Teach Science Processes Over Findings
In many areas of education, it is all too easy to focus on the results and forget about the journey. For example, we publish students finished essays and tend to push the rough drafts aside. The same goes for teaching science. There is a tendency to focus on getting the right answer instead of focusing on the process of science.
Also, in particular with the teaching of science, teachers are reluctant to give more responsibility to students. This may be because resources for hands-on science experiments are in short supply or that teachers are not sure how to guide inquiry-based learning in the science classroom. It is often easier to stick with tried and true lectures that ensure that students get the concepts they need to be successful on exams.
However, this focus on the findings rather than on the process has negative effects on both students ́ critical thinking skills as well as the understanding of science by society-at-large.
At its heart, science is about discovery and asking questions, not simply getting answers. When students are taught to look at the world through the lens of the scientific process or method, they start to observe, ask questions, come up with hypotheses and experiments, and analyze information. Placing process skills at the heart of the learning process transforms a traditional classroom into one that is inquiry-based and student-centered.
In addition, process skills are transdisciplinary in nature and can be used to develop students ́ understanding of crosscutting concepts, one of the guiding principles behind the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). While no teacher or school is particularly fond of changing standards, the NGSS recognizes the importance of doing science as an active, hands-on learning experience rather than getting the right answer or finding.
Science In Society
According to the Scientific American, one result of a lack of focus on the process of science is that many adults do not understand how science is conducted and as a result do not have the tools to comprehend news stories reporting the results of scientific studies. For example, many people do not understand that one of the fundamental parts of the scientific method is the reproducibility of the results of a study, meaning the results of one study should not be taken as the final answer on a particular issue. The end result of this lack of understanding is that people bounce from one news story to another, rejecting and accepting scientific claims without questioning them or trying to see how they might be connected.
This situation is exacerbated by the wealth of information available on the Internet. In the past, information about science and all other subjects was filtered through the teacher, but the Internet has put the power of information in the hands of the people. However, a combination of a misunderstanding of the scientific process and a lack of ability to identify credible sources of information makes for a poorly informed society. Schools can help to combat this problem by emphasizing the process of science over the findings as well as integrating digital literacy skills across their curriculum.
Has your school changed the way it teaches science? What do you think are the benefits of emphasizing the process over the findings in the science classroom?