S[t]imulating the scientific method


Curiosity is really at the heart of science and education, yet both these can suffer from ‘explanationism’: the description of a discovery process as complete and direct when in fact it was neither.

Curiosity demands exploration – a feedback cycle of trying and observing – of failure and success in increments and sometimes leasps. Game makers get it. Scientists get it. The best educators have mastered it because they know the best teacher is personal experience.

So why is ‘explanationism’ the default (and unsatisfactory way) that curiosity is satisfied? Partly because the tools to manage directed inquiry and exploration are just not there. Spaceref has a great article on a software package that aims to provide this management for student science; specifically, educating children on the scientific method. This method is usually listed as a set of bullet points in science class: hypothesis->experiment->revise hypothesis…. but the tools to conduct many interesting experiments are not practical in a classroom. Example? Billion dollar telescopes, timespans of decands or nanoseconds, powers of gigawatts. One approach is to provide a software-based science  simulation toolkit: flexible enough to allow creative thinking and many outcomes.

The experiments described…on experimenters demonstrated that, yes, there is a benefit to allowing kids to learn things the way learning is meant to be: through exploration, experimentation and feedback. Interestingly, the software did not limit experiments to simulation within the computer – it encouraged data gathering in the real world. ‘Getting’ the scientific method means using it, not learning the bullet points. Read the article here, and check out the free software at the nQuire site

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