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Teaching the Scientific Method using Current News Articles
Authors: Laura K. Palmer, and Carolyn G. Mahan
Source: The American Biology Teacher, 75(5) : 355-356
Published By: National Association of Biology Teachers
URL: https://doi.org/10.1525/abt.2013.75.5.11
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QUICK FIX
Teaching the Scientific Method
Using Current News Articles
L A U R A K . PA L M E R ,
C A R O LY N G . M A H A N
ABSTRACT
We describe a short (<50 minutes) activity using news articles from sources
such as Science Daily to teach students the steps of the scientific method and the
difference between primary and secondary literature sources. The flexibility in
choosing news articles to examine allowed us to tailor the activity to the specific
interests of our student group. This exercise is particularly useful in situations
where there is no laboratory component to a course, the time devoted to teaching
the scientific method is constrained, or the topic is not presented adequately in the
textbook utilized for the course.
Key Words: Scientific method; current events; hypothesis generation.
areas of research (e.g., ecology or theoretical research). One area that
was particularly stressed was that scientists do not undertake investigations to prove a specific hypothesis; rather, scientists accept or reject
hypotheses on the basis of data generated in their studies.
Students were then provided with a copy of a current news
item that summarized a scientific journal article. Summaries of current scientific journal articles are presented in media outlets such
as The New York Times, Science Times, Science Daily, or Science News
Headlines (Yahoo News). These summaries are normally one page in
length, and students can read the entire article in <5 minutes. Along
with the news item, students were also provided the following questions to answer.
Classroom presentations of the scientific method usually involve
1. What were the initial observations that led to the inception of
introducing the process as a series of succinct steps that researchers
this study?
use to investigate questions (for examples, see Sterner, 1998; Sadava
2.
What was the alternative hypothesis for this study?
et al., 2011). Ideally, students have the opportunity to practice this
method by performing investigations in a labo3. What was the null hypothesis for this study?
ratory setting. In some instances, this approach
4. How did the scientists conduct this study
Here, we describe an
is not practical – courses may not contain a
(what was their experimental design)?
laboratory component or there may be conapproach to teaching
5. What were the results of the study?
straints on the time allotted to this topic in the
6. Which primary literature source was this
the scientific method
course curriculum.
study published in?
Here, we describe an approach to teachusing news articles that
7. Which hypothesis was supported by the data?
ing the scientific method using news articles
that describe current journal manuscripts. Our
describe current journal
goals for this lesson were to teach students the
Our students took about 20 minutes to
manuscripts.
steps of the scientific method, identification of
complete the questions (students can work
null and alternative hypotheses, and the differindependently or in groups). This exercise
ence between primary and secondary literature sources. Ultimately,
was followed by a discussion of their answers. In all, the entire leswe aimed to show students that critical thinking and scientific
son fit into one 50-minute lecture period. Although many introinquiry can and should be applied when evaluating scientific findductory biology textbooks have a section on the scientific method
ings presented in the news media or in scientific journals.
(our text for this course [Bidlack & Jansky, 2011] did not) and often
A short pre-activity lecture was given to introduce students to
include examples of studies intended to show students the scienthe concepts of null and alternative hypotheses. We also introduced
tific method in practice (for an example, see Sadava et al., 2011),
the basic steps of the scientific method by leading students through
we found using current news articles more engaging for our stuan in-class hypothetical study. The in-class example that we used
dents. Most of the students in our Introductory Plant Biology course
involved a proposed double-blind study for testing a hypothetical
were majoring in Turfgrass Science; thus, we chose an article directly
drug. We explained that the double-blind approach is the “gold stanrelated to golf course maintenance (http://www.sciencedaily.com/
dard” in drug testing but is not always a practical approach in other
releases/2012/01/120131150036.htm) for this exercise. One of the
The American Biology Teacher, Vol. 75, No. 5, pages 355–356. ISSN 0002-7685, electronic ISSN 1938-4211. ©2013 by National Association of Biology Teachers. All rights reserved.
Request permission to photocopy or reproduce article content at the University of California Press’s Rights and Permissions Web site at www.ucpressjournals.com/reprintinfo.asp.
DOI: 10.1525/abt.2013.75.5.11
THE AMERICAN BIOLOGY TEACHER
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TEACHING THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD
355
students even shared the article with his manager at a local golf
course. Thus, not only were the students engaged while they were in
the classroom, but they also took the initiative to share what they had
learned with other members of the community.
References
Bidlack, J.E. & Jansky, S.H. (2011). Stern’s Introductory Plant Biology, 12th Ed.
New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Sadava, D., Hillis, D.M., Heller, H.C. & Berenbaum, M.R. (2011). Studying life. In
Life: The Science of Biology, 9th Ed. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates.
Sterner, R.T. (1998). The scientific method: an instructor’s flow chart.
American Biology Teacher, 60, 374–378.
LAURA K. PALMER is Associate Professor of Biology at Penn State Altoona,
3000 Ivyside Park, Altoona, PA; e-mail: [email protected] CAROLYN G. MAHAN is
Professor of Biology, also at Penn State Altoona; e-mail: [email protected]
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THE AMERICAN BIOLOGY TEACHER
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