Nature of Science & Engineering
Interactions Among Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Society

Men and women throughout the history of all cultures, including Minnesota American Indian tribes and communities, have been involved in engineering design and scientific inquiry.

Benchmark: Contributions of Cultures

Describe examples of important contributions to the advancement of science, engineering and technology made by individuals representing different groups and cultures at different times in history.


Standard in Lay Terms 

MN Standard in lay terms:

Throughout human history,  a culture's survival has depended on its ability collect and manage essential resources. Tools needed to be fashioned, food needed to be grown and gathered and a predictive ability needed to be developed and applied to their environment. These processes of engineering design and scientific inquiry started quite simplistically at first and have developed increased complexity as time has progressed.

Big Ideas and Essential Understandings 

Big Idea:

These two ideas have been utilized throughout time by men and women in different cultures.

  • Engineering Design

According to a simple engineering design model proposed by the Engineering is Elementary curriculum, moving through the Engineering Design Process might involve asking the following questions or making the following decisions:


  • What is the problem?
  • What have others done?
  • What are the constraints?


  • What are some solutions?
  • Brainstorm ideas.
  • Choose the best one.


  • Draw a diagram.
  • Make lists of materials you will need.


  • Follow your plan and create it.
  • Test it out!


  • Talk about what works, what doesn't, and what could work better.
  • Modify your design to make it better.
  • Test it out!
  • Scientific Inquiry

Scientific inquiry is a way to investigate the natural world and might utilize the skills of questioning, observation, comparing and contrasting, planning, predicting, interpreting, hypothesizing and inferring. These skills are used to gather information that allowed cultures to understand and construct workable explanations of science phenomena. 

Benchmark Cluster 

MN Standard Benchmarks

  • Describe examples of important contributions to the advancement of science, engineering and technology made by individuals representing different groups and cultures at different times in history.



A Native American quarrier collecting pipestone at the National Park Service interpretive center.

  • NSES Standards:
  • Science and technology have advanced through contributions of many different people, in different cultures, at different times in history. Science and technology have contributed enormously to economic growth and productivity among societies and groups within societies.
  • Scientists and engineers work in many different settings, including colleges and universities, businesses and industries, specific research institutes, and government agencies.
  • AAAS Atlas:
  • Benchmarks of Science Literacy:

            1.  The Nature of Science: CThe Scientific Enterprise

  • Important contributions to the advancement of science, mathematics, and technology have been made by different kinds of people, in different cultures, at different times. 1C/M1
  • Until recently, women and racial minorities, because of restrictions on their education and employment opportunities, were essentially left out of much of the formal work of the science establishment; the remarkable few who overcame those obstacles were even then likely to have their work disregarded by the science establishment. 1C/M2
  • No matter who does science and mathematics or invents things, or when or where they do it, the knowledge and technology that result can eventually become available to everyone in the world. 1C/M3
  • Scientists are employed by colleges and universities, business and industry, hospitals, and many government agencies. Their places of work include offices, classrooms, laboratories, farms, factories, and natural field settings ranging from space to the ocean floor. 1C/M4
  • Common Core Standards (i.e. connections with Math, Social Studies or Language Arts Standards):
  • Minnesota's newly revised (2010) English Language Arts (ELA) standards set K-12 requirements not only for ELA but also for literacy in history/social studies, science and technical subjects.
  •  Conduct short research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question), drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions that allow for multiple avenues of exploration.
  •  Gather relevant information from multiple data,  print, physical (e.g., artifacts, objects, images), and digital sources, using search terms effectively; assess the credibility and accuracy of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.
  •    Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
  •   Write routinely over extended time frames (time for reflection and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences
  •  Use technology, including, but not limited to, the Internet, to produce and publish writing and multi-media texts, and present the relationships between information and ideas clearly and efficiently.


Student Misconceptions 

Much of the flawed thinking connected to this standard results from the belief that our level of thinking today is so much more complex than what people in the past were capable of doing. Examples of these types of thought are:

  • Utilizing technology is a recent development in human history.
  • Men can think and do science better than women can.
  • Primitive cultures are characterized by primitive thinking.
  • Scientific inquiry is a recent development in human scientific endeavors.


