Written by Andrea Bixler, Clarke University
– To practice reading and communicating about instructor-chosen areas of science
In this activity, groups of students read short newspaper or magazine articles and share the information contained therein. It’s like a journal club, but with simpler content and writing, and a shorter time commitment, making it more appropriate for introductory classes. The articles are chosen in advance by the instructor to fit his/her instructional objectives. Several articles can be provided on one subject, perhaps to give additional information on a difficult topic, demonstrate multiple approaches to one problem, or offer several examples of a single concept. Alternatively, articles may focus on a range of related subjects, such as radiometric dating, how fossils are formed, and mass extinctions. By having different groups of students read different articles, then briefly review the highlights for their classmates, the instructor can add a lot of material to the course relatively quickly in an active learning format.
Articles may be given to students in a previous class period to be read as homework, or at the beginning of the activity to be read in class. As with any other discussion assignment, students may hit on the crucial points easily, or the instructor may have to help the students discover the important elements with guided questioning. After students have read the articles, the instructor solicits comments about them, either generally, or on specific points of interest.
Students will be more likely to relate the information in the article to the points the instructor wants to emphasize if they are given specific questions when they start to read the article. Depending on the learning objectives, these questions could be as simple as “What did you find most interesting in the article?” or “How does the research described in the article relate to [support/differ from/help you understand] the discussion in your text?” Alternatively, questions or directions could be much more specific, such as “Be able to explain how researchers arrived at an age of 12,000 years for the fossil primate.”
Time Needed: One class period (can be increased or decreased depending on needs)
Where to find appropriate articles:
– Science sections of newspapers, such as Science Tuesday in The New York Times
– Popular science magazines such as Discover, National Geographic, National Wildlife, Scientific American
– Blogs such as those at scienceblogs.com
– Or sign up for a daily e-mail of science news from Sigma Xi at smartbrief.com
A note on copyright: most newspapers and magazines will make their articles available for classroom use for a fee that they consider to be small, but which may still be outside your budget. To eliminate copyright concerns, you may wish to provide only a link to each article, not a copy of the article. This would necessitate you providing the articles in advance of class unless your students all have internet access during class. It is also considered lawful to use a new article soon enough after its publication that you could not reasonably be expected to obtain copyright permission. This of course means that you would not use that same article the next semester without requesting permission to do so. Blogs may be an entirely different story, depending on how they are protected. Check the copyright specifications on the blog in question.
Activity Instructions: The article choice will vary widely depending on instructor’s objectives. To promote discussion, I typically have each group of students discuss their answers before the whole-class discussion, and I tell them that everyone is required to have an answer ready, even if it is not their own. Under this scenario, I feel comfortable calling on anyone, hand raised or not. Otherwise, I just ask for volunteers. It would also be possible to do a more formal set-up in which one group member is the reporter and the others have individual jobs (recorder, researcher, etc.) .
Example: First Artificial Enzyme Created by Evolution in a Test Tube
Read the article from Science Daily here.
Assessment: (example questions that could be used with the article above).
Your textbook discusses 4 steps that would lead to the abiotic origin of life. This explanation was around for decades before the research reported here.
1. What is special or different about how these scientists developed the new enzyme?
2. How does the development of the new enzyme help us better understand the abiotic origin of life?
3. What is relevant or important about the enzyme being a type of RNA ligase?