Misconceptions about the “doing” of science

Many teachers feel they are “doing” science when they teach what is in textbooks, laboratory manuals, and their lectures.  Such a focus on science teaching has existed for decades.  Teachers, school administrators, students, as well as parents, have generally accepted it as “doing” science.  But, expecting students to remember and recite what they have read or been told is not “doing” science.

There are specific examples commonly used to indicate such “doing” of science.  Strangely, however, they all have NOTHING to do with science itself.   Examples used to indicate this teaching include: 

  • Treating all students alike and not as individuals.
  • Focusing only on information included in textbooks, laboratory manuals, teacher lectures, or other assigned reading materials.
  • Using chalkboards to indicate what students need to remember.
  • Asking students to repeat what they have been assigned to study.
  • Focusing too much on “grading” and “testing” regarding concepts.
  • Strictly maintaining teacher authority in the classroom.
  • Encouraging competition among students to indicate their level of learning.
  • Closely following lesson plans with little or no input from students.
  • Repeating information included in books called “science.”
  • Rarely helping students to identify and use science regarding their own educational interests.
  • Equating science to concepts from the various science disciplines.
  • No encouragement with preparation for future science careers.
  • Ignoring problems that are local, current, and/or personal.

Science teaching needs to change if we want students to experience the real “doing” of science.  Students need to be involved in solving personal, current, and societal problems by asking questions that can substantiate possible answers.  These actions are examples of “doing” science!

It should be remembered that science is “the human exploration of the natural world, seeking explanations of objects and events encountered, and providing evidence to support the explanations proposed.” 

How can we get the old traditional ways of science teaching to change?  Is STEM the answer?  Will it take 70+ years for real changes to occur generally?

Or will it mean playing The Game of Science Education, as edited by Jeffrey Weld, executive director of the governor’s STEM council in Iowa, which uses the game metaphor to educate teachers about science teaching.

Robert E. Yager
Professor of Science Education
University of Iowa

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2 Responses to Misconceptions about the “doing” of science

  1. Larry Flammer says:

    Responding to Dr. Yager’s comments, teachers may want to know about a new e-text supplement called Science Surprises: Exploring the Nature of Science. It is written at 8th grade level, suitable with variations for any secondary science course. It integrates several of the NOS lessons on the ENSI website. They are student-centered, interactive, freely downloadable and classroom-tested. The e-text uses those lessons to correlate aspects about the culture and intrinsic values of science, in addition to several ways of doing science (“THE [single] Scientific Method” being a classic myth). Using the Science Surprises unit also accomplishes the many Learning Outcomes posed by the NGSS in its Appendix H. And this includes practices in critical and skeptical thinking, analytical reading, and scientific argumentation. See http://www.indiana.edu/~ensiweb/ss.book.avail.html for details.
    L. Flammer, ENSI webmaster.

  2. Linda Mills says:

    Our school is debating whether science fair is something that should be continued. We do science fair with our fourth and fifth grade students at our school and they also continue it into 6th through high school at our other buildings.
    My science teacher and I (I am the library media specialist that deals with the research) think it is something that needs to be done and is important for many reasons. Can you help us show our justification of science fair projects?

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