Every middle school science teacher I know starts every school year with the scientific method. We learn the steps, we analyze how they apply in various situations, and we move on. Even if we will be using CER (Claim, Evidence, Reasoning) in lab reports, we are still teaching the scientific method at the beginning of the year. This helps students view problems from a scientific perspective. Reinforcement throughout the year (and throughout the years) helps students become scientific thinkers.
Teaching the Scientific Method – Then vs. Now
I used to teach the scientific method the same way that I was taught it. The teacher wrote the steps on the board, I copied them, and then I memorized them. They never became a part of how I thought or how I solved problems, and I had gotten the impression that this was just a process that scientists use.
Now, when I’m teaching the scientific method, I use a far more student centered approach. The scientific method is a name given to a problem solving technique that we use all the time, for everything from figuring out which boots to wear with an outfit to deciding how long to cook lasagna. So I approach the unit from an inquiry direction and allow students to investigate a problem that is relevant to them.
As students investigate the problem, I model the vocabulary words to describe what they are doing. “Mary is guessing what might happen if we change the amount of sugar in the recipe. She is forming a hypothesis.” “The taste of the finished cookies will be dependent on the ingredients we use.”
Finally, after lots of practice and metacognition analyzing how we solved the problem, I do teach the vocabulary in a more formal, traditional way. This is the slide show I use when I’m teaching the scientific method.
Teaching the scientific method from an inquiry approach by allowing students to investigate a problem and then metacognitively analyze the steps they took to solve the problem helps them become scientific thinkers.
Some problems students can solve
When you’re teaching the scientific method, what are some problems students can solve? Here’s a short list:
- How much sugar makes the best rock candy?
- How can you keep cut flowers fresh?
- Do cookies taste better when they are made with butter or margarine?
- What factors affect the bounciness of a basketball?
- Does ice cream freeze better with more or less sugar?
- What kind of antacid changes pH fastest?
- What type of potato chip produces the brightest flame?
- How does the shape of an aluminum foil boat affect how well it floats?
- Which insect repellent works best?
- Do cold candles burn longer?
- How does temperature affect the amount of bubbles in soda?
- How does the height of an impact affect the shape or size of the crater?
- How does the time of day affect the size or position of a shadow?
- What proportion of ingredients makes the most convincing fake blood?
- Which brand of paper towels absorbs the most water?
- What shape amplifies a smart phone best?
- What proportion of ingredients make the largest bubbles?
- How does temperature affect the bounce of a tennis ball?
- How does speed of running affect heart rate?
- What shape kite flies the highest?
Here’s a list of science fair projects that can easily be adapted to a lesson on teaching the scientific method.
Free resource for teaching the scientific method
What if we could find a way for students to apply the scientific method to a problem that actually might help them? And what if this scientific method activity were a freebie?
In this resource, students are asked to try to figure out the best way to study. Is it on a full stomach, in a quiet room, or while chewing peppermint gum? Do you remember things better when you study them before you fall asleep at night or when you first wake up in the morning? What’s the best way to learn?
Using the scientific method, students analyze the problem, form a hypothesis, and design a controlled experiment to determine the effect of one variable on how well they, or their friends, memorize a list of random words. This resource includes a 6 page student hand out and a teacher’s guide with suggested answers.