Students in Mr. L's eighth grade science class stepped off of the bus at Pipestone National Monument.  Mr.  L. reminded them that they needed their science journals and to meet him by the grassy area in front of the visitor's center in 10 minutes.  After the students were gathered, he pulled out their journal assignment for their time at Pipestone and asked students to look it over.  "Remember, you need to stay with your adult group leader to accomplish these tasks.  Keep in mind throughout the time you are here that this is sacred ground for the Native Americans, so you need to be respectful of both the people you encounter and the environment.  Our first task has us making a prediction as to what cross-bedding might be and then finding some actual cross-bedding to sketch.  Talk with your group and see if you can put together how it formed.  Also, we will be looking at the talus along the trail.  We will also be trying to figure out the story behind those rock pieces.  Let's get on the trail!"

The students split up with their groups and began their hike along the trail. As one of the groups approached a quarry, Taylor stopped and pointed excitedly, "Look!  Someone is working in the quarry!  Can we watch, Mr. L.?"  "Sure, but remember to be quiet and respectful."  The students silently walked closer to the quarry on the trail.  The Native American stopped the work he was doing and looked up and smiled.  "Hi, I'm Joe.  Where are you kids from?"  Brandt told him about their school, then asked, "Can we ask you some questions about the quarry?"  "Sure!", said Joe.  "How long have you been coming here?"  "Thirty years", said Joe. "I come here every May for about three weeks to work the quarry."   "It looks like you really have to work hard at this - using only those hand tools", commented Mitchell.  "Why is it so important to you to come here and do this and what do you do with the Pipestone?"  Joe leaned back on a rock ledge and began his story.  "This site has been important to my people for many years.  There is evidence that suggests that as early as 3, 000 years ago, Native Americans were quarrying from this very area.  The way that we take the stone from the quarry hasn't changed much in those years.  You can see, I still use some pretty simple tools: a wedge, a sledge hammer, a chisel and pry bar", he said as he gestured toward the tools.  "Native Americans use the resources provided by the Earth, just like everyone else, but we prefer to still use some of the old methods that don't have such an impact on the environment. "Look around you", he said as he waved toward the surrounding landscape.  "This is all much as it was many years ago when my ancestors came here to quarry.  Think of how different it might be if we had brought in big power equipment to get the rock out instead!"  Joe picked up a fist-sized piece of Pipestone and handed it to one of the students, "Here, pass this around.  Roll it in your hands and feel it.  This is the Pipestone.  It is a fairly soft rock.  We can carve it into many shapes and designs.  All of them have a story behind them.  Those stories are preserved in the rock when we carve it.   The buffalo, the turtle...all of the carvings have great meaning and significance in my culture. Well, I suppose if I am going to continue that tradition, I better get back to work.  I have this thick slab of quartzite to move before I can get at the next layer of Pipestone.  Nice talking to you kids.  Enjoy the rest of your time here."  The students thanked Joe, then hurried back to the visitor's center, anxious to see the "stories" actually being carved into the pieces of Pipestone.


Instructional Notes 

Instructional suggestions/options;

  • As you can see from the activities and resources that are listed here, this standard is not intended to be taught as a stand alone unit as some of the other science content standards could. Rather, the Nature of Science and Engineering standards were meant to be embedded into the units currently being taught. All of the resources provided here are also linked to another science standard. The two examples listed in the activities illustrate ways to cover this standard as you talk about the development of understanding in astronomy and the properties of matter.
  • Minnesota has a rich Native American history. This is true regardless of where you teach. The vignette talks about taking a trip to Pipestone National Monument which might not be feasible depending on where you teach, but it would be to your advantage if you would check with your local historical society to see what stories your area has to offer. Here is a website that provides links to many of the state's historical societies and museums.
  • Creating an appreciation for ways in which different cultures utilize engineering is also an important part of this standard. Utilizing digital engineering timelines like the one here on the History World website or here on a page sponsored by the National Academy of Engineering. Misconceptions revolving around the belief that utilizing engineering design has only developed recently in human history might be able to be effectively addressed by examining and researching information found on timelines.

