podcasts should incorporate research from the Science News archive, note major discoveries and include at least one first-person interview. These podcasts will be presented to the rest of the class.
For remote teaching, follow the directions for in-person learning, but hold the introductory session and the class discussion in one remote meeting room. Then, put the groups into breakout rooms. Have the class meet in the main meeting room to present their podcasts. If creating podcasts would be difficult, have students make PowerPoint or Google Slides presentations instead.
Approximate class time: 2 class periods, with an extended period between the classes for research and podcast creation.
Computer with internet access
Student Activity Worksheet
Digital recorder or voice-recording app
A free audio-editing program such as Audacity, GarageBand or WavePad
Student Evaluation Forms
PowerPoint of Google Slides (optional)
Introduce students to the Science News archive and ask them to pick a topic of interest to practice researching. Have the students skim several articles in the archive to gain an understanding of the scope of a field.
Use this time to show students how to search the archive effectively, pointing out that they can use the Topic and Date Range boxes to pinpoint research by time period. Using different combinations of search terms will also help students focus their research. For example, a search on “Barbara McClintock” yields 30 articles; a search on “Barbara McClintock” combined with “corn” and “molecular biology” yields eight articles.
Remind students to think about how scientific discoveries have changed society over the last 100 years, and emphasize how scientific knowledge is built upon the discoveries of the past. The students will need such information for their podcasts.
As a class, ask students to brainstorm and make a list of scientific fields studied today that did not exist 100 years ago. To help students, you can prompt them by asking about general fields of biology, chemistry, physics and earth science, as well as a discipline within each, such as genetics, nuclear physics or polymer chemistry. You can supplement the student list with subjects from the list of fields and topics included at the end of this activity or by using the categories that appear when clicking on All Topics in the Science News archive.
Have the students answer the following questions as a class using the Science News archive.
1. What fields of science do you think exist today that did not exist 100 years ago?
Physics, chemistry, biology, geology, genetics, nuclear physics (then high-energy particle physics or atomic physics) and paleontology all existed 100 years ago. Plate tectonics, virology, computer science and astrobiology are all newer, but they have roots in previously established fields.
2. Thinking of fields that existed 100 years ago, how similar are the topics and tools used in the fields today compared with those used back then?
Tools such as animal models, glass apparatuses for chemistry and alpha-particle emitters were in use 100 years ago. Plasmids, RNAi, electron microscopes and lasers are more recent tools. Some topics have shifted significantly. One hundred years ago, genetics was viewed as a competing theory with evolution. Nuclear physics explored what the structure of the atom was 100 years ago, and now physicists know about subatomic particles. Geologists knew the law of superposition and had discovered many types of fossils 100 years ago, but the theory of plate tectonics, the K-T impact hypothesis and other developments had not yet occurred.
3. What helped those science fields become what they are today?
Answers will vary based on discipline. But students should understand that science builds on previous discoveries. The way we view a whole field can change when new discoveries are made. These changes can happen when techniques are introduced from different fields and when researchers use approaches that differ from those used traditionally.
4. What scientific discoveries or societal events helped shape that change?
Student answers will vary. The Cold War between the United States and the former Soviet Union is an example of a historical event that led to rapid change and advancement in science. The race to put people in space and on the moon also led to advancements in satellites, GPS technology and biology.
Place the students into groups of three or four and invite them to select a scientific field from their brainstorming list. Inform the students that they will make four to five episodes for a podcast program covering the history of their chosen subject. The podcast program should total 15 to 20 minutes; individual episodes can vary in length.
Each episode’s content must be based on their research of significant events, discoveries or achievements in the field during the last 100 years, with major world events mentioned, as well as advances in other fields that affected the chosen scientific field. Students should include at least one interview with a person who lived through some of those changes. The interview should include how this individual’s life has been impacted by advances in that field. The groups must complete the research, interview(s) and podcasts as homework before presenting the podcasts in the second class for this activity.
When writing their scripts, encourage groups to use collaborative platforms such as Google Docs. If students are making a PowerPoint or Google Slides presentation instead of a podcast program and wish to include images, suggest they use reliable sources of scientific images and cite sources as required by the site.
To craft the podcast, the students should gather the following information.
