Teaching the Scientific Method

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

The scientific method is a time-tested approach to problem solving and investigation. This lesson defines the scientific method and describes how to teach it to your students.

Why the Scientific Method?

Have you ever wondered how to get your students thinking critically about scientific matters? Maybe they need to be more systematic in their thinking, or become independent at planning and pursuing their own investigations. One of the best ways to accomplish these goals is by teaching the scientific method, a way of thinking and learning about science. The scientific method focuses on asking a strong research question, finding strategies for appropriately investigating the question, analyzing findings, and drawing conclusions. The scientific method helps students get into the mindset of scientists, always framing and planning investigations. Let's explore the scientific method and some strategies you can use to teach it effectively.

What is the Scientific Method?

Traditionally, the scientific method has been taught in terms of a set of linear steps that should be followed in order. These steps include stating the purpose of the investigation, doing background research, developing a hypothesis or working theory, conducting an experiment, analyzing results, and drawing a conclusion.

These steps are indeed important to any scientific process; however, we now understand that real scientists do not necessarily work in such a linear way. Instead, scientists focus their work on asking questions and work in various ways over time to find answers. Along the way, they might construct new hypotheses or even change the nature of the question. To teach students about the scientific method is to teach them to think like scientists, who choose the best methods available for answering their questions in accurate and meaningful ways.

Teaching Strategies

The best way to teach the scientific method, then, is to devote a lesson or even a week's worth of lessons to every action or process that is part of working on an investigation. These are some of the processes that can be especially useful to young scientists:

Asking Questions

Asking clear, specific, and interesting questions is a key aspect of the scientific method, and should take a central role in your teaching. Students should practice asking open-ended questions with answers they are really interested in discovering. Students should also practice checking whether their questions will ultimately be answerable.

Making Observations

Many questions are best answered via observational data. An example of a question that requires observation is 'What are the stages of plant growth?' To answer this question, students will need to plant and care for a seed together and observe it each day for several weeks. Observation might include sketching, measuring, and touching, as well as using other senses when relevant.

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