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Applying the Scientific Method in History Class

Using a key concept from science class in history encourages high school students to analyze data with a willingness to make mistakes.

Photo of Buzz Aldrin and the U.S. flag on the moon. Apollo 11 Moon Landing.

In the 1980 movie Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back , Yoda says, “Do or do not; there is no try.” As nice of a sentiment as that is, it doesn’t apply to the scientific method. The scientific method, the cornerstone of STEM education, is about trying, a willingness to challenge original assumptions and revise a hypothesis. A researcher doesn’t know if their hypothesis will work, but the point is to test and evaluate. In class, teachers want students to take risks. Some of the most meaningful learning takes place in the context of failure, but many students are afraid of that for various reasons, such as not wanting to appear foolish or disappoint the adults in their life. 

The scientific method, on the other hand, leaves open the possibility of being wrong. It involves forming an hypothesis, collecting data, testing, and analyzing results to determine whether the hypothesis is true. No matter the outcome, the scientists take the risk of being wrong or rejecting their hypothesis. This can apply to the high school history classroom. History teachers can cultivate that willingness to make mistakes, thus giving learning deeper meaning, by reimagining the history of science, reading diverse primary sources, and beginning with no end in mind.  

Reimagining the history of science

In most state standards, there’s mention of scientists; AP European History includes individuals such as Copernicus, Newton, and William Harvey and their accomplishments. They’re the ones, utilizing the scientific method regarding observed phenomena, who collected data, formed theories, presented findings, and “got it right.” They’re celebrated, and rightfully so, because of their scientific contributions. To enrich and promote curiosity while removing a fear of failure, however, teachers can include examples from these scientists that did not “get it right.”

Isaac Newton, despite developing calculus, remained fascinated with alchemy, whereby he wanted to find a “philosopher’s stone” that could turn other metals into gold. Likewise, Copernicus’s theory of the heliocentric universe radically changed astronomy; however, there’s debate regarding his belief in astrology, a system that holds that planets influence human behavior. Even in discussing something more modern, such as space exploration, the Challenger disaster (1986) juxtaposes the moon landing (1969). Including both successes and failures in the history of science models for students the fact that taking risks and being wrong are part of the process. 

Reading diverse primary sources

Historiography, the study of historical writing, encompasses how historians create history. The main way that historians craft a narrative is reading a diverse set of primary sources. They approach those sources with a critical focus because people deliberately mislead, are confused, or don’t have the full picture. Thus, it’s important to be mindful that any primary source might not be fully accurate. Reading varying, and often contradictory, primary sources mirrors the approach of the scientific method by continuously retesting and reevaluating, in light of evidence, assumptions about the past. 

For example, there was a question in a past AP U.S. History exam that contrasted views on the American Revolution between John Adams and Benjamin Rush. Adams stated that the revolution had nothing to do with the actual war, but rather it was the process leading up to the “shot heard round the world.” Rush, however, believed that the revolution occurred after the war with the creation of the U.S. Constitution and establishing a federal government. Having students examine two different views on the American Revolution promotes a scientific approach to the past by reevaluating one hypothesis that the revolution was the war against Britain and not something more ideologically complicated. 

No end in mind

Throughout my career as an educator, I’ve consistently been told to “begin with the end in mind.” Certainly, teachers should have an objective and goal for each lesson. With high-stakes testing, teachers need a laser focus on their curricula. Scientists, to start the scientific method, do form hypotheses when conducting experiments; however, they also have freedom to be surprised by data and form new conclusions. There’s always a willingness to change one’s mind in light of new evidence. In this way, there really is not a particular end in mind because there is no end in science.  

In that regard, students can remove the fear of being wrong because there isn’t a definitive right answer. History teachers can model this idea by highlighting different interpretations of the past. For example, historians of the 1950s might have viewed the 1920s as “roaring,” whereas historians today focus on the inequality of that era. Changing interpretations are often the result of the discovery of new sources and contemporary historians’ bringing their own values and perspectives to primary sources. They mirror the scientific method in how it does not end. 

History isn’t a list of facts. It’s an interpretation of the past, and interpretations can change. Similarly, the scientific method includes critical analysis of data and an openness to be wrong. Both historical inquiry and scientific research employ similar skills, and that can enrich learning experiences for students. This promotes a willingness to be wrong, making the classroom safer for students to take academic risks. 

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Exploring the Scientific Method

Exploring the Scientific Method

Cases and questions.

