The scientific method and scientific inquiry: Tensions in teaching and learning



Typically, the scientific method in science classrooms takes the form of discrete, ordered steps meant to guide students' inquiry. In this paper, we examine how focusing on the scientific method as discrete steps affects students' inquiry and teachers' perceptions thereof. To do so, we study a ninth-grade environmental science class in which students first reviewed a typical version of the scientific method, then brainstormed about which sites on school grounds could be good earthworm habitats and how to test their ideas. Our discourse analysis explores the dynamics between the “steps” of the scientific method and students' engagement in more authentic scientific inquiry. We argue that focusing on the scientific method as discrete steps can distract students from their ongoing, productive inquiry and can also draw teachers' attention away from students' productive inquiry. © 2009 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Sci Ed94:29–47, 2010