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Name: Carmela B.
Status: N/A
Age: 40s
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: Monday, September 30, 2002

How can I introduce the "scientific method" to my third graders. I want to do a power point presentation and need some suggestions.

I believe the best way is to recreate a situation that traces out naturally the scientific processes (since there are many). First off, there is NO ONE "scientific process". There are certain paradigms of science. Observation, leading to gathering of data (sometimes as just memories)...once the data make a pattern, by inductive logic, we often come to a certain belief. This is where modern science, probably starting with Galileo Galilei, (remember his quote" But I, Simplicio, who have made the test can assure you that...) steps in. The real mark of science is then to begin controlled careful experiments that test your belief. All these experiments can do is disprove the belief...they cannot prove it to be correct. So lets take an example. Let us duplicate some ancient science...astronomy would be a nice choice. This gives you a chance as a teacher to discuss how ancient civilizations were most interested in survival. One of the most important characteristics of a civilization is to be able to have some sort of agriculture to feed the populous. To do so they would need to know in what time of the season to plant and when to harvest and this is where the heavens helped...all of which depended in part on their understanding the motions of the sun and/or the stars. Since school is in the day lets choose to observe the sun. One of the first steps in predicting time and the seasons is to make a "shadow plot" which is a very ancient simple thing. It requires a straight stick, a sunny day, an open outside area, a large piece of paper (the ancients just did it in could use a sand box if you have one to be authentic!). In the early morning, place the paper on a flat surface in the sun outside in an open area and the jam the stick in the ground in the middle of the paper. At a three or four times a day (the more the better) make a "shadow mark" where the shadow falls and mark the time of day on the shadow mark. Do this once a month for about six months. Then lay the papers out and find if the students can come up with a theory of what is going on. (They should see that the shadow plots are shifting and some lines are getting longer.) Then they will need to test their theory somehow. Call me when you get there...:)

Peter Faletra Ph.D.
Assistant Director
Science Education
Office of Science
Department of Energy

First, "the scientific method" implies a SINGLE "correct" approach, which is misleading and incorrect. A better term is "scientific processES" -- plural intended. It is important to point out that the scientific process of obtaining information and suggesting causes etc. is not some mysterious stone tablet. It is a way of asking questions. Books have been written on the subject, and you will find that they do not all agree. The topic and related topics have been discussed on the NEWTON BBS web site. You can get some good insights from the GENERAL QUESTIONS archives, particularly 1171, 1178, 1182 and 1184.

Vince Calder

The scientific method is essentially a guessing game, and just playing a good guessing game seems like a reasonable way to teach it. The game we play at home is "Guess the Animal", and it goes like this:

I am thinking of an animal.
Does it have wings?
Does it have hair?
No does it live in the water?
Does it breath air?

At each point in the solution, you have an idea of the territory in which the answer might lie, and the territory in which it cannot lie. Using this information, you try to craft questions whose answers will eliminate some territory from the range of possible solutions. If you think you know the answer, you try to craft questions whose answers will confirm or deny your guess. Here is the most important part: if you believe you know what the true answer is, and you then get an answer that eliminates your belief as a possibility, you have to stop believing that it is the true answer.

Things you can point out as the game progresses:

If, for example, birds have been eliminated as a possibility, there is no point in asking "Does the animal have feathers?" because the only possible answer is "No.", and this answer does not give you any new information.

If, for example, you have narrowed the field to four-legged animals, asking if the animal is a dog is usually not an efficient way to get to the solution, because the answer usually will not eliminate very much territory -- if the animal actually is a dog, of course, you win big. But, on average, a question like "Could it be a pet?" will eliminate more territory than "Is it a dog?". (The scientific method does not forbid inefficient questions, of course, but the scientific method is usually thought of as a systematic search for truth, rather than merely a bunch of wild stabs at it.)

One thing you cannot get across about the scientific method with this game, is that a question can produce information that is relevant not only to the game in which it is asked, but also to other possible games. Once you have established a fact, or a constraint on what might possibly be fact, the information takes a life of its own. To apply the scientific method with this information, you need not only the answer itself, but an understanding of the context in which it is true. I do not know how to get this across to third graders.

Tim Mooney

I would suggest taking an example from their daily life. After all, the scientific method is really just an organized way of figuring something out. Say, have them imagine that they wake up and when they go in the bathroom their toothbrush is missing. They make a reasonable assumption (a hypothesis) -- their kid brother hid it in a drawer. They collect some data-- looking in the likely places, and then draw a conclusion: Their hypothesis does not have to be correct; maybe they did not find the toothbrush in the drawers, but they learned something anyway that will help them make a better assumption in the next go'round. Keep it simple. (Personally, I would just talk about it in a down-to-earth way, and skip the power point so the message does not get lost in the presentation, but that is my unsolicited opinion.) Good luck.

Paul Mahoney, PhD

Oh Goodness. DO NOT use power point. Let them play.

Get about 10 different brands of paper towels. Ask them what would make a good paper towel. They usually come up with stuff like "can hold a lot of water" "won't tear when you wipe something with it" "Lasts a long time when you scrub" Have them come up with simple experiments they can perform. Get them the different paper towels and let them have at it. Of course you are going to have to help and guide them to make good experiments; and things that you can easily do in your classroom. Like timing someone using a wet paper towel to rub on the desk until it gets a hole in it. Do this for each kind of towel. Devise or help them devise all of these nifty experiments and DO them. Have them chart their results and as a class look at the evidence and decide which is the best paper towel.

Then explain to them what they did was scientific method. Coming up with the hypothesis, making the tests, performing the tests, presenting the results, interpreting the results. They need to DO this to understand it.

It will take a few days and they will have SO MUCH FUN. Best of all they will learn Scientific Method a lot better.

Go for it. Be Brave. Let me know how it all turns out.

Martha Croll

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