S3 E5: Saying Goodbye to Lessons on the Scientific Method with NGSS

September 13, 2020

In this episode Nicole and Erin explore the question, “Is it time to let go of the Scientific Method?” Nicole and Erin discuss why the answer is a resounding yes. Though many teachers start the school year with lessons on the scientific method, this doesn’t meet the intent of the NGSS. Find out why and what to do instead.

Why Lessons on the Scientific Method Don’t Align with NGSS

Lessons on the the Scientific Method don’t meet the intent of the NGSS for many different reasons. Here are Nicole and Erin’s top reasons.

The Scientific Method emphasizes correct answers over the practice of science.

The scientific method implies that there is a single correct answer. By using this method, students are supposed to be able to quickly find the answer to a question. However, this isn’t how science works.

In the current climate, we see some people question the accuracy of the process of science. This is because what we know seems to change. However, our understanding of a phenomenon should change each time that we obtain more information.

Nicole and Erin hypothesize that this is due, in some part, to a lack of understanding about the practice of science. The NGSS has attempted to rectify this with the addition of the Science and Engineering Practices.

The Scientific Method leaves out important tools that scientists use.

The scientific method leaves out important tools like argumentation and modeling. Scientists use both of the these tools to improve their understanding of a phenomenon.

However, these tools have been included as Science and Engineering practices in the NGSS standards.

Observations in non-controlled experiments are important too.

We obtain important information by observing phenomena in the natural world. This information is valuable even if it is not obtained in a controlled setting. It is important that students understand the significance of this type of information.

There is more than one way to design an investigation.

Also, it is very important that students understand that there is more than one way to design an investigation. Students may chose to design the same investigation in different ways. Then, they can use argumentation to discuss which method was better. Or, they can discuss the benefits of each method.

The scientific method emphasizes the whole process rather than the parts.

Usually, when you use the scientific method, you do all of the steps of the method. This is problematic for two reasons.

First, this enforces the idea that the process of science is a linear process. Once again, this promotes the idea that that you can get the right answer by going through the scientific method once.

Secondly, when we teach the scientific method, we usually teach it in its entirety. This makes it difficult to teach each component in depth. Also, this makes it more likely that learning about practices gets relegated to a “lab day” rather than everyday practice.

Replacing lesson on the scientific method with NGSS aligned lessons

What should I do if my state test still includes the scientific method?

In this case, it still makes sense to teach the individual practices. Then, at the end of the year, you can explain to students that these practices can be organized into the scientific method. This allows you to teach the practices as intended without dealing with many of the problems associated with the scientific method.

Don’t students need to know the scientific method for college?

Emphasizing the practices prepares students for their college experience far better than teaching the scientific method. Students used to leave high school with a broad understanding of the scientific method.

Instead, with NGSS, students will have an in-depth knowledge of the Science and Engineering Practices. This will make it easier for students to adapt to college-level courses. Also, it will give them superior background knowledge that they can apply to the Scientific Method if they are required to use it in college.

Isn’t the Science and Engineering Practice of Planning and Carrying Out Investigations the same as the scientific method?

It’s important to look at the sub-components of each of the Science and Engineering Practice. Nicole and Erin like to look at the NSTA Matrix.

Some components of this practice are not addressed by this practice. Also, it is possible to only address one or two sub-components during a lesson sequence. This provides the opportunity to give studnets more exposure to the practice of Planning and Carrying Out Investigations.

What do you do instead of the scientific method?

Instead of introducing the scientific method at the beginning of the year, introduce the Science and Engineering Practices in context.

Focus on multiple practices in each lesson sequence. You don’t have to stick to the SEP that is listed on the standard. Instead, you can add in practices that apply and help students to understand the anchoring phenomenon.

This give students frequent exposure to the practices.

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