Edited by Steven Gimbel

From their grade school classrooms forward, students of science are encouraged to memorize and adhere to the “scientific method”—a model of inquiry consisting of five to seven neatly laid-out steps, often in the form of a flowchart. But walk into the office of a theoretical physicist or the laboratory of a biochemist and ask “Which step are you on?” and you will likely receive a blank stare. This is not how science works. But science does work, and here award-winning teacher and scholar Steven Gimbel provides students the tools to answer for themselves this question: What actually is the scientific method?

            Exploring the Scientific Method pairs classic and contemporary readings in the philosophy of science with milestones in scientific discovery to illustrate the foundational issues underlying scientific methodology. Students are asked to select one of nine possible fields—astronomy, physics, chemistry, genetics, evolutionary biology, psychology, sociology, economics, or geology—and through carefully crafted case studies trace its historical progression, all while evaluating whether scientific practice in each case reflects the methodological claims of the philosophers. This approach allows students to see the philosophy of science in action and to determine for themselves what scientists do and how they ought to do it.

             Exploring the Scientific Method will be a welcome resource to introductory science courses and all courses in the history and philosophy of science.        

424 pages | 4 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2011

History of Science

Philosophy of Science

Physical Sciences: History and Philosophy of Physical Sciences

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“This is a truly unique approach for a textbook. The philosophical positions that Gimbel chooses to focus on are important and the choices of primary source articles are excellent. Exploring the Scientific Method will be attractive to anyone teaching courses on the history and philosophy of science.”

Mara Harrell, Carnegie Mellon University

“The way Gimbel integrates core readings in the philosophy of science with case studies works extremely well. As far as I know, Exploring the Scientific Method is the first book that does this, and I think this is exactly the approach that is needed to orient new students in the field.”

Mathias Frisch, University of Maryland

“All things considered, Gimbel succeeds in creating an innovative textbook that combines philosophical and historical approaches to the study of scientific method. Exploring the Scientific Method is not a comprehensive introduction to philosophy of science, and it does not provide an adequate foundation for advanced study in HPS, but those are not Gimbel’s intentions. Focusing on scientific method specifically, rather than on the broader scope of philosophy of science, allows Gimbel to include an impressive variety of material while maintaining the clear themes of characterizing scientific reasoning and the structure of theories. This volume is ideal for a course geared toward students in scientific and other disciplines who wish to gain insight into scientific method, and the unique integrated approach is invaluable for students with no background in HPS.”

Brooke Abounader | Isis

Table of Contents

Introduction

How to Use This Book

Syntactic View of Theories

Deductivism

Aristotle                      from Posterior Analytics and Physics

René Descartes            from Discourse on Method

Case Studies

Inductivism

Francis Bacon             from Novum Organum

Isaac Newton               from Principia

John Stuart Mill            from System of Logic

Hypothetico-Deductivism

William Whewell           from Novum Organum Renovatum

Rudolf Carnap              “Theoretical Procedures in Science”

R. B. Braithwaite          from Scientific Explanation

Paradoxes of Evidence

David Hume                 from Enquiry

Nelson Goodman         from Fact, Fiction, and Forecast

Carl Hempel                 from “Studies in the Logic of Confirmation”

Responses to the Paradoxes of Evidence

Falsificationism

Karl Popper                 from The Logic of Scientific Discovery

Holistic View of Theories

Pierre Duhem               from Aim and Structure of Physical Theory

Thomas Kuhn               from The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

Imre Lakatos                The Methodology of Research Programmes

Semantic View of Theories

Marshall Spector          “Models and Theories”

Max Black                   “Models and Archetypes”

Ronald Giere                from Explaining Science

Critical Views of Scientific Theories

Paul Feyerabend           from Against Method

Ruth Hubbard               “Science, Facts, and Feminism”

Bruno Latour                “The Science Wars: A Dialogue”

Closing Remarks

Deductivism Case Study Readings

Astronomy       Aristotle           from On the Heavens   

Physics Epicurus           from Letter to Herodotus        

Chemistry         Paracelsus        from Hermetic and Alchemical Writings

Genetics           Aristotle           from On the Generation of Animals

Evolutionary Biology     Aristotle           from On the Generation of Animals

Geology           John Woodward           from An Essay towards a Natural History of the Earth

Psychology       Hippocrates      from The Nature of Man, The Sacred Disease

Sociology         Thomas Hobbes           from Leviathan            

Economics        Aristotle           from Politics    

Inductivism Case Study Readings

Astronomy       Ptolemy            from Almagest

Physics James Clerk Maxwell   from “Molecules”

Chemistry         Robert Boyle    from The Skeptical Chymist

Genetics           Gregor Mendel from Experiments in Plant Hybridization

Evolutionary Biology     Carolus Linnaeus          from Systema Naturae

Geology           James Hutton    from “System of the Earth”

Psychology       Heinrich Weber            from “The Sense of Touch and the Common Feeling”

Sociology         Émile Durkheim            from Suicide

Economics        François Quesnay         from “Farmers”

Bibliography

Making "Nature"

Melinda Baldwin

What Did the Romans Know?

