My Rant about Scientific Methodology

At some point at the beginning of each year, some poor student will introduce "The Scientific Method", which I take as an opportunity to rant about textbooks dumbing down science. I will be talking with students about making observations and questioning those observations, and someone will say something about the "steps" of the scientific method. I will stop whatever conversation we have been having about noticing details and start into my rant.


My rant consists of blasting textbooks for oversimplifying science and teachers for buying into these oversimplifications and being underprepared for the subject. I usually go on for several minutes, to make sure I get my point across, then I thank the poor student that triggered my rant for giving me the opportunity to correct this horrendous miseducation.


Why is it felt that to teach scientific methodology, there needs to be a formula of steps to follow? I have seen the scientific method defined as four to 14 steps. I have seen "lesson plans" to lead students through five steps that are to be memorized as "POHEC" (problem, observation, hypothesis, experiment, conclusion). I have seen definitive answers to questions such as "What is the order of the seven steps of the scientific method?" That is not how science works. No way. No how. Not real science.

And in what reality is a hypothesis and "educated guess"? Not the real world of science, that's for sure! My rant on this could be a whole separate blog, but please teachers, eradicate this phrase from your vocabulary.

(Added 5/6/2010: I found a great post titled "Is Teaching the Scientific Method a Form of Child Abuse?" You should read that as well.)

Science is circular, it flows from one idea or concept to another and builds upon itself and the work of others. This schematic better illustrates how real science works. I really like the benefits and outcomes frame as it concisely answers the "why do I need to know science?" question that students might have.

The complete version of this animation and a discussion of each element is contained at How science works: The real process of science. The elements discussed are illustrated in the figures on the same site. I strongly recommend that all elementary teachers and middle and high school science teachers read the pages at this site.

 
 


(Note added 2012 August 19: Another good read, another scientist blogging the errors of "The Method", Science Is Not A "Method")

9 comments:

Stardiver said...

Add to rant: A hypothesis is NOT an "educated guess." Thank you, that is all :-)

Stardiver said...

Please add to rant: A hypothesis is NOT an "educated Guess." That is all. Thank you :-)

Reflections of a Science Teacher said...

Oh my goodness! Did I leave that out of the first version? Well it is in there now!

Stardiver said...

You're awesome! My current mission is elementary science ed. We should talk.

Tami Thompson said...

I want to make clear that I absolutely agree with your rant about teaching the scientific method. But in some defense, I also would like point out that in my state's high stakes testing, the scientific method (question, hypothesis, procedure, etc) is a significant part of this test. That doesn't make it right, it just is a reason for the perpetuation.

Reflections of a Science Teacher said...

Tami, I disagree. My state, too, has that list and my students must pass the state test to graduate. But that still does not justify its perpetuation. Educators who know better must take corrective action. Otherwise they are teaching hypocrisy and not science. Teach your students science. Teach them how to wonder, how to be curious, how to investigate their curiosity, how to share discoveries.

Reflections of a Science Teacher said...

There really is no reason at all for needing to teach the "steps" of the scientific method in elementary school. We are turning off students to the beauty of science when we focus do.

Jill said...

Don't feel alone - I think "dumbing down" occurs in just about every subject on the high school level. As an English teacher, I have a full blown gag reflex every time a student refers to the five paragraph essay formula. I understand that this represents a simple way to introduce students to what can seem like a daunting task. The problem is that we don't seem to expect students to grow beyond it once it's introduced.

Reflections of a Science Teacher said...

Just found this great post 'No more “scientific method”': http://k12science.wordpress.com/2010/07/21/no-more-scientific-method/

Check it out!