For generations human civilization presented the model of Earth as flat. Sure, it seemed to work under specific scenarios, like when you stood at a high point and looked out to the horizon. No curve? Must be flat. Model works.
But students developing their understanding of science use and develop models regularly in their classrooms. Before leaving elementary school, they understand that while models are used to describe phenomena or a process (like answering a question about our world) they also have limits. These limits lead to some models being better suited than others to explain the world around them.
So while the Scientific Method might fit into this neat little box to define for students how scientists and engineers do their work, it is a severely limited model that undercuts the amazing amount of community collaboration and non-linear ways scientists go about their business.
Take this outstanding example of the announcement of a new species and family of spiders with the discovery of the Trogloraptor, produced by the California Academy of Sciences:
This video uses a “scientific process” analogous to a pinball machine, with the process pinging between different modes of discourse. The static image below has been modified to use elementary-appropriate language, but before you go printing a giant version of this model to plaster up in your classroom, ask yourself…
What do I really want my students to know?
Do I want them to memorize this model, like they might memorize the parts of a cell in a traditional biology class or the sequence of planets in our solar system?
Or do I want to focus on the bigger ideas?
Scientists and Engineers…
- Ask Questions and Identify Problems
- Use and Develop Models
- Plan and Conduct Investigations
- Analyze and Interpret Data
- Use Math and Computational Thinking
- Construct Explanations and Design Solutions
- Engage in Arguments from Evidence
- Obtain, Evaluate, and Communicate Information