Spend any time with me, mention the scientific method and you’ll see me cart out the metaphorical soap box. I think we’ve become hindered by the artificial steps outlined within THE Scientific Method. It suggests a very linear process, through very specific steps and typically ends with students arriving at the same answer simultaneously. I think we should do away with the scientific method. Take down your posters! Change your worksheets!
In Teaching for Conceptual Understanding in Science (2015), authors Richard Konicek-Moran and Page Keeley say, “Science is not a step-by-step recipe for discovery; nor is it a methodical, systematic way of investigating the natural world that is rigidly followed in all areas of science.” (p. 41) Students should be able to ask questions that can be tested, they should be able to design and carry out those tests, they should be able to analyze the resulting data , arriving at some conclusions and they should be able to communicate what they have learned.
Loosening the structure on students exploration of big ideas, opens more opportunities for them to do the thinking and the sense-making. It creates cognitive dissonance and the need to collect more information, run more trials. It opens up experiences in which kids seemingly fail…and then find a way through that failure into understanding.
I don’t think science in our classrooms needs to be neat and tidy. In fact, I worry that when it is too neat and tidy, students are merely memorizing what they think we want them to parrot back. Once the parrot back occurs, the memorized idea disappears.
In order for our students to really learn the big ideas in science in way that the learning stays with them, they are going to need to get messy. The need to step outside the rigid, methodical structure and really think, really explore. And at the end of the day, they need to really do the sense-making and demonstrate their understanding.
Let’s let go of the archaic scientific method. Instead, let’s become knowledgeable about the Science and Engineering practices embedded in each of the performance expectations of the NGSS. Through these practices let’s encourage students to do the thinking,exploration and sense-making.