Daryn Lehoux

Philip Ball

Making Modern Science, Second Edition

Peter J. Bowler

DigitalCommons@University of Nebraska - Lincoln

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Home > Biological Sciences > Papers in the Biological Sciences > Faculty Publications > 650

Papers in the Biological Sciences

School of biological sciences: faculty publications, knowing your own: a classroom case study using the scientific method to investigate how birds learn to recognize their offspring.

Joanna K. Hubbard , University of Nebraska - Lincoln Daizaburo Shizuka , University of Nebraska-Lincoln Follow Brian A. Couch , University of Nebraska - Lincoln Follow

Date of this Version

CourseSource 2016 | Volume 03

© 2016 Hubbard, Shizuka and Couch.

Open access

https://doi.org/10.24918/cs.2016.7

Understanding the scientific method provides students with a necessary foundation for careers in science-related fields. Moreover, students can apply scientific inquiry skills in many aspects of their daily lives and decision making. Thus, the ability to apply the scientific method represents an essential skill that students should learn during undergraduate science education. We designed an interrupted case study in which students learn about and apply the scientific method to investigate and recapitulate the findings of a published research article. This research article addresses the question of how parents recognize their own young in a system where birds of the same species lay eggs in each other’s nests. The researchers approach the question through three experiments in which the bird’s own offspring and unrelated offspring hatch in different orders. This experiment specifically tests for the effect of hatching order on the bird’s ability to recognize its own offspring. In the case study, students form hypotheses based on behavioral observations made while watching a video clip, together with background information provided by the instructor. With additional information about the experimental design, students make graphical predictions for the three related experiments, compare their predictions to the results, and draw conclusions based on evidence. This lesson is designed for introductory undergraduate students, and we provide suggestions on how to adjust the lesson for more advanced students. This case study helps students differentiate between hypotheses and predictions, introduces them to constructing and interpreting graphs, and provides a clear example of the scientific method in action.

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  • v.16(1); 2015 May

Case Study Teaching Method Improves Student Performance and Perceptions of Learning Gains †

Associated data.

  • Appendix 1: Example assessment questions used to assess the effectiveness of case studies at promoting learning
  • Appendix 2: Student learning gains were assessed using a modified version of the SALG course evaluation tool

Following years of widespread use in business and medical education, the case study teaching method is becoming an increasingly common teaching strategy in science education. However, the current body of research provides limited evidence that the use of published case studies effectively promotes the fulfillment of specific learning objectives integral to many biology courses. This study tested the hypothesis that case studies are more effective than classroom discussions and textbook reading at promoting learning of key biological concepts, development of written and oral communication skills, and comprehension of the relevance of biological concepts to everyday life. This study also tested the hypothesis that case studies produced by the instructor of a course are more effective at promoting learning than those produced by unaffiliated instructors. Additionally, performance on quantitative learning assessments and student perceptions of learning gains were analyzed to determine whether reported perceptions of learning gains accurately reflect academic performance. The results reported here suggest that case studies, regardless of the source, are significantly more effective than other methods of content delivery at increasing performance on examination questions related to chemical bonds, osmosis and diffusion, mitosis and meiosis, and DNA structure and replication. This finding was positively correlated to increased student perceptions of learning gains associated with oral and written communication skills and the ability to recognize connections between biological concepts and other aspects of life. Based on these findings, case studies should be considered as a preferred method for teaching about a variety of concepts in science courses.