Selected activities, labs, lessons, problems

  • History and People Who made the first star map? When did people know that the Earth was round? When were sunspots discovered? The links on this Windows to the Universe page will lead you to biographies of scientists who lived at different times through history. Discover the people who made science history! Divide your class into groups and assign groups a different time period in history to report back on as to who was doing science, what were they doing and what tools were they utilizing?,,
  • The Dynamic Periodic Table is a very useful interactive periodic table tool that allows students to examine groups of elements in multiple ways. Working with the left-hand Wikipedia tab, this website may be used to explore the history of element discoveries. Students may focus on the people, the countries or the techniques used in making these discoveries. This would be a natural extension of your study of properties of substances.,,
Instructional Resources 

Additional resources or links:

  • Pipestone National Monument provides a authentic opportunity to weave Native American culture and land use ethics into a discussion on Minnesota Earth materials lessons.
  • She's Got It! Women Inventors and Their Inspirations (DVD)

Curious about women inventors? Designed for use in the classroom or at home, this video features women and girls who share a common creative spirit and have won invention prizes and awards. Many have appeared in the Lemelson Center's "Innovative Lives" series for middle school students.

Format: DVD, 29 minutes, closed captioned, 2000

How to order: Available free of charge (however, a shipping fee of $2 in the U.S., $5 elsewhere, applies) from the International Technology Education Association. See page 14 of the ITEA Product Guide for details.

  • Innovative lives, a web page also sponsored by the Smithsonian Institute contains a multitude of biographies of different male and female American inventors. A more comprehensive and possibly friendlier page of stories of innovation and invention can be found here. It contains a subject guide to contemporary and historical inventors and inventions featured on the Lemelson Center and National Museum of American History Archives Center Web sites.
  • The Digital Library for Earth System Education (DLSE) is a searchable library of a wide variety of materials related to teaching and learning Earth science.  A search for "cultures" gives a selection of items on the site that relate to both the Earth sciences and cultures.
New Vocabulary 

Vocabulary/Glossary: (align with standard, benchmarks, test specs)

  • Engineering Design - A preconceived design intended to create an idea or device to solve a problem.
  • Scientific Inquiry - A method used to discover new things about the world through questioning, observing and possibly experimenting.
  • Native Americans - A member of any of the peoples indigenous to the Americas except the Eskimos, Aleuts, and Inuits.
Technology Connections 
  • Presentations have not evolved much in the 50 years since the slide was invented, but Prezi is changing that. Prezi lets you bring your ideas into one space and see how they relate, helping you and your audience connect. Zoom out to see the big picture and zoom in to see details - a bit like web-based maps that have changed how we navigate through map books. If you are asking your students to present information to others, this web tool provides an alternative to PowerPoint. Free educational subscriptions are available for students.
  • USGS Culture and History Maps are a collection of Native American lands, public land surveys, and explorer routes across the United States.  These may be useful in discussions related to settlements and how they relate to natural resources and eventual use of the land.
  • Multi-Cultural Astronomy and Women in Astronomy both provide teachers a list of resources that may be useful for students to explore the influence of women and non-western cultures in the field of astronomy.
  • Traditions of the Sun explores observatories designed to study the Sun through civilization.  Each module focuses on a different ancient culture through photography and multimedia.,,
Cross Curricular Connections 
  • Social studies neatly ties to this particular standard.  The stories of the movement of peoples, settlements, and wars are ultimately tied to the land and its resources.  Science and engineering have progressed in response to the needs of people to utilize those resources to survive, or to explore curiosities yet unknown.  Science provides the evidence for new understandings, while social studies provides the understanding of the people behind the science.
  • Art can provide a medium to look at the depiction of tools (technologies) over time in various cultures.  What is being used?  How does in change in artworks over time?



  • An Essential Question for this standard that could be used as the focal point of study and ultimately the assessment piece is: How does culture affect the development of science, and how does science influence changes in culture?  Classroom experiences must give students enough background to wrestle with this question.  Answers will (and should) vary!
  • How was engineering design illustrated in the construction of the Great Pyramid of Giza? Answers may talk about quarrying techniques, stone transportation methods, stone polishing procedures and/or construction techniques.
  • How has the process of stone quarrying changed over time in Minnesota?  Students may start by looking at the quarrying done by Native Americans and that which later developed with the European settlers to the present time.  A variety of responses should be expected depending on the research route taken by the student.
  • How does the influence of women in science change over time? Answers will and should vary.


Questions could be used as self-reflection or in professional development sessions.

  • In what ways can I help students to appreciate how different cultures have continually used inquiry and engineering design to improve their quality of life?
  • What cultures do we have represented in our school and how do they represent contributions to science in the past or present?
  • How can I help students to share their culture through the science concepts that I teach?
  • How did/does the land shape the culture in our area and around the world?


