The Nature of Science – Lesson 2

In Nature of Science Lesson 1 we looked at the contribution the ancient merchant marines made to the beginning of marine science. In the 1500s countries were beginning to send sailing ships across the oceans in search of new markets and products. In the process they made many observations about the oceans – such the existence of ocean currents – which our first activity was based on. Observations are the first step in the process of science. By making such observations questions develop as to why things happen the way they do, and hypotheses can be developed to try and answer them. But our ancient mariners never went so far as to conduct scientific experiments on their observations. They just noted them, thought about them, and had their own ideas of why it was happening.

In this lesson we will look at the other piece of the birth of marine science – science itself. During the classic age of the Greeks many observations were explained with logic. Much of this logic was backed by some mathematics but when they observed something there would be great thought and discussion on these observations. We all know the ancient Greeks as great thinkers and philosophers – and they were – but they never tested their ideas. Instead they argued on logic alone. If it makes sense, then it is so. They were right on many things, but not all.

Photo: Molly O’Connor

The ancient period was followed by what we call the “Dark Ages”. During this period observing and discussing how the world works was basically forbidden. Most who did look into it followed the teachings of the ancient Greeks. They were right, and that is all there is to it. This period lasted for almost 1500 years. During this time little of what we would call science occurred.


But in the 1400 and 1500s a period of awakening appeared – the Renaissance.

Humans began to once again look at nature and the world, make observations, and asking questions. Some great thinkers, inventors, and artists came from this period.

One of the more notable ones was Nicolaus Copernicus. Nicolaus lived during the 1500s. Europeans had discovered the new world 50 years before him and some of the ocean current observations we discussed in Lesson 1 had already been made and mapped. Copernicus turned his thought to the skies. At the time the design of the solar system had been developed by an Egyptian who lived during the Roman period named Ptolemy. Ptolemy had suggested that the Earth was the center of the solar system and others rotated around us. Makes sense. If you watch the sun, moon, and stars, they rotate around us – right? But during the Renaissance people began to question these ideas and develop new ones, Copernicus was one of them. He suggested that the sun, not the Earth, was the center of our solar system and that we rotated around it, as did all planets.

Photo: Molly O’Connor

Here’s the thing though… he based his model on logic and mathematics. He never tested his ideas. Actually, he did not make many observations to come up with his ideas. Most of it was done in his room with drawings and thoughts. We all call Copernicus an early scientist, but he actually was not. He was a great thinker – turns out he was correct, but… he did not follow what we call the scientific process. Most of the “scientists” of his day were the same. Most had other jobs and did “science” as a hobby on their spare time. Most were very wealthy and had the time to do such. Not to take anything away from them. They were all very smart and made some great contributions to science. For example, Copernicus’ idea of a sun centered solar system with planets was expanded by a gentleman named Thomas Digges. He suggested the universe was infinite and that all celestial bodies rotate around the sun, including the stars. Made sense, he was right – the universe is infinite – but he was also wrong – not all celestial bodies rotate around our sun. But, after 1500 years of “sleeping”, the subject we call science was once again moving forward – as was the industry of ocean commerce, and eventually the two would collide with the birth of marine science. But that is for another lesson.

Photo: Molly O’Connor


First, I would like to ask all participating in this program to consider keeping a journal of these lessons and activities. Journaling is a great way to connect all of the observations and activities that you do while involved in this. Scanning them can give you time to think about the entire program and helps make things clearer. PLEASE consider doing this. Maybe we can share what they look like online later. You can do this in a notebook, on your computer, as an art project, however you wish – but I encourage you do this.

The activity for Lesson 2 will model what these early scientists did. Tonight (Sep 2, 2020) the moon will rise just after dark. Record in your journal what time you see it and draw a picture of what it looked like. Tomorrow night repeat this, BUT it is important to observe the moon when it rises IN THE SAME LOCATION each night. The time will change but the spot where you see it should remain the same. Meaning… if you do not record the time until it breaks above the trees, then do the same each night. Stand in the same place. Do this for 5 consecutive nights. (Note: each night it will be later than the night before).

Look at the times you have. What pattern do you see with the time of the moonrise each night?

What pattern do you see with the shape of the moon each night?

Come up with a logical explanation as to why this is happening? This is the type of science Copernicus did. We are not going to test your idea, just come up with a good one. It does not even have the be the right one – don’t worry about that. The idea is to understand what they did. ALL explanations are good ones here.

Kind of fun isn’t it. You will now find yourself doing the same thing with other observations such as

Why do the butterflies only fly during this time of day?

Why does the wind blow from that direction every afternoon?

The Process of Science is beginning.



Posted: September 2, 2020

Category: , Coasts & Marine, Natural Resources
Tags: Nature Of Science, Youth Science Lessons

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