Friday, August 17, 2018

Should I Teach the Scientific Method?

The topic of teaching the scientific method is a controversial subject among science teachers.

The old scientific method teaches students that science is linear.  Many text books use this simplified method of explaining the six main steps.

This method indirectly teaches the students that all scientists follow some easy cookbook recipe-type of science to always find a definitive answer to their question.

However, seasoned scientists know that science is anything but linear!

Scientists understand that a scientific investigation has many different paths it could follow.  Any part of the scientific process could lead to any number of possible next steps. 

For example, a conclusion to an investigation could cause the scientist to pose more questions to research.  Or, scientists could also use the same scientific question to dig deeper on previous research conducted by other scientists.
The Flow of the Scientific Process
© 2008 The University of California
Museum of Paleontology, Berkeley,
and the Regents of the University of California

So, which one should you teach - the scientific method or the scientific process?

I say - teach BOTH!

Now, why do I say that?

It has been my experience that upper elementary through middle school students need to understand the basic steps outlined within the scientific method.

Only once these principles have been mastered will the student be able to grasp how genuine inquiry is conducted through the scientific process.

Do I ignore the reality of the scientific process until the students have mastered the steps of the scientific method?  

Not at all.  I usually carve out some time to have a class discussion about the difference between the scientific method and the scientific process.

I describe to the students how the scientists use the steps of the scientific method but not always in a certain order.  This discussion helps expand the students' scientific way of knowing, which they build upon each year.

I believe teaching the steps outlined in the scientific method is a great foundation for the rest of the school year.  Pairing the scientific method with experimental design will prepare your students to conduct meaningful inquiry related to grade-level content throughout the school year.

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