If observing a lesson on this standard, you should be able to see students conducting research, either individually or cooperatively. The use of computers or other technology to access online content might be evident. The teacher may be posing questions that ask students to trace the development of an idea in science. They may be asking students to reflect on the history of the local area. Contributions from different cultures or people groups to scientific advance would be an outcome of this lesson. The teacher may be coming to you with a request to take their class to the local historical society or to some other cultural resource to allow students to experience a more authentic learning environment.


At Risk 

Snow, D. (2003). Noteworthy perspectives: Classroom strategies for helping at-risk students (rev. ed.). Aurora, CO: Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning.

  • In 2002, McREL conducted a synthesis of recent research on instructional strategies to assist students who are low achieving or at risk of failure. From this synthesis of research, McREL identified six general classroom strategies that research indicates are particularly effective in helping struggling students achieve success:
  • Whole-class instruction that balances constructivist and behaviorist strategies
  • Cognitively oriented instruction which combines cognitive and meta-cognitive strategies with other learning activities
  • Small groups of either like-ability or mixed-ability students
  • Tutoring that emphasizes diagnostic and prescriptive interactions
  • Peer tutoring, including classroom-wide peer tutoring, peer-assisted learning strategies, and reciprocal peer tutoring
  • Computer-assisted instruction in which teachers have a significant role in facilitating activities
  • Complete results of this study may be downloaded here.
English Language Learners 

Herr, N. (2007). The sourcebook for teaching science.

  • This page contains strategies to help teachers better attend to the needs of their ELL learners.  These strategies are grouped according to the following learning tasks: listening, visualization, interpersonal communication, laboratory, demonstrations, reading and writing, instruction and vocabulary.
    • Klentschy, M. (2010). Using science notebooks in middle school. Arlington, VA: NSTA Press.
  • Strategies:
  • Front-loading: Teachers plan for words that ELL students will encounter as they do inquiry and within the particular content being studied.  They need to provide not only experience with vocabulary words (the "bricks"), but also the form and context in which they are used in spoken or written language (the "mortar").
  • Word Wall: The teacher writes and discusses the needed vocabulary and posts the words on chart paper, sentence strips, or the board, making sure they remain in clear view for students to use as a resource when writing or speaking.
  • Kit Inventory:  Uses science materials from the current lesson, allowing students to question and discuss the scientific name of these items, their use, and description of the properties of those materials (made of plastic, cylinder-shaped, etc.) in their investigations.
  • Everyday Words and Science Words:  Purposely contrast the meaning of everyday words and science words (For example: "write down" versus "record").  These could be recorded on a chart for student reference.
  • Sentence Stems: Use abbreviated stems or scaffolds to help students begin writing in their science notebooks about their inquiry investigations:
  • I observed _____.
  • I wondered _____.
  • I thought _____ would happen.
  • Today I learned _____.
  • Questions I have now _____.
Extending the Learning 


Critically looking at the current claims and evidences of the times is an opportunity for gifted and talented students to delve more deeply into science content and to engage in lively debate with their peers.  Earth Magazine, Nature, National Geographic and Science Daily all provide a wealth of current research and findings on a variety of science topics.

  • Native Americans In Science is a webpage sponsored by Oracle Education Foundations ThinkQuest library that highlights contributions different Native Americans scientists have made in different scientific disciplines.
  • West Virginia University hosts a website that serves as a resource for teaching science to Native American students.
  • The mission of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) is to substantially increase the representation of American Indian and Alaskan Natives in engineering, science, and other related technology disciplines.
Special Education 
  • Students With Disabilities is a position statement by the National Science Teachers Association concerning the inclusion of and basic adaptations for students with disabilities in the science classroom.
  • Many of the adaptations listed below for ELL students also work well for special education students.
  • Technologies for Special Needs Students: In their newsletter, "Tech Trek",  from the National Science Teachers Association, suggestions are given for using various technologies to make science more accessible to students.  Included are ideas for computer-assisted instruction, assistive technologies (such as voice-recognition software), as well as internet links and  additional resources.



This standard lends itself well to involving parents and possibly even extended family in sharing or researching their culture and their contributions to science and/or engineering.  Even if there is no direct known connection of contributions to science, such conversations with parents open the door to family stories of immigration and the settlements that were based on resources in the forms of land and employment.