Teaching the Scientific Method: 3 Types of Experiments
So you've just started your year and you're immediately hit with a unit on the scientific method. While many high school units include more traditional lessons, a scientific method unit naturally lends itself to inquiry learning and hands-on activities.
Using open-ended scientific inquiry at the beginning of the year can be tough for students and teachers alike. The types of scientific method experiments you choose for your class may depend on their experience with inquiry in previous years, their level of maturity, and the amount of time you can devote to this topic.
Here are three different types of scientific method experiments you can try in your classroom this year:
Type 1: Student-led Scientific Inquiry
Scientific inquiry combines the steps of the scientific method or scientific process with topics of particular interest to your students. Inquiry learning encourages student-generated questions, experiments, and observations. In fact, this is how the professional scientific community formulates experiments. If you have very curious students that are self-motivated and interested in details, this could be a great way to start your year. Keep in mind that creating experiments from scratch will likely be more time-consuming than other methods discussed here.
If you're planning to try scientific inquiry with your classes this year, you might like the Create An Experiment guide with instructions to lead your students through this process. It even includes a section for peer-review so students can learn to communicate about their findings with others.
Type 2: Guided Scientific Method Experiments
If you have less time to devote to a scientific method unit or your students are not strong at self-direction, a more guided approach to scientific processing could be useful. In a guided experiment, students are provided with a problem or question instead of coming up with one on their own. They then follow the steps of the scientific method by gathering information, running an experiment, collecting data, and drawing conclusions.
When using these experiment examples, be sure to have students identify controlled variables, as well as independent and dependent variables. I think this is an important step because high school students often have trouble identifying these variables. Beyond that, you can provide as much or as little guidance as you want. Will the students design the method for testing the problem or will you tell them how you want them to do it? Will they choose the way they want to display the results in a graph or table or will you make the choice for them? Will you have them write up a lab report to explain their conclusions? The more mature your students are, the more you should require of them. Just be sure to provide them with enough time to work through the process.
Examples of guided scientific method questions:
Do paper airplanes fly further with or without a tail flap?
What ratio of ingredients produces the largest bubbles?
Which type of toilet paper (or paper towel) is the strongest?
Does chewing bubble gum change its mass?
Do double-stuffed Oreos actually have twice the filling?
Type 3: Focusing on Specific Scientific Process Skills
The last type of experiment for testing the scientific method isn't really an experiment at all. I've included it in this list because sometimes teachers want to focus on just a few skills that their students need to work on, rather than spending time on an entire experiment.
Perhaps your students need extra focus on making graphs for various types of data. Maybe they need to practice writing hypotheses or determining variables. By focusing on specific skills, you can save time and give students opportunities for more practice. For example, if your students need practice graphing, you can provide them with several sets of hypothetical data and have them determine the best method for graphing each.
Regardless of how you introduce the science process skills to your students, keep in mind that it should always be just that- an introduction. Using the scientific method should not be a once-and-done activity in any science classroom. Our job is to cultivate a way of thinking. Designated "scientific method experiments" should just prepare students for other inquiry-based activities and lab experiments they'll see throughout the rest of the year.