Is the Scientific Method dead? Does the NGSS have guidelines for students as experimental designers? Before NGSS, WA State’s revised 2009 Essential Academic Learning Requirements (EALR) number 2 was the Inquiry standard for questioning and investigating. That provide a framework for how Science teachers were to support students in the doing of Science. Experimenting, especially designing their own experimental questions and labs, is a tool for figuring things out and learning how things work in Science. Kids can do labs by following a procedure but having kids actually design their own lab is the next level up from that. The more kids get to design their own labs, the better.
With NGSS and more emphasis on Engineering (stEm), Science teachers more and more are being called upon to have our students solve problems by doing something, trying different solutions and tweaking until the solution works. Look up Genius Hour and Makerspace and you’ll see it’s everywhere with tons of resources and ideas. The designer mindset, the tinkering mindset, is being emphasized. I see the importance. Not all Science follows a Scientific Method. So even before NGSS I have been reading that we have been too dependent on the Scientific Method. Instead of teaching the Scientific Method as ONE of many ways Science is done, teachers have focused too heavily on just that one way of doing Science experiments. Here’s a typical flow of the Scientific Method:
One resource I’ve used to have students design their own experiments using the scientific method is called Inquiry Boards (see below). Inquiry Boards helped my students completely understand how to choose a manipulated variable, a responding variable and to figure out what variables to control. It has been an amazing resource. Here’s what they look like:
Inquiry Boards by Alfonso Gonzalez on Scribd
The way the Inquiry Boards work can start with a question so that students can begin brainstorming as many variables as they can – the Brainstorm inquiry board. Those variables that students can change go under Manipulated Variables. Variables that can be measured or observed go under Responding Variables. I usually do this as a whole class activity so that students can generate a good list of variables and so that they all know what variables are possible.
Moving to the next board, Choosing Variables, I tell teams to choose ONE manipulated variable that they want to investigate. We also discuss why it is important to only change one variable at a time. I encourage teams to choose different variables but if some variables are more popular then more than one team can test the same manipulated variable. I try to steer the class towards choosing the same responding variable so that they can compare their results to each other’s experiments. Then they put all the unused variables in the Controlled Variables section.
The next inquiry Board, Ask a Question, helps students write a problem question. And the one after that, Prediction, helps students write a hypothesis. Then students write their Procedure. The procedure, with step-by-step instructions is what I need to approve before teams gather materials and begin their labs.
Students use the Table of Results inquiry board to setup their data table. The Graph of Results inquiry board has been one of my favorites and it helps students make great graphs of their data. The Conclusion inquiry board underwent many revisions but recently I have settled on using CER.
In the NGSS this type of inquiry work is detailed in the Cross Cutting Concepts (CCC):
1. Patterns. Observed patterns of forms and events guide organization and classification, and they prompt questions about relationships and the factors that influence them.
2. Cause and effect: Mechanism and explanation. Events have causes, sometimes simple, sometimes
multifaceted. A major activity of science is investigating and explaining causal relationships and the mechanisms by which they are mediated. Such mechanisms can then be tested across given contexts and used to predict and explain events in new contexts.
3. Scale, proportion, and quantity. In considering phenomena, it is critical to recognize what is relevant at different measures of size, time, and energy and to recognize how changes in scale, proportion, or quantity affect a system’s structure or performance.
4. Systems and system models. Defining the system under study — specifying its boundaries and making explicit a model of that system — provides tools for understanding and testing ideas that are applicable throughout science and engineering.
5. Energy and matter: Flows, cycles, and conservation. Tracking fluxes of energy and matter into, out of, and within systems helps one understand the systems’ possibilities and limitations.
6. Structure and function. The way in which an object or living thing is shaped and its substructure determine many of its properties and functions.
7. Stability and change. For natural and built systems alike, conditions of stability and determinants of rates of change or evolution of a system are critical elements of study.
Having kids design their own labs using inquiry boards or some other form of the scientific method and having kids design solutions to problems through some type of engineering or makerspace are great ways to incorporate the CCC’s into Science lessons. That’s why every single NGSS performance expectation embeds a CCC! Looking at how students use the Inquiry Boards
they can actually do all seven CCC’s in one lab! It’s pretty cool. So I don’t think the scientific method is dead. As long as we expose students to other ways to doing Science and solving problems, then we are preparing them for whatever might come their way.