In my visits to classrooms, I often see a poster that presents what is called “The Scientific Method.” Some of these posters list four parts to the process, others go as high as seven, but what they all have in common is a sense of linearity, a one foot in front of the other and unchanging process. And they invite teachers to teach the “process” or “method” in isolation from actually faciltating the things scientists do and students to memorize those steps in that same isolation from the practice of science.
In Science for the Next Generation: Preparing for the New Standards (NSTA, 2013), Leslie Quattrone points out that ”past iterations of science standards have identified these practices as skills without explicitly tying them to content.” Posterized, that looks like our illustration: Purpose, Research, Hypotheses, Experiment, Analysis, and Conclusion. Additional text sometimes spells out these “steps,” for example, “Experiment: Develop a procedure to test hypothesis.” And some that are closer to the reality of what scientists do suggest an iterative process by placing these discrete skills in a circle or adding arrows to show the way scientists loop back to refine their questions and hypothesis. You can see an example and read an interesting discussion of the traditional scientific method schema here that makes the meaning of each part of the process much clearer than most of the typical charts.
But what should we post instead?
The NGSS Dimension 1 list of Scientific and Engineering Practices provides a much more comprehensive portrayal of the work of scientists. Leslie Quattrone says “these eight practices counter the misconception that there is one scientific method with a set number of linearly sequenced steps. Students do not learn these practices by simply watching a teacher demonstrate them or by merely reading about them in a textbook. Doing and learning science require that students actively engage in the work of real scientists and engineers.”
So let’s consider taking down those “The Scientific Method” posters and putting in their place the eight scientific and engineering practices that define inquiry learning and the actual work of scientists and engineers. Then, let’s refer to them as students are actively engaged in thinking and behaving like scientists and engineers. They are not to be memorized; they are to be lived.
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