Science and the Scientific Method

“The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious — the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science.”
— Physicist Albert Einstein

I’m moving this year to fifth grade. My assignment(s) will be one group of kids for reading and writing and three groups for science.

With the change in grade level, I have been exploring the Next Generation Science Standards (there’s a good free app through Mastery Connect) and also how people are thinking about teaching science these days. I discovered a website (Understanding Science) developed at the University of California, Berkeley. Among other things, I loved their flowchart of how science works.

The UC-B authors push back against the idea of a linear scientific method like those represented by the poster below. You can find these posters everywhere on line.

Traditional view of scientific method.

Traditional view of scientific method.

They offer this non-linear flowchart instead.

Science flowchart from UC-Berkeley Dept of Paleontology.

Science flowchart from UC-Berkeley Dept of Paleontology.

The UC-B authors liken the scientific method to the path the pinball takes through a pinball machine. Each node on the flowchart is a bumper. Sometimes the scientist bounces back and forth between Exploration and Discovery and Testing Ideas. Sometimes she bounces right on over to Community Analysis and Feedback before doing any testing, or even before developing a concrete question.

There are several things to like about this flowchart. For instance, I like the big space collaboration takes up. Science isn’t a lonely, singular activity. While Gregor Mendel might have done his genetics experiments on his own, most scientists do their thing with a bunch of other really geeky people.

I also liked the prolonged stage of exploration and discovery in this model. Too often, I think, we don’t give enough time for just living with a problem or an observation. I wrote about how fruitful it was to live with ambiguity in reading class for an uncomfortably long time. This is true in literacy as well as science. Maybe that slowing down is part of what learning is about?

I was intrigued by the many ways scientists “enter” the flowchart, through the door of their own curiosity, through surprising observations, practical problem-solving, and, really, by pure chance. Turns out that just being there with eyes and heart wide open is really important for science. Probably also for life.

To close: my eyes have been open around the home place. In my part of the world the sulfur shell mushrooms are appearing near the base of the oak trees. I know to look because I’ve been paying attention for years. July is when I start seeing them come. The other night I made a delicious snow pea/mushroom pasta in cream sauce with fresh garlic. The mushrooms came from just up the hill. There are many advantages to keeping my eyes open.

fungi-mushroom |Description=Laetiporus sulphureus-chicken of the woods |Source=Own work |Date=2006-08-13 |Author= Lee collins }}

fungi-mushroom |Description=Laetiporus sulphureus-chicken of the woods |Source=Own work |Date=2006-08-13 |Author= Lee collins }}

5 thoughts on “Science and the Scientific Method

  1. Thanks for sharing the UC-B chart of ‘How science works’. This seems a lot more fun, and powerful, than the usual lock-step method portrayed.

    • Thank you, Norah! I thought the same thing about the chart. There are some really cool videos of science done by scientists that illustrate the pinball nature of the scientific process. I should have linked them here, but you can see them on the website. Thanks for reading!

  2. LOVE this chart! It reminds me of the way Ruth Ayres has de-linearized the writing process! (Sadly, I can’t find a quick way to show you her graphic…when I get back into my classroom, I’ll try to remember to take a picture of the anchor chart I made based on her stuff.)

    And the mushroom pasta. Yum. The reward goes to the noticer!

    • Yay for mushroom pasta. Found some chantrelles in the woods today. (I am in northern MN right now.) they should be terrific!

      I was thinking about how to put the reading from BEAUTIFUL QUESTION together with this chart. I think they complement each other nicely!

      Best to you. Are you done with travels this summer?

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