Guest Post by Blair Lee, Author R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Biology 2 and Chemistry 1
How did you learn the scientific method? If I were to ask you what the scientific method was, would you rattle off a series of terms? Would you say to me hypothesis, procedure, observations, data and calculations, results, and conclusion? What does this series of terms mean? Why is the scientific method so significant it is a component of all well done scientific studies? More importantly for you as a homeschooling parent, how can you make sure your children are learning the scientific method in a meaningful way?
The Scientific Method: Defined
The scientific method is an investigative method based on experimentation, observation, and deductive reasoning. The purpose of this investigation is to explain a phenomena occurring in the natural and physical world.
The hypothesis is an educated guess. The word “educated” is a key word in this sentence. When a scientist makes a hypothesis they are not just guessing in the way you might guess the outcome of a coin toss. They are basing their guess on what they know about the area of science the experiment focuses on. This is one reason it is critical to understand the foundational fundamentals of a scientific discipline. It is also why it is necessary that science courses begin at the beginning and very clearly build from there with a thoughtful increase in the level of skill required to conduct the experiments.
The procedure is a list of the steps needed to conduct the experiment. The procedure should not include techniques that are too advanced or complicated for students to understand. The procedure in a science experiment is very important.
“A scientific theory is a widely accepted explanation of something observed in science. Theories are based on experimentation, observation, and reasoning—the scientific method. Before something can be called a scientific theory, it must be tested many times by different researchers, who get results that are consistent with that theory.” R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Biology 2
If the procedure is not well written or not conducted in the same way every time, an experimenter can get “results that are not consistent with that theory”. Because scientific theories depend on many different researchers getting results that are consistent with that theory, it is essential the procedure be written and understood clearly.
Once the experiment is set up, it is time to conduct the experiment. While they are conducting the experiment, students will make observations. Observations are the collected data from the experiment. Observations made during an experiment lead to a better understanding of how the natural and physical world works.
It is necessary that scientists and science students be able to report their observations in a meaningful and cohesive manner. The data and results component of the scientific method is where the data, calculations, and observations are written, calculated, and explained.
When deductive reasoning is applied to the data and results, a conclusion is determined that supports the observations. If many different scientists conduct an experiment and get the same conclusion based on their analysis of the data and results, the observations made during the experiment can change or support scientific theories and scientific models.
“A scientific model is a simplified representation of a real system. Scientific models are based on the scientific method. Scientific models make it possible to study large, complex scientific principles and systems.” R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Astronomy and Earth Science 2
The Scientific Method: Applied
When students determine their hypothesis they are applying their understanding of basic science principles with respect to the experiment.
When a student conducts an experiment the procedure is applied in two different ways. As a student reads through the procedure they are reading a set of instructions explaining techniques used in science. Since all scientific theories and models are based on experimentation, a basic understanding of the techniques used in science is a far-reaching component of the foundational fundamentals of science. The second way the procedure is applied is by conducting the experiment. Understandings in science come about through experimentation. It takes countless hours of laboratory work to develop a scientific theory or model. Learning science without conducting experiments is like learning to sew without actually sewing. Science is an active endeavor, not a static one.
The observations and data are applied by using them to determine the results of the experiment. Making observations, collecting data, and using these to determine results are a meaningful application of applied math as it relates to science. The ability to use math applications is an essential skill in science in the same way punctuation and spelling are essential skills for the craft of writing.
The final step when applying the scientific method to an experiment is to use deductive reasoning to determine a conclusion for the experiment. This synthesis of information and application of the foundational fundamentals that should be in the conclusion are more than just an application of the scientific method. It is also a natural and intuitive lesson in logical thinking.
The Scientific Method: Understood
Most of the time students and educators do not pay enough attention to the hypothesis other than to write it or make sure it is written. A student’s hypothesis should be evaluated critically, but not with criticism, to look for how well the student understands the science the experiment is based on. A good strategy to use when your student writes a hypothesis is to ask them what scientific principles or knowledge they are basing their hypothesis on. When this is done students will come to understand how scientists arrive at their hypotheses based on educated guesses.
When students read and then work through the steps of an experiment they come to understand some of the basic procedures real scientists use when conducting experiments. They also come to understand at an intuitive level that scientific theories and models are determined and developed through the application and manipulation of science practices.
Observations made while experiments are conducted are the basis for the data and results that are used to develop scientific theories and models. Students spend a lot of their school time learning math. Using data and observations to determine results helps students understand how math is used to help explain how the natural and physical world works. When experiments are well paired with theory, observations made while conducting experiments greatly increase and add to a student’s understanding of the theory taught. Making observations, collecting data, and then using these to determine results also leads to a better understanding of the work scientists do and the type of deductive reasoning and analysis used for their conclusions that lead to the development of scientific theories and models.
Scientific theories and models are a synthesis of conclusions from many different scientific experiments. It is through conducting experiments in academic situations that students come to understand how conclusions determined using the scientific method can explain how the natural and physical world works.
The Scientific Method: Learned
When science is learned in a manner where theory is carefully paired with experiments chosen so they relate closely to that theory, the scientific method is learned through reasoning and observation. It is also learned intuitively. Instead of relying on a rote memorization of terms and their definitions to explain the scientific method, students understand in a meaningful way how the scientific method works, how scientific theories, models, and principles are developed. Most importantly they learn how these theories, models, and principles are used to explain how the natural and physical world works
Look for part two of this post next month: “A Real World Application of the Scientific Method: How the Scientific Theory of Evolution Was Developed, and How and Why It Continues to Evolve (as All Good Scientific Theories Do).”
Blair Lee M.S. is the homeschooling mother of a 15-year-old. This year she co-founded the group Secular, Eclectic, Academic Homeschoolers, SEA Homeschoolers blog and SEA Homeschoolers on Facebook. Blair writes for the Real Science Odyssey Series, RSO as well as for blogs and magazines. She speaks about eclectic, academic homeschooling and homeschooling science at homeschool conventions.
You can follow her at blairleeblog, Twitter, Facebook, and Katch. Blair loves to read, cook, laugh, and hang out with friends.