INTRODUCTION

The case study teaching method is a highly adaptable style of teaching that involves problem-based learning and promotes the development of analytical skills ( 8 ). By presenting content in the format of a narrative accompanied by questions and activities that promote group discussion and solving of complex problems, case studies facilitate development of the higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy of cognitive learning; moving beyond recall of knowledge to analysis, evaluation, and application ( 1 , 9 ). Similarly, case studies facilitate interdisciplinary learning and can be used to highlight connections between specific academic topics and real-world societal issues and applications ( 3 , 9 ). This has been reported to increase student motivation to participate in class activities, which promotes learning and increases performance on assessments ( 7 , 16 , 19 , 23 ). For these reasons, case-based teaching has been widely used in business and medical education for many years ( 4 , 11 , 12 , 14 ). Although case studies were considered a novel method of science education just 20 years ago, the case study teaching method has gained popularity in recent years among an array of scientific disciplines such as biology, chemistry, nursing, and psychology ( 5 – 7 , 9 , 11 , 13 , 15 – 17 , 21 , 22 , 24 ).

Although there is now a substantive and growing body of literature describing how to develop and use case studies in science teaching, current research on the effectiveness of case study teaching at meeting specific learning objectives is of limited scope and depth. Studies have shown that working in groups during completion of case studies significantly improves student perceptions of learning and may increase performance on assessment questions, and that the use of clickers can increase student engagement in case study activities, particularly among non-science majors, women, and freshmen ( 7 , 21 , 22 ). Case study teaching has been shown to improve exam performance in an anatomy and physiology course, increasing the mean score across all exams given in a two-semester sequence from 66% to 73% ( 5 ). Use of case studies was also shown to improve students’ ability to synthesize complex analytical questions about the real-world issues associated with a scientific topic ( 6 ). In a high school chemistry course, it was demonstrated that the case study teaching method produces significant increases in self-reported control of learning, task value, and self-efficacy for learning and performance ( 24 ). This effect on student motivation is important because enhanced motivation for learning activities has been shown to promote student engagement and academic performance ( 19 , 24 ). Additionally, faculty from a number of institutions have reported that using case studies promotes critical thinking, learning, and participation among students, especially in terms of the ability to view an issue from multiple perspectives and to grasp the practical application of core course concepts ( 23 ).

Despite what is known about the effectiveness of case studies in science education, questions remain about the functionality of the case study teaching method at promoting specific learning objectives that are important to many undergraduate biology courses. A recent survey of teachers who use case studies found that the topics most often covered in general biology courses included genetics and heredity, cell structure, cells and energy, chemistry of life, and cell cycle and cancer, suggesting that these topics should be of particular interest in studies that examine the effectiveness of the case study teaching method ( 8 ). However, the existing body of literature lacks direct evidence that the case study method is an effective tool for teaching about this collection of important topics in biology courses. Further, the extent to which case study teaching promotes development of science communication skills and the ability to understand the connections between biological concepts and everyday life has not been examined, yet these are core learning objectives shared by a variety of science courses. Although many instructors have produced case studies for use in their own classrooms, the production of novel case studies is time-consuming and requires skills that not all instructors have perfected. It is therefore important to determine whether case studies published by instructors who are unaffiliated with a particular course can be used effectively and obviate the need for each instructor to develop new case studies for their own courses. The results reported herein indicate that teaching with case studies results in significantly higher performance on examination questions about chemical bonds, osmosis and diffusion, mitosis and meiosis, and DNA structure and replication than that achieved by class discussions and textbook reading for topics of similar complexity. Case studies also increased overall student perceptions of learning gains and perceptions of learning gains specifically related to written and oral communication skills and the ability to grasp connections between scientific topics and their real-world applications. The effectiveness of the case study teaching method at increasing academic performance was not correlated to whether the case study used was authored by the instructor of the course or by an unaffiliated instructor. These findings support increased use of published case studies in the teaching of a variety of biological concepts and learning objectives.

Student population

This study was conducted at Kingsborough Community College, which is part of the City University of New York system, located in Brooklyn, New York. Kingsborough Community College has a diverse population of approximately 19,000 undergraduate students. The student population included in this study was enrolled in the first semester of a two-semester sequence of general (introductory) biology for biology majors during the spring, winter, or summer semester of 2014. A total of 63 students completed the course during this time period; 56 students consented to the inclusion of their data in the study. Of the students included in the study, 23 (41%) were male and 33 (59%) were female; 40 (71%) were registered as college freshmen and 16 (29%) were registered as college sophomores. To normalize participant groups, the same student population pooled from three classes taught by the same instructor was used to assess both experimental and control teaching methods.

