TEACHING REAL SCIENCE: A NOVEL APPROACH TO TEACHING STUDENTS THE SCIENTIFIC PROCESS
One method for improving science literacy outcomes is to better define the scientific process in terms of day-to-day behaviors. For example, students do not normally "hypothesize", but do observe the world and make unconscious assumptions about it. Our simplified definition of the scientific process includes:
Observations. The generic word "observation" is emphasized over numeric-focused words like "data" or "measurement".
Assumptions. Scientists make assumptions in their everyday work (i.e., "assume albedo is 0.3") to simplify it. Assumptions are emphasized as co-equal to observations in model building.
Models. Models are defined as observation-assumption constructs. They range from assumption-dominated ("hypothesis") to observation-dominated ("theory"). Assumptions are tested and eliminated or replaced by new observations, leading to better predictive capabilities over time.
This conceptualization of the scientific process was taught in the Arizona State University course Habitable Worlds and University of New South Wales course Introduction to Astrobiology. Results from ASU's Fall 2018 offering show students are better able to differentiate between hypotheses and theories in terms of definitions, the level of confidence they should have in each, and the ability to categorize models as hypotheses or theories. The confidence gap between hypotheses and theories (1 = should have least confidence, 5 = should have most confidence) shifts significantly (p < .001) from 3.5 points pre-test to 4.2 points post-test, with self-written definitions indicating that students gained an awareness that observation-dominated theories carry more weight than assumption-dominated hypotheses (and are not synonyms for "guess"). The confidence gap is retained at the end of the term, but improved definitions are not. This particular method of conceptualizing the scientific process and its terminology may be promising, but needs to be reinforced in the structure of class activities.