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Science Skills: Applying the Scientific Method

Teaching the “skills of science” is of the utmost importance.   I cannot stress this enough!  Yes, the "content of science" is important, but the content cannot be taught to our students until the skills are taught to our students. Scientific method, metric measurement, scientific notation, prefixes and suffixes, significant figures, compare/contrast, problem solving, critical thinking, dimensional analysis, proper use of lab equipment, scientific writing ... these are the skills I am referring to.  If the skills are taught properly at the beginning of the school year, your students will be equipped with the tools they need to be successful for the rest of the year.  Science is more than the memorization of a long list of facts.  Science is problem solving, analyzing, predicting and experimenting.  Make the teaching of basic science skills a priority in your class.

In a previous article, I talked about the importance of graphing skills.  Today, I want to talk about the importance of being able to apply the scientific method.  The key word here is...... apply.  You may be thinking, "I teach the scientific method every year during the first week of school."  Many teachers have their students write down the 5 or 6 steps to scientific method, define some keywords such as hypothesis, variable, and theory, re-state the 6 steps on a test, and .... DONE!  Time to move on to the next topic.  

We can do better than that.  Teaching our students how to apply the steps of the scientific method is not easy, and it takes up quite a bit of valuable class time.  We have to create lessons that teach the application of the scientific method, not lessons that teach the memorization of the scientific method.  

At the beginning of the school year we should give assignments that:
  • Reinforce graphing skills.
  • Teach students to interpret and analyze graphs.
  • Provide writing prompts to teach students how to design a controlled experiment.
  • Teach students to identify the independent and dependent variables in an experiment.
  • Teach students how to apply the scientific method to a particular scenario.
  • Give students practice in scientific writing.
Please get away from using only multiple choice, true and false, and matching questions.  I try as much as possible to have my students WRITE.  It is very time consuming to grade, but when students are asked "to design an experiment to show..." , you are teaching so many of the above skills.  And you are not just teaching the scientific method.  You are reinforcing critical thinking, problem solving, and best of all, good writing skills.

If you are just beginning to develop lessons on the scientific method, download my  FREE Scientific Method PowerPoint.  This is a 26 slide PowerPoint presentation on the nature of science and the scientific method.  The slides are colorful and visually appealing.  Steps of the scientific method are covered, but more importantly, the lesson provides examples and practice problems illustrating the application of the scientific method.  Analysis questions and answers are included.  The download also includes 4 pages of notes for the teacher and a 5 page outline of the notes for the student.  

Now take your students to the lab and see how well they can apply what they have learned about the scientific method.  My free "Can Your Students Write a Clear and Concise Procedure" is a great introduction into scientific writing. It's a fun activity that reveals to students the importance of accuracy and details when writing in science.  

Now you are ready to teaching students how to design and carry out a controlled experiment.  Start with this classroom activity (Applying the Scientific Method and Scientific Writing) involving hypothetical situations.  

Forge ahead with a student-designed lab activity:  The Scientific Method Lab. Students will plan and carryout the entire process from start to finish.  Full disclosure ... This takes time and quite a bit of patience, but it is worth it.  Your students will hone their problem solving and critical thinking skills as they complete these activities.

1 comment:

  1. You mean I can't just teach them the steps to the scientific method and move on!? Haha, just kidding!

    I plan to have my students design an experiment (with guided parameters of course) and complete the scientific method with it during week 2 of school. I'm excited to see the wheels in their head turn as they get excited that they have created an experiment, not me.

    (I did this during a long-term subbing position last year and the students loved it)

    Again, love your tips! Hope your 1st week of school has been as good as it can be!