5 Ways to Make ‘The Scientific Method’ Easier to Understand

Akanksha Saxena

Introduction: The Scientific Method

When students newly enter scientific labs for courses and research, they are astonished and mostly overwhelmed. The primary cause of their perception is the fact that the science and knowledge systems that were offered to them throughout the years were divided into many categories. High schools and colleges usually train their students to assort science topics under categories called ‘subjects and courses. Students may feel difficult and unable to synthesize their information from many topics to make sense of it.

With such a system and years of conditioning, students often find it hard to start their scientific endeavors. They feel an extreme level of difficulty in approaching their research questions. Even teachers and educators fail to understand and find a way to resolve such issues.

We at Labster understand this problem faced by students and teachers alike. In an ode to making the future generation of scientists well-equipped and confident in the scientific designing of their experiments, we have narrowed down the major problems faced by students when it comes to the scientific method to three aspects. We try to highlight them so that educators can pay due attention and cater to their respective needs.

We also list practical solutions that educators can use in their next classes. Having scientific ideas is very different from executing those ideas. The latter deserves immediate attention and we aim to resolve this issue maximally. By the end of this article, we’ll convince you why a virtual lab simulation will prove wondrous not only for your students but also for you as an educator to deliver concepts more efficiently.

3 reasons why The Scientific Method can be tricky to teach or learn

There are 3 major reasons why students are overwhelmed by the topic of The Scientific Method. Acknowledging these issues is the first step toward making the topic more approachable. 

1. It sounds abstract

When we identify a gap in scientific research, we often think to make a breakthrough by filling that gap. Our ideas are overpowering and make us rejoice. But when it comes to practically approaching the problem in the lab, students find it abstract and extremely hard to design their experiments in a way that the problem can be taken care of. This is because of the lack of scientific aptitude and incompetence in building meaningful hypotheses.

2. Lack of proper mentorship

Another issue that is regularly pointed out by a majority of the students is the lack of proper mentorship, probably because teachers are overloaded and don’t have enough time for 1:1 guidance. It takes years of working in science to establish a scientific temperament. Since young learners can’t gather it all in their limited years in science, they expect time to time guidance and mentorship to hone their scientific abilities and improvise their hypothesis-building as well as testing skills.

3. A lack of knowledge about the main components of the scientific method

Students new to research and independent lab handling are sometimes unaware of the concepts of ‘null and alternative hypothesis, ‘hypothesis testing-accepting or rejecting the null hypothesis, ‘experimental or model organisms and factors to make an informed choice for the same’, ‘importance of controls and its types-negative, positive controls’, ‘importance of replicating experiments- biological replicates vs technical replicates’ and many more similar concepts. Ignorance of these concepts can harm the way science is practiced. It can make scientific experiments unreliable and irreproducible. 

5 ways to make The Scientific Method a more approachable topic to understand

To address the issues encountered while teaching The Scientific Method, educators can engage the under-listed solutions in their next classes. These can clarify many instrumental aspects of the topic and help them build strong foundations over which the science of the future will rest. Not only can they make teaching easier for educators like you but will also make lessons clearer and easier to assimilate for your students.

1. Introduce students to the critical concepts of scientific research

Explaining the importance of a ‘scientific hypothesis’ can be a good way to begin the discussion in your next class. Scientific hypotheses are ideas and notions believing in which scientists begin their work. These are tentatively considered the ‘best available explanations’ for a particular research question. Explain to your students that until their proposed scientific ideas have withstood the test of time and in-depth inquiry, they cannot be considered to be the final word. This fosters in them a scientific temperament and permits the conduct of real scientific study.

You can also choose to explain the topic of ‘controls and their different types. Setting controls is very important to conduct a scientifically sound experiment. As mentioned by John S Torday and František Baluška in their paper ‘Why control an experiment?’ published in 2019, the importance of controls is undeniable.

“… once we began our formal training as scientists, the greatest challenge beyond formulating a testable or refutable hypothesis was designing appropriate controls for an experiment.”

It is of utmost importance that we explain the same to our students. Additionally, it is crucial to stress the value of positive versus negative controls to get accurate results.

 Along the same line, you can explain the other important concepts of scientific research.

Figure:An interactive image showing the workbench where the experimental model is to be chosen. It is available in The Scientific Method simulation from Labster. It is available for High School and University/College courses.

