Ruth Von Blum
One of the major objectives in teaching introductory college biology is to give students a working understanding of that particular approach to the world called the "scientific method." Unfortunately, most current efforts to teach students to approach problems scientifically have not been very successful. This paper discusses the design and evaluation of one instructional unit produced by Project SABLE1 specifically to teach the basic skills involved in the scientific method.
There are various ways students are taught scientific reasoning in the context of a biology course. Usually a ritual incantation of the "scientific method" in an introductory lecture is the major formal introduction to scientific methodology given to students; it is seldom included in the presentation of the myriad "scientific facts" of the discipline. Even the laboratory, which might be an ideal place for students to get first-hand experience in science, most often is concerned with simple observation of phenomena. Experiments are most often only observations, with the instructor, not the student, determining both the nature of the investigation and the conditions under which it is run. Indeed, many biology students do not begin to have a functional understanding of science until they are well into graduate school, as proven by the difficulty they have in designing and carrying out a reasonable research problem.
One approach to this problem was the initiation across the country of "investigative laboratories," following the suggestions of the Commission on Undergraduate Education in the Biological Sciences (Holt et al., 1969). In investigative laboratories, students spend a considerable part of an academic term conducting experiments of their own choosing. The tacit hypothesis behind the concept of the investigative laboratory is that, if students have received a firm conceptual background in a particular area of biology, and have learned the necessary experimental techniques and procedures, then they will be adequately prepared to undertake investigations on their own. The process of conducting the investigations will in turn effectively teach them the scientific method.____________________