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Update your hypothesis about science pedagogy!

Most of us engaging with NGSS curriculum find ourselves wondering, “So, when do students make a hypothesis?” The answer is that sometimes they don’t... and scientists don’t always start from hypotheses either.


We can credit John Dewey for the scientific method, though maybe he didn’t mean for it to be taught dogmatically for a century. Dewey readily admitted he was a non-scientist. In fact, that may be what made his work so accessible and attractive to high-school teachers, as our public schools massively increased the number of students served, and his articulation became "the scientific method”.


In a detailed and character-driven book, How We Teach Science: What’s Changed, and Why It Matters, John Rudolph details how this dated approach has undermined public support for science.


Rudolph points out that real scientists were never comfortable with teaching only "the scientific method". Pretending that all science begins with a testable hypothesis, and follows a consistent set of steps, teachers have oversimplified science, which has had longterm effects on our ability to navigate scientifically complex issues like climate change.


Climate science and evolution require a broader range of observation, reasoning, and inferencing, not an if-then hypothesis. Because of the enduring success of "the scientific method", climate and evolution deniers can sound like academic skeptics seeking to frame these complex issues with a simplistic if-then hypothesis and explanation.

The crosscutting concepts of the NGSS as well as the Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs) are a laudable effort to replace the scientific method with a more nuanced understanding of the many and varied ways science works.


NGSS synthesize several trends in science and pedagogy that have been evolving since we started teaching science in the US. In the spirit of John Dewey, here’s a non-scientist’s simplified synthesis of how we got here.



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