5: How to Ditch the Scientific Method in Your NGSS Aligned Class

July 1, 2020

In this solo episode, Erin explains why you should ditch the Scientific Method in your NGSS aligned classes.  Erin recommends focusing on the Science and Engineering Practices instead.  

Introduction (0:00) 

Every year right before school begins, we see teachers all over social media prepping to go back into the classroom.  They are getting ready for that very first unit.  And, even though they have shifted to the NGSS, they are still using that first part of the school year to introduce the Scientific Method.  

What are the problems with using the scientific method in an NGSS aligned class? (1:54)

There are many problems with the Scientific Method.  This is why the authors of the K-12 Science Framework explicitly state that the Scientific Method shouldn’t be used anymore.  

What is the Scientific Method?  

The Scientific Method is a linear method of investigating scientific questions.  Students will follow a series of steps to come to a conclusion.  The conclusion is essentially an answer to the original question. 

The steps of the Scientific Method might vary a bit depending on textbook publishers and personal preference.  But the method itself is still essentially the same.  

Problem #1: The Scientific Method is Linear.

The scientific method doesn’t represent what we see in the real world.  The steps that scientists use do not follow a linear progression.  Problems arise and new questions come up.  

This process is not always the same.  This is why scientists must include a methodology section in their research papers.  

By teaching them to follow the Scientific Method step-by-step, we aren’t teaching them to do real science.  

Problem #2: The Scientific Method encourages knowledge over practice.

As we are shifting to NGSS, our students often just want to know the “right answer”.  The Scientific Method encourages students to investigate a single question until they get the answer which is written in the conclusion. By continuing to use the Scientific Method, we are continuing to emphasize the “right answer”.

The problem is that our current understanding of the natural world is always changing.  As we make advances in technology and discover new things, our understanding of the natural world needs to be adjusted.  

Sometimes, scientists discover that their previous understanding was incomplete or incorrect.  Their explanation needs to be adjusted.  Critics can use this shift to discredit the work of scientists.  

It is so important that students understand the nature of science so that they understand that these adjustments are necessary and expected.  

We also want students to be able to evaluate the methodology that is used.  They should also be able to look at funding and other factors that may cause bias in a study.  

When we only teach students to seek a conclusion, we aren’t helping to see the true complexity of science.  

Problem #3: The Scientific Method doesn’t give students all of the tools that they need.  

One of the major tools that the scientific method is missing is modeling.  

Modeling is an important tool in science.  Modeling allows scientists to improve their understanding of a concept as well as help them to see the holes in their understanding.  Also, modeling allows scientists to share their current understanding with peers.

Argumentation is also absent from the scientific method.  When a scientist publishes a paper, that paper is subject to the scrutiny of the scientific community.  This often results in arguments within the scientific community that leads to changes in our understanding of phenomena.

However, by following the scientific method, we are teaching students that once they get to the conclusion, they are done.  

What should you use instead of the scientific method? (9:27)

Instead of using the scientific method, you should be teaching students to use the Science and Engineering Practices.  

Erin likes to present the Science and Engineering Practices like tools on a toolbelt that students can choose to use at any time.  

For example, the SEP of Asking Questions is not just the start of the investigation.  Students should be asking questions throughout the scientific process.

Also, students should expect that their explanations will need to be revised.  For example, a student may create an initial model to explain the phenomenon.  However, after an investigation, students will likely have a better understanding of the phenomenon.  Therefore, their model will need to be revised.

Students also need to be taught to evaluate claims.  They should be taught to ask questions about how we know what we know and look for bias in the claims.

Don’t ditch the Scientific Method just to teach all of the Science and Engineering Practices at once.  (12:46)

In an effort to replace the scientific method, many teachers are teaching all of the practices all at once.  This is equally problematic. 

In order for the practices to have meaning, they must be taught in context.  Skimming over all of the practices at once will not show how these practices can be used and is essentially a waste of your class time.  

Instead, consider introducing the Science and Engineering Practices immediately before they will be used in your classroom.  

What should your first few weeks of school look like if you aren’t using the Scientific Method? (14:35)

Consider moving into your first unit more quickly than you might have in the past.  Erin suggests limiting the amount of time that is spent on lab safety and other procedures so that this information can be introduced in context.  

By introducing this type of information to students in context, it will be much more relevant to them.  Starting with engaging material at the start of the school year will also help create buy in.  

Your first unit will take a lot longer because you are introducing all of these procedures in context.  Even though you are diving into your first unit, you will still need to explicitly teach students your classroom expectations and how they will need to act in your classroom.

Also, relationship building is HUGE in the first few weeks.  You should be working to build relationships with your students.  Consider spending the first few days in the classroom getting to know your students through surveys and conversations. 

It is also important that you help foster relationships between students in your classroom.  Use team building activities and group roles to help them.

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