Course material

The four biological concepts assessed during this study (chemical bonds, osmosis and diffusion, mitosis and meiosis, and DNA structure and replication) were selected as topics for studying the effectiveness of case study teaching because they were the key concepts addressed by this particular course that were most likely to be taught in a number of other courses, including biology courses for both majors and nonmajors at outside institutions. At the start of this study, relevant existing case studies were freely available from the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science (NCCSTS) to address mitosis and meiosis and DNA structure and replication, but published case studies that appropriately addressed chemical bonds and osmosis and diffusion were not available. Therefore, original case studies that addressed the latter two topics were produced as part of this study, and case studies produced by unaffiliated instructors and published by the NCCSTS were used to address the former two topics. By the conclusion of this study, all four case studies had been peer-reviewed and accepted for publication by the NCCSTS ( http://sciencecases.lib.buffalo.edu/cs/ ). Four of the remaining core topics covered in this course (macromolecules, photosynthesis, genetic inheritance, and translation) were selected as control lessons to provide control assessment data.

To minimize extraneous variation, control topics and assessments were carefully matched in complexity, format, and number with case studies, and an equal amount of class time was allocated for each case study and the corresponding control lesson. Instruction related to control lessons was delivered using minimal slide-based lectures, with emphasis on textbook reading assignments accompanied by worksheets completed by students in and out of the classroom, and small and large group discussion of key points. Completion of activities and discussion related to all case studies and control topics that were analyzed was conducted in the classroom, with the exception of the take-home portion of the osmosis and diffusion case study.

Data collection and analysis

This study was performed in accordance with a protocol approved by the Kingsborough Community College Human Research Protection Program and the Institutional Review Board (IRB) of the City University of New York (CUNY IRB reference 539938-1; KCC IRB application #: KCC 13-12-126-0138). Assessment scores were collected from regularly scheduled course examinations. For each case study, control questions were included on the same examination that were similar in number, format, point value, and difficulty level, but related to a different topic covered in the course that was of similar complexity. Complexity and difficulty of both case study and control questions were evaluated using experiential data from previous iterations of the course; the Bloom’s taxonomy designation and amount of material covered by each question, as well as the average score on similar questions achieved by students in previous iterations of the course was considered in determining appropriate controls. All assessment questions were scored using a standardized, pre-determined rubric. Student perceptions of learning gains were assessed using a modified version of the Student Assessment of Learning Gains (SALG) course evaluation tool ( http://www.salgsite.org ), distributed in hardcopy and completed anonymously during the last week of the course. Students were presented with a consent form to opt-in to having their data included in the data analysis. After the course had concluded and final course grades had been posted, data from consenting students were pooled in a database and identifying information was removed prior to analysis. Statistical analysis of data was conducted using the Kruskal-Wallis one-way analysis of variance and calculation of the R 2 coefficient of determination.

Teaching with case studies improves performance on learning assessments, independent of case study origin

To evaluate the effectiveness of the case study teaching method at promoting learning, student performance on examination questions related to material covered by case studies was compared with performance on questions that covered material addressed through classroom discussions and textbook reading. The latter questions served as control items; assessment items for each case study were compared with control items that were of similar format, difficulty, and point value ( Appendix 1 ). Each of the four case studies resulted in an increase in examination performance compared with control questions that was statistically significant, with an average difference of 18% ( Fig. 1 ). The mean score on case study-related questions was 73% for the chemical bonds case study, 79% for osmosis and diffusion, 76% for mitosis and meiosis, and 70% for DNA structure and replication ( Fig. 1 ). The mean score for non-case study-related control questions was 60%, 54%, 60%, and 52%, respectively ( Fig. 1 ). In terms of examination performance, no significant difference between case studies produced by the instructor of the course (chemical bonds and osmosis and diffusion) and those produced by unaffiliated instructors (mitosis and meiosis and DNA structure and replication) was indicated by the Kruskal-Wallis one-way analysis of variance. However, the 25% difference between the mean score on questions related to the osmosis and diffusion case study and the mean score on the paired control questions was notably higher than the 13–18% differences observed for the other case studies ( Fig. 1 ).

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Case study teaching method increases student performance on examination questions. Mean score on a set of examination questions related to lessons covered by case studies (black bars) and paired control questions of similar format and difficulty about an unrelated topic (white bars). Chemical bonds, n = 54; Osmosis and diffusion, n = 54; Mitosis and meiosis, n = 51; DNA structure and replication, n = 50. Error bars represent the standard error of the mean (SEM). Asterisk indicates p < 0.05.

