Why the Scientific Method Doesn’t Align with NGSS

May 23, 2021 No Comments

The Scientific Method is a staple in science classrooms.  It is often one of the first topics presented to students at the start of the school year.  However, the Scientific Method doesn't align with the NGSS.

To learn more about what you should do instead, consider signing up for my Student-Driven Investigations Course.

Why the Scientific Didn't Work for Me

I was arguably pretty good at science throughout my K-12 Science Career.  But, when I got to college I struggled in my lab classes.  My instructors didn't give me a pre-printed lab sheet.   I wasn't able to do things on my own. 

My teachers taught the scientific method each year.  Sure, I could tell you the steps.  And, I could write up a decent lab report.  But I didn't know how to do science without someone guiding me through the process.  

It turns out, my story isn't unique.  For many reasons, the authors of the Framework for K-12 Science Education decided to take a different approach.  Below, are several reasons why. If you want to learn more about what to do instead, get on the waitlist for my Student-Driven Investigations course.  

Why the NGSS Uses Practices Instead of the Scientific Method

Instead of teaching the scientific method, you should be teaching your students to use the Science and Engineering Practices. These practices should be used like tools on a tool belt. Ideally, students learn to use each tool separately. Then, when they have learned to multiple tools, they select which tool is best.

Text: Use the Science and Engineering Practices like tools in a toolbox image: Toolbox outlines in navy, filled in with a light blue and purple

If you are already sold on why you should ditch the scientific method, learn more about what to do instead by clicking the button below.

But if I still don't have you convinced, continue reading .Below are several reasons that you shouldn't be using the Scientific Method. 

1. The NGSS teaches students to use the SEPs instead of following the Scientific Method.

The scientific method begins with a single question.  Students must use their background knowledge or research to create a hypothesis.  The students then conduct 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 to help students fully understand the practice of science.

2. The scientific method emphasizes knowledge over the practice of science.

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 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.  Consequently, the scientific method 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, an 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 NGSS Modeling

Modeling is an essential tool that is used in science. However,  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 not covered in 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 encourages teachers to all for true discourse in their classroom to help students make sense of phenomena.  This includes discussing 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.

Are you ready to move beyond the Scientific Method?

If you are ready to move beyond the Scientific Method, my Student-Driven Investigations course was designed just for you.  

This practical, easy-to-follow course will make this transition easy.  I provide simple tips for making the shift to a student-driven classroom.  Plus, the course is filled with time-saving resources designed for busy teachers like you. 


If you aren't ready to give up the scientific method, check out these other resources.

  • Gilbert, J. K. (2004). Models and modeling: Routes to more authentic science education. International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education2(2), 115-130.  Full Article.
  • Kind, P., & Osborne, J. (2017). Styles of scientific reasoning: a cultural rationale for science education?. Science Education101(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 Education25(2), 157-175. Full Article.
  • McNeill, K. L., & Martin, D. M. (2011). Claims, evidence, and reasoning. Science and Children48(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 journal43(4), 783-835. Full Article.

Erin Sadler

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