First up at the beginning of every school year are 2 important topics: safety and the scientific method. Teaching the scientific method can be an opportunity for you to observe your new students and identify strengths and weaknesses in group work, communication skills, analysis skills, and the ability to think outside the box.
How do you solve problems?
When I teach the scientific method, I usually have students try to think metacognitively about how they solve problems. Present your students with a question. “How do you know what clothes to put on in the morning?” There are no “right” answers, but there are definitely wrong answers like bathing suits in winter or heavy jackets in the summer. Students will realize that they base their clothing decisions on information they already have – what kind of weather it is and what events they have planned for the day. This is not unlike how scientists form hypotheses by taking information that they have and using it to make a possible solution to a problem.
Then, make the problem more interesting and something that needs to be tested. Your phone is dead but it was plugged in. What’s wrong. All sorts of hypotheses are possible – electricity went out, charger isn’t plugged in correctly, etc. Each of these is a testable hypothesis that can be solved by guess and check. Another problem students can use guess and check for is a puzzle activity in which each group of students is given a baggie containing pieces to a 16 piece puzzle. As they remove each piece, students need to guess (“form a hypothesis”) of what the whole puzzle is a picture of. Using this activity, students will see that more information gives scientists a more accurate idea of the situation.
What is the scientific method?
By now, students are ready to identify the steps they use to solve problems and probably will be able to guess the steps of the scientific method. Of course, I always have a slide show on hand to help students develop common vocabulary that we can use to communicate with each other. When I’m teaching the scientific method, I also like to have a worksheet or two for students to practice scientific method vocabulary.
Practice and apply
Give students a problem to solve using the scientific method. One easy problem is to find out what factors affect how well they memorize something such as a short list of random words. They can test different variables such as loud music or time of day and collect data to form a conclusion. The write up for this activity includes a 6 page student handout and a corresponding teacher’s guide. I’m offering it for free to any readers of this blog so please feel free to get your copy here!
Other problems students can solve using the scientific method:
What other teaching tools do you use when you’re teaching the scientific method?