Case study teaching increases student perception of learning gains related to core course objectives

Student learning gains were assessed using a modified version of the SALG course evaluation tool ( Appendix 2 ). To determine whether completing case studies was more effective at increasing student perceptions of learning gains than completing textbook readings or participating in class discussions, perceptions of student learning gains for each were compared. In response to the question “Overall, how much did each of the following aspects of the class help your learning?” 82% of students responded that case studies helped a “good” or “great” amount, compared with 70% for participating in class discussions and 58% for completing textbook reading; only 4% of students responded that case studies helped a “small amount” or “provided no help,” compared with 2% for class discussions and 22% for textbook reading ( Fig. 2A ). The differences in reported learning gains derived from the use of case studies compared with class discussion and textbook readings were statistically significant, while the difference in learning gains associated with class discussion compared with textbook reading was not statistically significant by a narrow margin ( p = 0.051).

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The case study teaching method increases student perceptions of learning gains. Student perceptions of learning gains are indicated by plotting responses to the question “How much did each of the following activities: (A) Help your learning overall? (B) Improve your ability to communicate your knowledge of scientific concepts in writing? (C) Improve your ability to communicate your knowledge of scientific concepts orally? (D) Help you understand the connections between scientific concepts and other aspects of your everyday life?” Reponses are represented as follows: Helped a great amount (black bars); Helped a good amount (dark gray bars); Helped a moderate amount (medium gray bars); Helped a small amount (light gray bars); Provided no help (white bars). Asterisk indicates p < 0.05.

To elucidate the effectiveness of case studies at promoting learning gains related to specific course learning objectives compared with class discussions and textbook reading, students were asked how much each of these methods of content delivery specifically helped improve skills that were integral to fulfilling three main course objectives. When students were asked how much each of the methods helped “improve your ability to communicate knowledge of scientific concepts in writing,” 81% of students responded that case studies help a “good” or “great” amount, compared with 63% for class discussions and 59% for textbook reading; only 6% of students responded that case studies helped a “small amount” or “provided no help,” compared with 8% for class discussions and 21% for textbook reading ( Fig. 2B ). When the same question was posed about the ability to communicate orally, 81% of students responded that case studies help a “good” or “great” amount, compared with 68% for class discussions and 50% for textbook reading, while the respective response rates for helped a “small amount” or “provided no help,” were 4%, 6%, and 25% ( Fig. 2C ). The differences in learning gains associated with both written and oral communication were statistically significant when completion of case studies was compared with either participation in class discussion or completion of textbook readings. Compared with textbook reading, class discussions led to a statistically significant increase in oral but not written communication skills.

Students were then asked how much each of the methods helped them “understand the connections between scientific concepts and other aspects of your everyday life.” A total of 79% of respondents declared that case studies help a “good” or “great” amount, compared with 70% for class discussions and 57% for textbook reading ( Fig. 2D ). Only 4% stated that case studies and class discussions helped a “small amount” or “provided no help,” compared with 21% for textbook reading ( Fig. 2D ). Similar to overall learning gains, the use of case studies significantly increased the ability to understand the relevance of science to everyday life compared with class discussion and textbook readings, while the difference in learning gains associated with participation in class discussion compared with textbook reading was not statistically significant ( p = 0.054).

Student perceptions of learning gains resulting from case study teaching are positively correlated to increased performance on examinations, but independent of case study author

To test the hypothesis that case studies produced specifically for this course by the instructor were more effective at promoting learning gains than topically relevant case studies published by authors not associated with this course, perceptions of learning gains were compared for each of the case studies. For both of the case studies produced by the instructor of the course, 87% of students indicated that the case study provided a “good” or “great” amount of help to their learning, and 2% indicated that the case studies provided “little” or “no” help ( Table 1 ). In comparison, an average of 85% of students indicated that the case studies produced by an unaffiliated instructor provided a “good” or “great” amount of help to their learning, and 4% indicated that the case studies provided “little” or “no” help ( Table 1 ). The instructor-produced case studies yielded both the highest and lowest percentage of students reporting the highest level of learning gains (a “great” amount), while case studies produced by unaffiliated instructors yielded intermediate values. Therefore, it can be concluded that the effectiveness of case studies at promoting learning gains is not significantly affected by whether or not the course instructor authored the case study.

Case studies positively affect student perceptions of learning gains about various biological topics.

