Beyond the scientific method: Model-based inquiry as a new paradigm of preference for school science investigations



One hundred years after its conception, the scientific method continues to reinforce a kind of cultural lore about what it means to participate in inquiry. As commonly implemented in venues ranging from middle school classrooms to undergraduate laboratories, it emphasizes the testing of predictions rather than ideas, focuses learners on material activity at the expense of deep subject matter understanding, and lacks epistemic framing relevant to the discipline. While critiques of the scientific method are not new, its cumulative effects on learners' conceptions of science have not been clearly articulated. We discuss these effects using findings from a series of five studies with degree-holding graduates of our educational system who were preparing to enter the teaching profession and apprentice their own young learners into unproblematic images of how science is done. We then offer an alternative vision for investigative science—model-based inquiry (MBI)—as a system of activity and discourse that engages learners more deeply with content and embodies five epistemic characteristics of scientific knowledge: that ideas represented in the form of models are testable, revisable, explanatory, conjectural, and generative. We represent MBI as an interconnected set of classroom conversations and provide examples of its implementation and its limitations. © 2008 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Sci Ed92:941–967, 2008