1.What was the major experiment/discovery, and who was responsible for it?
Sample answer. In 1928, Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin.
2. Were there any major world events that affected the field in which the discovery was made?
Sample answer. During World War I, many soldiers had limbs amputated or even died from infections and blood poisoning. Fleming researched ways to prevent these infections. He continued this research after the war. During World War II, efforts were made to scale up penicillin production so that it could be used to treat injured soldiers.
3. Who are you interviewing — relative, neighbor, scientist or teacher — and why?
I am interviewing Grandpa Smith because his father was a soldier in World War II.
4. How did the developments or discoveries impact the interviewee or their family?
Grandpa Smith, how did the discovery of penicillin change things? “Oh, it was a wonder drug. My dad told me one time how afraid he was of going to Europe to fight because he had heard about how bad it was for soldiers in the Great War. But he came back, as did his cousins. I later got sick from strep throat when I was about 10 and remember my first shot of penicillin from the doctor. I was better the next day. Now, we can take it as a pill!”
Presentations and evaluations
Give each group time to present its podcast program to the class. If there isn’t enough time, let groups pick one or two of their best episodes, and you can listen to the rest while grading the podcast programs.
Possible assessment method: Ask the students in each group to list what they contributed to the podcast program and rate their fellow group members’ efforts on a scale of one to five, with one meaning little to no work, and five representing superior effort. These lists and effort ratings can be factored into the final grade. Grade students on a rubric of 20 percent for style and 80 percent for content.
Students should use the peer evaluation sheet to assess the efforts of their group members. Included with the sheet is a form that students can use to evaluate presentations by other groups.
Scientific fields and topics
The following list is not comprehensive; it includes fields and subfields.
Physics: classical mechanics, thermodynamics and statistical mechanics, electromagnetism, relativistic mechanics, quantum mechanics, atomic physics, molecular physics, optics, condensed matter physics, high-energy particle physics and nuclear physics, cosmology, astrophysics, geophysics, biophysics, physical chemistry, quantum computing, theoretical physics
Physics topics: black holes, subatomic particles, fission, fusion, nature of matter, electromagnetic radiation, information technologies
Biology: anatomy, botany, cell biology, astrobiology, biotechnology, developmental biology, ecology, evolutionary biology, cladistics, paleobiology, genetics, marine biology, microbiology, theoretical biology, systems biology, zoology, biochemistry, anthropology, archaeology
Biology topics: how life started, cell division, reproductive biology, evolutionary relationships, relationship of DNA and RNA and protein, how genetics affects behavior
Medicine and medical sciences*: general practice, surgery, obstetrics and gynecology, oncology, pediatrics, orthopedics, otolaryngology, uranology, dermatology, podiatry, epidemiology, immunology, pharmacology, molecular biology, neuroscience, physiology, pathology, psychology
Medicine and medical sciences topics: cancer therapies, antibiotics, drug discovery, medical imaging, major medical discoveries
Chemistry: analytical chemistry, inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, materials chemistry, neurochemistry, synthetic chemistry, theoretical chemistry, chemical biology
Chemistry topics: synthesizing biological molecules, major chemistry discoveries, arrangement of bonds
Earth Science: geology, environmental geology, mineralogy, petrology, paleontology, planetary geology, volcanology, hydrogeology
Earth science topics: plate tectonics, history of the Earth
Space science: astronomy, astronautics, satellite technology, radio telescope
Space science topics: the space race, origin of the universe, how the universe ends, structure of the solar system, GPS technology
Mathematics: computer science**, statistics, number theory, algebra, calculus, geometry, mathematical analysis, economics
Mathematics topics: computer programming, internet, coding, differential geometry, discrete mathematics, string theory
Engineering: chemical engineering, civil engineering, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, aerospace engineering, marine engineering, computer engineering
Engineering topics: green engineering, materials, electronics
* Medical sciences have significant overlap with biology, with many fields being assigned to both biology and medical sciences.
**Computer science may be referred to by the names of some of the predecessor fields, including mathematical logic or information theory.
Sign up if you’re interested in receiving free Science News magazines plus educator resources next school year. The Society for Science’s Science News Learning program serves nearly 5,000 public high schools across the United States and worldwide.