The Scientific Method Outside of Science Class

Sally Rushmore edits the New Teacher Advocate. She formerly taught secondary science and computer applications at a community college.

history-of-scientific-method-sir-francis-baconJanuary 22 (1561) marked the birthday of Sir Francis Bacon. We appreciate his contributions to a variety of areas of learning. He was a gifted English philosopher, statesman, scientist, lawyer, jurist, and author. He is considered the Father of the Modern Scientific Method.

He was bothered with the stagnation and lack of advancement in knowledge. Bacon thought the problem was the lack of a uniform method for acquiring knowledge.

Bacon proposed a method that called for induction. This is a process that involves carrying out repeated experiments. By so doing, Bacon thought that general statements could be made or accurate conclusions could be drawn and scientific (and other types of) knowledge could be advanced in a relatively short amount of time.

Bacon’s method of induction works something like this:

  1. The problem is stated.
  2. Inductions are made.
  3. Experiments are carried out and observations are made.
  4. A hypothesis is formed.
  5. More experiments are then carried out and further observations are made.
  6. More inductions are consequently made. The hypothesis may be changed or confirmed. If it is changed, then more experiments are carried out and further observations are made.

And this process carries on until a high degree of accuracy or “truth” has been established. He urged scientists to keep an accurate record of their experiments and exchange the data collected so that collectively, knowledge could become known.

You may be saying, “Yes, I’m glad to know that Sir Francis Bacon is credited with being the Father of the Modern Scientific Method, but what does that have to do with me since I am not a science teacher and I am not doing a science fair project?” It just so happens that the concepts of the scientific method can be applied to many aspects of our lives. And, as teachers, it is our responsibility to take this to a higher level of thinking and help our students learn how to apply it to solve other problems. Here’s an example to get you thinking:

Tina, a seventh grader, lived in a big city all her life…until now. She and her family just moved to the small town of Maplewood. It is very different from the big city where Tina used to live.

At her old school, Tina was active in the ski club and played on the girl’s volleyball team. Tina likes her new classes at Maplewood Middle School and has already made some new friends. However, there is not ski club or volleyball team. There were lots of restaurants, theaters, concert halls, and places to shop in the big city. But there is not much to do in Maplewood.

Tina’s science teacher, Mr. Bell, asked her to stop by after school one day. He wanted to know how much science Tina had studied at her old school. While the two of them were talking, Mr. Bell asked, “Tina, how do you like Maplewood so far?”

Tina replied, “I’m not sure. I’m used to a big city with lots of things to do. I wish I had more to do in Maplewood.”

Mr. Bell understood. “Yes, that is a problem. Do you know how to solve it?”

“Solve it?” Tina looked surprised. “I guess I hadn’t thought about solving it. What do you suggest?”

Mr. Bell answered, “Why don’t you try using the scientific method?”

Tina had learned the scientific method in science class, but she never realized the method could be used to solve other kinds of problems. Tina was thoughtful as she left Mr. Bell’s classroom. “Thanks, Mr. Bell,” she said. “Maybe I’ll give the scientific method a try.” When Tina got home that day, she began her process of solving her problem with the scientific method.

Scientific Method

You and your students can use the scientific method to solve problems, too. Use the same four steps Tina did:

Make a clear statement of the problem.
Collect information about the problem.
Form a hypothesis.
Test the hypothesis.

Start by working on a problem together in class. It could be something fun like “there is no comfortable place in this room to read a book” or something more serious like “our school does not recycle.”

Then use the scientific method in a class meeting for problems affecting most of the students in a class. A problem common to many classes is students speaking out of turn. Or, you could consider other issues of taking responsibility.

Challenge small groups or individuals to apply it to the problems they have in your class or in other classes. This could be as simple as deciding what to do for a project or even what book to read or a topic for a paper.

As a teacher, you might use the scientific method as part of your process to differentiate instruction, especially when looking at differentiating processes and products. The problem, in this case, is based on the outcome you want for your students.

And don’t forget to thank Sir Francis Bacon every time you use the scientific method!

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