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To find the answers to scientific questions, scientists may use an organized set of procedures typically referred to in textbooks as the "scientific method" of experimentation. Often described as a tidy, step-by-step process, the scientific method is in reality less linear. Procedures are refined as data are collected and initial hypotheses modified or replaced in light of new evidence. In this lesson, students begin by addressing the question, "What is the scientific method of experimentation"? They engage in group discussions followed by a full class discussion based on what they think. Next, they watch video accounts of actual scientific research and re-examine their ideas considering what they see. Citing evidence from the videos, the groups present their findings to the rest of the class. Finally, following an expanded discussion on the processes of science, students collaborate on a better-informed description of the scientific method.
Note: The list features media-rich resources with life science, physical science, and Earth and space science content. Key:
1. Begin with a discussion about the term "scientific method." Ask students to describe the scientific method based on what they have been taught, read in textbooks, or experienced. Have them work in small groups and come up with a group description. Have each group then share its ideas with the class. For example, students might suggest that the scientific method is a step-by-step process that begins with a hypothesis and serves to "prove" that hypothesis?an understanding that may be consistent with a "textbook" definition but one they should ultimately discover may be flawed. While science can easily disprove a hypothesis by presenting counter evidence, it cannot prove one. Rather, it can only support a hypothesis, given current evidence. Summarize and record these initial ideas so that you can return to the list for revision later in the lesson.
2. Prepare students to test their understanding of scientific processes. Divide the class into smaller viewing groups and explain that each group will be assigned to view a case of scientific discovery from the list of media-rich resources. (Note: The list features media-rich resources with life science, physical science, and Earth and space science content.) If your access to technology resources allows it, have each of the groups watch its assigned video in a different area of the classroom. If this is not possible, you may choose to present the videos to select to the entire class or rotate the groups so that each watches only its assigned video.
3. After viewing its assigned video, have each group identify two or more specific examples from the video that either support or refute its earlier description. To help students organize their evidence, it may be useful to have them watch the video again and look for specified information. For example:
4. Using evidence from its video, each group will summarize for the class how well its depiction of scientific processes conformed to its initial description of the scientific method. Have each group compare and contrast the two processes?the one it generated in Part I and the one it saw in practice in the video case study. For example:
5. Groups should emphasize any differences between their understanding of how science gets done and the way it is presented in the videos.
6. After each group summarizes its findings, have it present the video it watched to the entire class, suggesting questions for the other students to consider as they watch.
7. See if you can draw out some important points about scientific inquiry and investigation that are not typically part of textbook treatments. Be sure to insist that students use evidence from the videos to support their views. Here are some questions and ideas you might ask them to address:
Gather the groups together for a final class discussion. Based on the videos and subsequent class discussion, ask students whether their original descriptions of the scientific method need to be changed. If so, in what significant ways? Write a revised description on the board that reflects the class's new, more complete understanding of scientific processes.