2. Depict how science evolved through time, make it less abstract and more tangible

Since the homework of hypothesis design and testing sounds trivial and abstract to many students, it’s the educators’ duty to make the students aware of its importance. Demonstrating to them how a hypothesis's formulation and objective evaluation aid in the development of "TRUE experimental conclusions” is an educator’s foremost duty. 

Explain to them how scientists are different from philosophers as we practice non-negotiable scientific methods. The credit for the 1st utilization of controls in an experiment is attributed to Roger Bacon (1620). Charles Peirce further emphasized the concept of empirical research in 1877. Karl Popper (1930s) talked about the importance of refuting hypotheses in his ‘The Logic of Scientific Discoveries. The scientific procedures aren't a game of philosophy; they are put through rigorous examination, posed challenging questions, and forced to demonstrate their core concepts.

Showing the evolution of science and its methods in such ways should make your students more confident in handling their ideas and experimenting around them.

scientific method 2

Figure: An image showing the different steps in optimal experimental design. It is available in The Scientific Method simulation from Labster. It is available for High School and University/College courses.

3. Exemplify so that students can accommodate the idea of scientific methods

You can put a situation-based example for your students to resolve. Help them navigate through the problem scientifically. Here’s an example.

Suppose your students are working as scientific investigators to find the cause of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is being reported all over the world, with the initial instance coming from China in a live-animal (wet) market. 

Now, since many reports are at students’ disposal, they can come up with their scientific hypotheses

  • One student puts forth a hypothesis that the SARS-COV-2 virus's dissemination began in the animal market from non-human sources, such as exotic animals consumed in China (like civet cats, bats, etc).

  • Another student suggests that the virus may have spilled from a lab that was purportedly altering it to use as a bioweapon.

  • Another student suggests that viruses naturally evolve to broaden their host range. (For instance, moving from animals to people)

Every student can have a different hypothesis of their own. You can congratulate your students on this as the 1st step of scientific methods is conceptualizing your hypothesis. A similar situation-based example is provided in The Scientific Method simulation by Labster.

scientific method simulation GIF

Similarly, try to make them aware of the different ways for experimental designing and hypothesis testing, setting controls, etc. 

4. Explain the importance of common terms

Several terms are common to all scientific research, whether it be biochemistry, zoology, or medicine. We provide a few examples for you to use as models in your next class.

  • Replicates: Experimental replication is a common practice in scientific research. You can’t conclude a finding just by running the experiment once in your lab. Only when the same finding is observed in different replicates of the same experiment, the finding is considered reliable. After explaining the importance of replication in the scientific method, explain the different types of replicates used like biological replicates and technical replicates. 

  • Reproducibility of experiments: Reproducibility of experiments is another important component of Good Lab Practices (GLPs). An experiment and its finding are called ‘reproducible’ when the same experiment is conducted by a different independent investigator leading to the same conclusive results. Reproducibility is expected from different investigators and under different lab setups too. 

Similarly, you can explain the meaning of experimental models and the criteria based on which you choose the best model for your experiment. 

scientific method 3

Figure: An interactive image showing the methods to choose the best experimental model for hypothesis testing. It is available in The Scientific Method simulation from Labster. It is available for High School and University/College courses.

5. Use virtual lab simulations

Since students often find it hard to begin their scientific journey with so many new terms and concepts being fed to them, we feel the need to make the classes on this topic more interactive. One way to gather more excitement and active participation of the students is to use The Scientific Method simulation from Labster.  You may overcome passive engagement and convey deeper ideas to your students by offering them visually dynamic video graphics options. Young scientists must establish their scientific aptitude and research temperament at a young age.  This could pave the way for science that transforms the globe in the upcoming decade. 

Your method of delivering lectures is made easier by Labster's virtual laboratory simulations. As pupils are provided with richer visual alternatives, you can make more insightful points. Our gamification features and interactive simulations are revolutionizing the way science is taught in classes. By using this way of active and immersive teaching, our virtual learning platform takes an advent in the field of Science to make the upcoming scientists thorough with the “basics of their respective subjects”. 

You can learn more about The Scientific Method simulation from Labster here or get in touch to find out how you can start using virtual labs with your students.

Scientific method virtual lab

Figure: An image from The Scientific Method simulation from Labster. It is available for High School and University/College courses.

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