First, let's examine why the authors of The Framework and the NGSS would leave out something so important. The Framework gives three reasons for the shift from the scientific method or inquiry to the science and engineering practices. (see pages 43-44 in A Framework for K-12 Science Education)
- Teaching "the scientific method" places too much focus on investigations to the exclusion of other practices that scientists engage in.
- Teaching "the scientific method" leads students to believe that there is ONE universally accepted, linear approach that all scientist use. This simply isn't true.
- The use of the term inquiry can be vague. Educators may define inquiry in many ways--which may or may not be the ways it is used by scientists.
Now we enter the scary but exciting world of NGSS. Your first question might be, "So now that my favorite unit is gone, do I need to spend a few weeks lecturing on and modeling the 8 practices?" I think the authors of The Framework would be quick to say "NO" to that question. The intent of the new standards is for an integration of the three dimensions, not for any one to be taught in isolation.
My recommendation would be to introduce the students to a burning question that can only be answered by means of the practices of science, but one that doesn't require an extensive knowledge of the disciplinary core ideas. (I gave my students freaky fish--a cellophane fish that moves when held in the students' hands--and they wanted to see how the fish worked. They then used the practices on their own to investigate and then construct an explanation.) From their initial attempts at these practices, I can add scaffolding and help the students become more proficient at each one.
The good news is that we aren't starting from scratch. Some of these practices are innate in students when they enter kindergarten. They are naturally good at asking questions; we just have to help them ask more scientific questions. They are good at carrying out investigations ("I wonder what will happen if I. . . "). Their skills in arguing from evidence and constructing explanations will require more work and scaffolding.
So this year, live dangerously. Throw out the scientific method (after all, scientists don't really use it). Start investigating with students. Build on the strengths that they bring to class. And most importantly, don't use the practices in isolation. One more thing--enjoy the journey--have fun.
**This post was originally written for and published in Kentucky's Science Connections newsletter in September 2014.