Like many teachers, I began the fall introducing my students to the scientific method. I even went a step further, trying to align myself with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and created an Engineering Design Process Chart with my students as well. We went through each step as we conducted investigations and solved design challenges. I was feeling pretty good about what I was doing with my students and their understanding of the steps.
However, I have spent quite a bit of time this year learning more about NGSS. I went to the Washington Science Teacher Association Conference, I took an online NGSS 101 course from Puget Sound Educational Service District, I discussed the new standards with teachers at my school, and I talked with my science educator professional learning network in Twitter chats. (#NGSSchat, Thursday nights at 6pm PST. It’s a great chat! Join in!) Through all of these experiences I came to learn more about the three dimensions of NGSS, including the Science and Engineering Practices. It turns out, that the scientific method as we have known it, no longer exists. Actually, it really never existed!
At first, when I realized the scientific method, as I know it, does not exist, I was thrown for a loop. It’s such a logical process. It makes sense, my students can use it, we sing about it. Why would they get rid of the scientific method? Yet, what I have come to appreciate is that the new Science and Engineering Practices are driving students to do science and engineering in more authentic ways. The truth is, scientists and engineers don’t follow linear steps. Yes, there are protocols, and there is order to their work, but they don’t ask just one question, they keep coming back to their question and ask more questions. They might revise a hypothesis along the way, multiple times! They will come to a conclusion, but realize that they need to investigate more, or research more, or create a new model, or start all over. (If you have six minutes, take time to watch How Science Works from California Academy of Sciences.)
Perhaps, in my opinion, the best part is that the Science and Engineering Practices more strongly integrate math and literacy. For example:
- Develop and Use Models
- Use Mathematics and Computational Thinking
- Obtain…Communicate Information
- Engage in Argument from Evidence
Students often understand that math and science are closely connected. What has not always been as evident is that reading, writing, and communicating are vital to scientists and engineers as well. When I was sharing the new practices with my fourth graders and focusing on “Engage in Argument from Evidence” one of my students said, “that’s just like in writing when you make a claim and need to support it with reasoning and evidence.” Yes! In that moment I realized just how integrated these principles are to Common Core State Standards and that makes each experience all the more powerful. It also opens the door for more cross-curricular conversations between teachers, especially at middle and high school levels where subjects tend to be more compartmentalized. (See English Teacher Lindsey Stevens’ post for non-science teachers about NGSS.)
Do I feel bad that I was using the linear scientific method with my students? No. I was doing good work, but armed with new knowledge, I understand that there is a new and better way of doing things.
I am still trying to figure out how it will really look as I implement the Science and Engineering Practices. There is “freedom” in the practices, but I believe students need instruction and scaffolding on how to use the practices to deepen their scientific understanding. My first step will be to plan my next investigation without the scientific method. In fact, I’m taking down my posters and replacing them with my new Science and Engineering Practices image. I will continue working with my students to help them understand each principle as we engage in authentic science and engineering work. I will try to point out how we move between and within the principles fluidly and that we revisit some principles again and again.
I’m looking forward to using the Scientific and Engineering Practices in my classroom, to see how they lead to a deeper understanding of content, and also to a better understanding of how scientists and engineers do their work.
What do the Science and Engineering Practices look like in your classroom?
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