The Scientific Method is a staple in science classrooms and is often one of the first topics presented to students at the start of the school year. Many teachers begin the year with a lab that is unrelated to their content in order to teach the components of the Scientific Method.
With the adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards, past teaching practices should be reconsidered to determine if they meet the intent of the new standards. The Scientific method is no exception.
For the reasons listed below, I no longer teach the scientific method in my classroom.
1. The scientific method suggests an algorithmic approach to answering scientific questions.
The scientific method begins with a single question. Students must use their background knowledge or research to create a hypothesis. The student then conducts an experiment for the purpose of gathering data to support or refute their hypothesis. This algorithmic model of science does not represent what scientists do in their work because it is oversimplified and overemphasizes the steps in the process rather than the practice of science.
Instead of following a linear path, students should be taught to use different science practices like tools on a tool belt. The Science and Engineering Practices were designed in order to help students to fully understand the practice of science.
2. The scientific method emphasizes knowledge rather than inquiry.
Before NGSS, students learned necessary background information (usually through lecture) prior to completing a lab. Teachers provided students with an investigation that had step-by-step instructions to lead students through an observation style lab that confirmed what they had already learned. This style of activity is antithetical to the intent of the behind the NGSS. The framework states that students should be figuring out scientific concepts rather than learning about them.
When using the scientific method, students must use background knowledge to provide an answer to a single question in the form of a hypothesis. This approach over-emphasizes the importance of content knowledge and is in contrast to the three-dimensional approach of the NGSS.
The scientific method also requires that students focus on a single question. On the other hand, and inquiry-based approach acknowledges that scientific questions often lead to more scientific questions. Students should regularly be generating and answering their own questions during inquiry-based lessons.
3. The Scientific Method Doesn’t Include Modeling
Modeling is an essential tool that is used in science and it is completely absent from the scientific method. Student models are representations of their current understanding of a phenomenon and should evolve over time. Scientists regularly use models in order to map their own understanding, share ideas, guide discussions, generate questions and find holes in their ideas. While models are used repeatedly in science, their absence in the scientific method provides further evidence that the scientific method is incomplete.
4. The Scientific Method Also Downplays the Role of Argumentation
Argumentation is another essential component of the practice of science that is deemphasized when using the scientific method. Though students should generate a conclusion that supports or refutes their initial hypothesis, this does not meet the full intent of argumentation as intended in the framework.
The framework was written with the intention that students will engage in true discourse about their understanding of given phenomena. In addition to supporting a claim with evidence, students should be given the opportunity to discuss opposing claims. Students should engage in debate and use argumentation to refine their understanding of concepts.
How to Start Your School Year
Check out this blog post to find out what I do to start the school year instead.
- Gilbert, J. K. (2004). Models and modeling: Routes to more authentic science education. International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, 2(2), 115-130. Full Article.
- Kind, P., & Osborne, J. (2017). Styles of scientific reasoning: a cultural rationale for science education?. Science Education, 101(1), 8-31. Full Article.
- Krajcik, J., Codere, S., Dahsah, C., Bayer, R., & Mun, K. (2014). Planning instruction to meet the intent of the Next Generation Science Standards. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 25(2), 157-175. Full Article.
- McNeill, K. L., & Martin, D. M. (2011). Claims, evidence, and reasoning. Science and Children, 48(8), 52. Full Article.
- National Research Council. 2012. A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. PDF Version.
- Windschitl, M., & Thompson, J. (2006). Transcending simple forms of school science investigation: The impact of preservice instruction on teachers’ understandings of model-based inquiry. American educational research journal, 43(4), 783-835. Full Article.
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