Teaching the scientific method is essential to teaching science. The scientific method gives students the foundation for which all scientific inquiry is based. Many people do science "experiments" without using the scientific method, but what they are really doing is a scientific demonstration. Remember when you're teaching the scientific method that a true science experiment is one where there is a hypothesis that can be tested.
Teaching the Scientific Method
The best way to properly teach the scientific method is through doing science experiments. Ideally, you should help your child set something up that can be observed over the course of several weeks. However, when children are younger this might not be feasible.
Make sure too, that you try to focus on each part of the scientific method as you're teaching:
- Ask a question
- Do background research
- Write a hypothesis
- Test the hypothesis
- Record and analyze the data
- Draw a conclusion based on your data (Decide whether or not the hypothesis was correct or incorrect.)
The Scientific Method for Early Elementary
One of the most important aspects of learning science is developing good observation skills. Many younger students miss out on the opportunity to develop good observation skills by only doing things in science that demonstrate principles in lieu of doing things that actually require observing change. With that said, most younger elementary students are not developmentally ready to draw conclusions from what they observe. That is okay--simply taking the time to develop detail oriented observation skills is sufficient. Some examples of things to do with your younger elementary student include:
- Watching plants grow: Chart the progress on a poster board that has a replica of a ruler drawn onto it.
- Documenting seasonal changes: Take time each week to have your child journal about the changes he/she sees outside. This can include the weather, the stars, plants in the yard that bloom and whither or even insects that you find.
- Noting changes in the sky: Even young students can chart their observations about the position or shape of the moon, or the position of constellations.
The Scientific Method for Older Students
By the later years of elementary school, students should be capable of drawing conclusions from the data they collect. They should consistently put into practice the steps of the scientific method, starting with asking a question. Older students should be engaged in lab science projects frequently, writing their findings in a science journal that is used expressly for that purpose.
Solving Common Problems with Experiments
Many homeschooling parents tend to shy away from science experiments. After all, it's frustrating if the experiments don't work out like they should. Combine that with the fact that it takes time and effort to put it all together and lab science tends to get put on the back burner. However, there is no need to fear doing science labs in the home. With the proper perspective it can become your favorite subject to teach.
Failed Experiments Still Teach
Students can still learn quite a bit from an experiment that didn't do what it was supposed to do. Aside from the very obvious figuring out why the experiment didn't work, students should also work through the process of explaining in terms of their hypothesis. For example, instead of saying the experiment didn't work, say that the experiment didn't prove the hypothesis.
Staying Organized with a Science Box
One of the things that's hard about teaching science labs is that it requires additional materials. Start the year off well by purchasing all that you need and keeping it in one place. That way, when the curriculum calls for a lab and it's the week before Christmas, you will still be prepared and that will minimize the temptation to skip the lab.
Let Your Student Pursue Their Interests
Believe it or not, most students are naturally inclined towards investigative learning. While following a curriculum to the letter can suck the fun out of doing science labs, allowing your student to come up with their own labs will help put the desire and fun back into science again. It's also good practice for using the scientific method. Let your student choose a question and then seek to answer that question with scientific inquiry.
Science is a lot of fun and can help students really understand the world around them. Don't forgo teaching science using the methodical approach for lack of preparation or fear that it won't turn out well. Instead, treat science like a journey and your students will learn to love it!