Whatever happened to the Scientific Method?

As this is my first posting on the eCYBERMISSION blog, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Matt Hartman and I am the content coordinator for eCYBERMISSION. I hold a bachelor’s in Secondary Earth and Space Science and a Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction. I’m truly looking forward to working with all of you and your students.

I spent almost ten years teaching science at various levels in secondary education. Before that I spent 16 years in school taking science classes at various levels. In all of those different classes, at all of those different levels one thing remained constant: the Scientific Method. As I went from general science, to life science, to earth and space science, to honors biology, to honors chemistry, to honors physics, to AP physics, the Scientific Method came along for the ride. Even in college I would see references to this magic method of solving scientific problems. Is it any wonder that when I became a science teacher I taught it to my students? Now the science education community it up in arms about this way to address scientific problems, and rightly so if it is looked at as a rigid, step-by-step process that cannot be diverged from.

I see that Scientific Method as more of a guide than a rule. Yes, there are ways to solve problems scientifically other than just stating a problem, researching the problem, forming a hypothesis, experimenting, collecting and analyzing data, and then forming a conclusion. But that way works too! I think that teaching students that the scientific method is the only way to solve a problem is wrong, and I really like the scientific practices included in the Framework and most likely to be included in the Next Generation Science standards, but let’s not totally throw away our good friend the Scientific Method. Instead, let’s work with it and improve our understanding of when and how those steps can be used.

This year’s eCYBERMISSION competition has an option of a scientific method/scientific inquiry route. If students choose this route, allow them to see that while the scientific method as we know if now seems quite rigid that can deviate if they wish. Or direct them solidly toward the scientific inquiry side of this path. But either way, make it clear to them that there no set path or method for solving a scientific problem, they must use their imagination and creativity to find a solution to the problem at hand.


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