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.
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")