July 23, 2014

Updating how we teach the process of science

Posted by Laura Guertin

This week, I’m with a group of in-service middle school teachers for a week-long workshop on climate science.  It is always inspiring to connect with K-12 teachers to see and hear about their passion for their classrooms and for teaching – and always frustrating to hear that they have to do so with so few resources that include outdated textbooks.  And in those outdated textbooks we will find the “scientific method,” the way each of us were taught how science is conducted (you know that linear process – formulate a hypothesis, collect data, analyze data, formulate a conclusion…).

This video titled “How Science Works” from the IODP education staff is making its rounds again on social media channels and email lists, and it is a great starting point to generate a discussion of not only describing the nonlinear process of science, but showing footage of oceanographic research.

Below are some of the additional resources I plan on sharing with teachers for their own content knowledge and for ideas on what to share with their own students.

  • Anthony Carpi and Anne Egger have created 21 modules on the Visionlearning website grouped under the category The Process of Science (with some information duplicated on the SERC website, including supplements from a 2009 workshop on the same subject).  The Visionlearning modules each summarize the key concepts, have a multiple-choice quiz, and list resources for further exploration.
  • PBS Learning Media has a high school lesson plan on The Process of Scientific Experimentation, complete with media resources for case study analysis and group discussion – and I’m pleased to see that one of the lesson objectives is for students to “recognize that scientific knowledge can be constructed in some disciplines, including Earth science and evolutionary biology, without reliance on experimentation.”

A great video that I plan on sharing with my students early in the semester is Uri Alon’s TED talk titled Why Truly Innovative Science Demands a Leap Into the Unknown (embedded below), which includes a mention of his own frustrations on not being able to follow that expected/linear scientific pathway – and how that made him feel like a failure.

[ted id=2020]


We would all of our students (especially our non-science majors) a huge favor this fall semester by spending a few minutes talking about how scientists do their job – and even personalizing the discussion by talking about how we each do our own research.



Additional sources for exploration

Bobrowsky, M. (2007).  The Process of Science: and its Interaction with Non-Scientific Idea – a guide for teachers, students, and the public.  American Astronomical Society.  (PDF online)

Burnett, S., R.H. Singiser, & C. Clower (2014, January). Teaching About Ethics and the Process of Science Using Retracted Publications. Journal of College Science Teaching, 43(3): 24-29. (Available online and free PDF download)

Coil, D., M.P. Wenderoth, M. Cunningham, C. Dirks (2010).  Teaching the process of science: faculty perceptions and an effective methodology.  CBE Life Sciences Education, 9(4): 524-535. doi: 10.1187/cbe.10-01-0005 (Available online)

Herman T., S. Colton, & M. Franzen (2008).  Rethinking Outreach: Teaching the Process of Science through Modeling.  PLoS Biol 6(4): e86. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0060086 (Available online)

Oreskes, N. (2014).  Why we should trust scientists.  TED talk from TEDSalon NY2014, filmed May 2014.  (Video online)