Insights into the Scientific Process

Electron Café's Scientific Process Rage Comic My suprvisor posted Electron Café’s Scientific Process Rage Comic in our meeting room by the door just before Christmas, and I wanted to share it here. I think it is a very accurate depiction of what science is like – other than the deleted calibration curves (there have been no Melvins in the lab groups I’ve been in so far!), I can definitely say I’ve been at every point along the flow chart! It is always nice to see someone put your experience into words!

In addition to giving those that work in science a much needed chuckle, this image also brings up an important point: we do not teach the true scientific process to young students, and those that do not become scientists end up with a permanent misconception about ‘how science works’.

Science is usually presented to the public as the upper panel. Schools ask students to make a hypothesis about something obvious and test it using a procedure they are given to find the ‘right answer’. The next step is usually to ask them to discuss what ‘sources of error’ could affect such a ‘right answer’, and usually involve human reaction times and imprecise markings on whatever instrument you used to do your measurement. Even if they are asked to consider what they would do better next time to improve their observation (critical in the scientific process), the procedure is usually designed to be pretty decent in the first place which makes that question hard to answer, or worse, pointless.

Science should be presented as the lower panel to students much earlier than what happens now in many classrooms. Sharing and explaining this image (or a PG version) is a good start, already taken by many educators! At least some of the time students should be given the materials carry out an experiment, a goal, and the required time to develop their own procedure, test it, and then improve on it. It would be even better if at least once or twice early on, students are asked to work on a problem with no guaranteed outcome – in groups or individually. Science fair projects are a great opportunity for that. However, that requires a dedicated teacher who is willing to guide students through a real investigation. So how about it? If you’re a science educator, what do you think is the best way to teach the scientific process?