Finally, to determine whether performance on examination questions accurately predicts student perceptions of learning gains, mean scores on examination questions related to case studies were compared with reported perceptions of learning gains for those case studies ( Fig. 3 ). The coefficient of determination (R 2 value) was 0.81, indicating a strong, but not definitive, positive correlation between perceptions of learning gains and performance on examinations, suggesting that student perception of learning gains is a valid tool for assessing the effectiveness of case studies ( Fig. 3 ). This correlation was independent of case study author.

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Perception of learning gains but not author of case study is positively correlated to score on related examination questions. Percentage of students reporting that each specific case study provided “a great amount of help” to their learning was plotted against the point difference between mean score on examination questions related to that case study and mean score on paired control questions. Positive point differences indicate how much higher the mean scores on case study-related questions were than the mean scores on paired control questions. Black squares represent case studies produced by the instructor of the course; white squares represent case studies produced by unaffiliated instructors. R 2 value indicates the coefficient of determination.

The purpose of this study was to test the hypothesis that teaching with case studies produced by the instructor of a course is more effective at promoting learning gains than using case studies produced by unaffiliated instructors. This study also tested the hypothesis that the case study teaching method is more effective than class discussions and textbook reading at promoting learning gains associated with four of the most commonly taught topics in undergraduate general biology courses: chemical bonds, osmosis and diffusion, mitosis and meiosis, and DNA structure and replication. In addition to assessing content-based learning gains, development of written and oral communication skills and the ability to connect scientific topics with real-world applications was also assessed, because these skills were overarching learning objectives of this course, and classroom activities related to both case studies and control lessons were designed to provide opportunities for students to develop these skills. Finally, data were analyzed to determine whether performance on examination questions is positively correlated to student perceptions of learning gains resulting from case study teaching.

Compared with equivalent control questions about topics of similar complexity taught using class discussions and textbook readings, all four case studies produced statistically significant increases in the mean score on examination questions ( Fig. 1 ). This indicates that case studies are more effective than more commonly used, traditional methods of content delivery at promoting learning of a variety of core concepts covered in general biology courses. The average increase in score on each test item was equivalent to nearly two letter grades, which is substantial enough to elevate the average student performance on test items from the unsatisfactory/failing range to the satisfactory/passing range. The finding that there was no statistical difference between case studies in terms of performance on examination questions suggests that case studies are equally effective at promoting learning of disparate topics in biology. The observations that students did not perform significantly less well on the first case study presented (chemical bonds) compared with the other case studies and that performance on examination questions did not progressively increase with each successive case study suggests that the effectiveness of case studies is not directly related to the amount of experience students have using case studies. Furthermore, anecdotal evidence from previous semesters of this course suggests that, of the four topics addressed by cases in this study, DNA structure and function and osmosis and diffusion are the first and second most difficult for students to grasp. The lack of a statistical difference between case studies therefore suggests that the effectiveness of a case study at promoting learning gains is not directly proportional to the difficulty of the concept covered. However, the finding that use of the osmosis and diffusion case study resulted in the greatest increase in examination performance compared with control questions and also produced the highest student perceptions of learning gains is noteworthy and could be attributed to the fact that it was the only case study evaluated that included a hands-on experiment. Because the inclusion of a hands-on kinetic activity may synergistically enhance student engagement and learning and result in an even greater increase in learning gains than case studies that lack this type of activity, it is recommended that case studies that incorporate this type of activity be preferentially utilized.

Student perceptions of learning gains are strongly motivating factors for engagement in the classroom and academic performance, so it is important to assess the effect of any teaching method in this context ( 19 , 24 ). A modified version of the SALG course evaluation tool was used to assess student perceptions of learning gains because it has been previously validated as an efficacious tool ( Appendix 2 ) ( 20 ). Using the SALG tool, case study teaching was demonstrated to significantly increase student perceptions of overall learning gains compared with class discussions and textbook reading ( Fig. 2A ). Case studies were shown to be particularly useful for promoting perceived development of written and oral communication skills and for demonstrating connections between scientific topics and real-world issues and applications ( Figs. 2B–2D ). Further, student perceptions of “great” learning gains positively correlated with increased performance on examination questions, indicating that assessment of learning gains using the SALG tool is both valid and useful in this course setting ( Fig. 3 ). These findings also suggest that case study teaching could be used to increase student motivation and engagement in classroom activities and thus promote learning and performance on assessments. The finding that textbook reading yielded the lowest student perceptions of learning gains was not unexpected, since reading facilitates passive learning while the class discussions and case studies were both designed to promote active learning.

