Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Scientific Method in the Movies

Every Science course I can remember as a student as and as a teacher has begun with a discussion of the scientific method, the steps and the organization. 

State the Problem
Research the Problem
Form an Hypothesis
Test the Hypothesis through Experimentation
Gather Data
Analyze the Data
Form a Conclusion 

Students sometimes think that scientific discovery takes place in a nice orderly manner and that at the end of these steps an answer will clearly unfold. Unfortunately, in real life, our labs and true science this is not always the case.  Yes, science is a process and there are definite steps but, these steps seldom follow a linear path and more often than not end in further questions rather than simple answers.

To allow students to explore this process outside of the classroom I have students analyze the scientific method throuhg film.  There are a great number of movies that students can view to accomplish this task, however I have narrowed it down to a handful that provide discussion points in my classroom and allow me to maintain a sense of sanity in grading this assignment.

Students must watch one of the following five films:

Medicine Man
And the Band Played On
Lorenzo's Oil
Never Cry Wolf

Each can be rented from iTunes, Amazon, video store or library.  While the overriding themes of each of these movies are based upon scientific topics, students must focus on how each movie depicts the use of the Scientific Method or Inquiry based approach to solving scientific problems.

Students then write an essay to explain explain their understanding of how the scientific method was demonstarated within the scenes of the film.

In an essay:
1.      Find 5 scenes from the movie that demonstrate a step in the scientific method. (The steps include:  observing a problem, stating a hypothesis, testing the hypothesis with variables and controls, recording and analyzing data, forming a conclusion, and replicating the work.)
2.      Summarize each scene.  (Do not summarize the movie.)
3.      Describe how the scene is an example of that step of the Scientific Method.
4.      Explain how this step aids in the solution of the problem.

It is key to explain to the students not to summarize the movie or become movie critics.  Remind them to focus on the aspects of the scientific method and how it played a role in the outcomes of the story.

I find that students begin to see the scientific method as being a life skill and not just something to be used in the science classroom.  Students also start to see the ongoing process involved in this method and how the steps are almost never linear and quite often backtracking and pushing forward is part of that process.

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