Excellent article!

I have a quibble with the origins of the "scientific method" -- I'm pretty sure it comes from John Dewey.

This information comes from the book by Rodger Bybee called The Teaching of Science. The following is the work on pages 69-71:

The Influence of John Dewey

In 1910, John Dewey published a small book titled How We Think. In this book, Dewey introduced what he called a complete act of thought. According to Dewey, a complete act of thought consisted of five logically distinct steps: (i) a felt difficulty; (ii) its location and definition; (iii) suggestions of possible solutions; (iv) development by reasoning of the bearings of the suggestion; and (v) further observation and experiment, leading to its acceptance or rejection—that is, the conclusion of belief or disbelief (Dewey 2005, p. 60).

There are several reasons for mentioning Dewey's book and logical phases based on his conception of a complete act of thought. First, the book title, How People Learn (Bransford, Brown, and Cocking 1999), anticipates a contemporary synthesis of research on learning. Second, the steps Dewey described established what became the five steps of the scientific method that has influenced science teachers' conception of scientific inquiry. Finally, the five phases also anticipate the role of instructional models such as the BSCS 5Es. The fact that Dewey's five phases became a rigid sequence introduced in science textbooks and classrooms is unfortunate. John Dewey did not perceive the methods of science as a lockstep process. Just the year before publishing How We Think, Dewey addressed the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting on the topic "Science as Subject-Matter and As Method" (Dewey 1910). In his address and published article, he argued for the importance of using

the scientific method in school science programs and presented a dynamic view of inquiry.

Early in the 1910 publication of Dewey’s, address, he states his position by saying, "I mean that science has been taught too much as an accumulation of ready-made material with which students are to be made familiar, not enough as a method of thinking, an attitude of mind, after a pattern of which mental habits are to be transformed" (Dewey 1910, p. 121). Dewey elaborated on scientific method as a habit of mind. One should also notice that in the following excerpts, Dewey refers to aims that include the abilities of inquiry, the nature of science, and an understanding of subject matter.

Surely if there is any knowledge which is of most worth it is knowledge of the ways by which anything is entitled to be called knowledge instead of being mere opinion or guess work or dogma.

Such knowledge never can be learned by itself, it is not information, but a mode of intelligent practice, and habitual disposition of mind. Only by taking a hand in the making of knowledge, by transferring guess and opinion into belief authorized by inquiry, does one ever get a knowledge of the method of knowing. (p. 125)

But that the great majority of those who leave school have some idea of the kind of evidence required to substantiate given types of belief does not seem unreasonable. Nor is it absurd to expect that they should go forth with a lively interest in the ways in which knowledge is improved by a marked distaste for all conclusions reached in disharmony with the methods of scientific inquiry. (p. 127)

Later Dewey again states his position. "Thus we again come to the primary contention of the paper: That science teaching has suffered because a science has been so frequently presented just as so much ready-made knowledge, so much subject-matter of fact and law, rather than as the effective method of inquiry into any subject matter" (p. 127).

In a later section of his address, Dewey makes his position clear for the third time. The perspective expressed by Dewey in 1909 is even applicable now, more than 100 years later.

I do not mean that our schools should be expected to send forth their students equipped as judges of truth and falsity in specialized scientific matters. But that the great majority of those who leave school should have some idea of the kind of evidence required to substantiate given types of belief does not seem unreasonable. Not is it absurd to expect that they should go forth with a lively interest in the ways in which knowledge is improved and a marked distaste for all conclusions reached in disharmony with the methods of scientific inquiry. (Dewey 1910, p. 127)

Dewey concludes with this powerful statement:

One of the only two articles that remain in my creed of life is that the future of our civilization depends upon the widening spread and deepening hold of the scientific habit of mind; and that the problem of problems in our education is therefore to discover how to mature and make effective this scientific habit. (p. 127)

I have quoted John Dewey at length because 100 years ago he articulated the need for teaching science as inquiry, for which he included several important outcomes: developing thinking and reasoning, formulating habits of mind, learning science subject matter, and understanding the processes of science. Dewey later wrote Logic: The Theory of Inquiry (1938), in which he presented his "steps" in the scientific method (induction, deduction, mathematical logic, and empiricism). This book no doubt influenced the many science textbooks that treat the scientific method as a fixed sequence as opposed to a variety of strategies whose use depends on the question being investigated and on the researchers. Discussions about the role of the scientific method in science classrooms and textbooks continue in the science education community. I think it is clear that John Dewey did not support teaching the scientific method as a formal step-by-step sequence. He likely did support phases of instruction based on the psychology of learning.

The historian John Rudolph (2005) has proposed that educators quickly embraced the five steps for the following reasons: (1) the steps' alignment with the trends toward the psychology of students as applied in problems from actual life situations, (2) increasing levels of enrollment in schools, and (3) the ease of applying scientific approaches without attending to the nuances of individual and contextual differences. In the end, a complex set of social, educational, and scientific trends led educators to equate Dewey's idea of reflective thought with the scientific method. Soon the scientific method was included in textbooks, thus becoming part of the knowledge that students had to memorize.

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