Spotlight on Strategies

Thinking Scientifically

Background

Thinking scientifically can be thought of critical thinking in science. Critical thinking is generally defined as a way of thinking which is used to gauge the legitimacy of an opinion, statement, or even a news story (Rusbult, 2001). Using critical thinking, students are able to form opinions around an idea. The hallmarks of critical thinking can be demonstrated through all of the following:


  • carefully examining problems and asking pertinent questions
  • identifying assumptions and biases and analyzing data
  • considering a variety of explanations and rejecting information that is incorrect or irrelevant
  • suspending judgment until all facts have been collected and considered
  • weighing evidence and drawing reasoned conclusions
  • adjusting opinions when new facts are found (Herr, 2008).


When applied to science, students will likely find facts, but thinking scientifically should also prompt students to form questions from their findings (Toomey, 2011). To put it succinctly, physicist William Lawrence Bragg once stated that "the important thing in science is not so much to obtain new facts as to discover new ways of thinking about them" (Toomey, 2011). Scientific thinking promotes a constructivist approach to instruction. Unfortunately, I speak from experience when I say that far too many of my students could be compared to a dumpster of information instead of a garbage picker. As science educators, we need to foster scientific thinking in our students which is necessary for success in the modern world (Rusbult, 2001).

A Biology Example...

  1. Have students watch The Scientific Method as demonstrated on The Big Bang Theory.
  2. Review the steps of the the scientific method in more detail.
  3. Using the Common Misconceptions list, have students work in pairs to research one misconception. Note: students may use Wikipedia as a starting point, but should find at least two other sources that support their initial findings.
  4. Working as individuals, students should post a Blog reporting their findings about their misconception. Students should be sure to discuss why their misconception is incorrect by reasoning from observed facts and experience, and also provide a correct explanation.

The Challenge

Scientific thinking is a skill that can be used across all concepts in science. I recommend using this strategy as one of your first activities at the start of the school year, however, it would be to both you and your students benefit to revisit this skill several times throughout the school year.


A further extension: have students work in small groups and design experiments that would help prove their misconception incorrect.

References

Angry business man. [Image file]. (n.d). Retrieved from http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-image-angry-businessman-senior-black-background-image36413126


Critical thinking. [Image file]. (n.d). Retrieved from http://dimurroa.files.wordpress.com/2008/09/critical-thinking-cartoon.jpg


Herr, N. (2008). The sourcebook for teaching science: Strategies, activities, and instructional resources. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.


Rusbult, C. (2001). Critical thinking skills in education and life. The American Scientific Affiliation. Retrieved from http://www.asa3.org/ASA/education/think/critical.htm#why


Toomey, A. (2011). The importance of thinking scientifically. Scistarter. Retrieved from http://scistarter.com/blog/2011/04/thinking-scientifically-for-citizen-science/#sthash.Bg2ngqBU.dpbs