Teaching the Scientific Method

Sometimes I wonder what is being taught in science classes around the world.  Each year we receive transfer students in every grade arriving from nearly every continent on earth.  I teach 6th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th grade Science thus, I have contact with practically every secondary student in our school.  My colleague and I took the IB lab report rubric for internal assessments and reduced the requirements gradually for each grade level down to 6th grade.  Thus, students attending our school from 6th grade on will have solid preparation in the scientific method and in lab reports by the time they enter the IB program.

For an overview of the expectations at our school, students entering 6th grade are expected to have a basic understanding of what it means to perform a “fair test” in science and to properly graph the results.  Some have an understanding of hypothesis.  By the December of 6th grade students are expected to be able to construct a research question in the “How does [independent variable] affect [dependent variable]?” format, to form a hypothesis in the “If [independent variable] affects [dependent variable] then increasing/decreasing [independent variable] will increase/decrease [dependent variable]”, and to identify the variables (independent, dependent and controlled with units).  Furthermore, they learn to put together a proper research report including the materials, procedure, raw data, processed data, graph, results, and conclusion.  They are introduced to designing experiments.  In 7th grade they are expected to create their graph in Excel and provide at least one weakness with suggested improvement regarding the experiment.  Their designs should include five values of the independent variables with three trials.  In 8th grade they need to include a trend line and at least three weaknesses with improvements.  In 9th and 10th grade they are practically completing IB quality labs as they add error bars to their graphs, descriptions of their calculations, and a thorough conclusion and evaluation.

So, when I get new middle school students who can’t follow any aspect of the scientific method I am perplexed.  When I get a transfer high school student who doesn’t know how to formulate a research question or identify variables, I am stunned.  How can a middle or high school student never have been exposed to writing a research report? In my opinion every scientific investigation should be framed by the scientific method.  In middle and early high school students should be immersed in the process in nearly every science class.  Gone are the days of lectures.  The science classroom should be a place of regular scientific discovery in the context of the scientific method.