Importantly, there was no statistical difference in student performance on examinations attributed to the two case studies produced by the instructor of the course compared with the two case studies produced by unaffiliated instructors. The average difference between the two instructor-produced case studies and the two case studies published by unaffiliated instructors was only 3% in terms of both the average score on examination questions (76% compared with 73%) and the average increase in score compared with paired control items (14% compared with 17%) ( Fig. 1 ). Even when considering the inherent qualitative differences of course grades, these differences are negligible. Similarly, the effectiveness of case studies at promoting learning gains was not significantly affected by the origin of the case study, as evidenced by similar percentages of students reporting “good” and “great” learning gains regardless of whether the case study was produced by the course instructor or an unaffiliated instructor ( Table 1 ).

The observation that case studies published by unaffiliated instructors are just as effective as those produced by the instructor of a course suggests that instructors can reasonably rely on the use of pre-published case studies relevant to their class rather than investing the considerable time and effort required to produce a novel case study. Case studies covering a wide range of topics in the sciences are available from a number of sources, and many of them are free access. The National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science (NCCSTS) database ( http://sciencecases.lib.buffalo.edu/cs/ ) contains over 500 case studies that are freely available to instructors, and are accompanied by teaching notes that provide logistical advice and additional resources for implementing the case study, as well as a set of assessment questions with a password-protected answer key. Case study repositories are also maintained by BioQUEST Curriculum Consortium ( http://www.bioquest.org/icbl/cases.php ) and the Science Case Network ( http://sciencecasenet.org ); both are available for use by instructors from outside institutions.

It should be noted that all case studies used in this study were rigorously peer-reviewed and accepted for publication by the NCCSTS prior to the completion of this study ( 2 , 10 , 18 , 25 ); the conclusions of this study may not apply to case studies that were not developed in accordance with similar standards. Because case study teaching involves skills such as creative writing and management of dynamic group discussion in a way that is not commonly integrated into many other teaching methods, it is recommended that novice case study teachers seek training or guidance before writing their first case study or implementing the method. The lack of a difference observed in the use of case studies from different sources should be interpreted with some degree of caution since only two sources were represented in this study, and each by only two cases. Furthermore, in an educational setting, quantitative differences in test scores might produce meaningful qualitative differences in course grades even in the absence of a p value that is statistically significant. For example, there is a meaningful qualitative difference between test scores that result in an average grade of C− and test scores that result in an average grade of C+, even if there is no statistically significant difference between the two sets of scores.

In the future, it could be informative to confirm these findings using a larger cohort, by repeating the study at different institutions with different instructors, by evaluating different case studies, and by directly comparing the effectiveness of the case studying teaching method with additional forms of instruction, such as traditional chalkboard and slide-based lecturing, and laboratory-based activities. It may also be informative to examine whether demographic factors such as student age and gender modulate the effectiveness of the case study teaching method, and whether case studies work equally well for non-science majors taking a science course compared with those majoring in the subject. Since the topical material used in this study is often included in other classes in both high school and undergraduate education, such as cell biology, genetics, and chemistry, the conclusions of this study are directly applicable to a broad range of courses. Presently, it is recommended that the use of case studies in teaching undergraduate general biology and other science courses be expanded, especially for the teaching of capacious issues with real-world applications and in classes where development of written and oral communication skills are key objectives. The use of case studies that involve hands-on activities should be emphasized to maximize the benefit of this teaching method. Importantly, instructors can be confident in the use of pre-published case studies to promote learning, as there is no indication that the effectiveness of the case study teaching method is reliant on the production of novel, customized case studies for each course.

SUPPLEMENTAL MATERIALS

Acknowledgments.

This article benefitted from a President’s Faculty Innovation Grant, Kingsborough Community College. The author declares that there are no conflicts of interest.

† Supplemental materials available at http://jmbe.asm.org

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High school biology

Course: high school biology   >   unit 1.

  • Biology overview
  • Preparing to study biology
  • What is life?
  • The scientific method
  • Data to justify experimental claims examples
  • Scientific method and data analysis

Introduction to experimental design

  • Controlled experiments
  • Biology and the scientific method review
  • Experimental design and bias

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scientific method case study high school

6 Articles About Space and Astronomy

Astronomy is the study of celestial objects and phenomena outside of Earth’s atmosphere. For most of human existence, until space flight was successful, our study of the stars was limited to what we could observe from Earth. We still rely on Earth-based observations to learn about the wide universe around us. And we continue to improve our tools to make those observations: the 20th-century Hubble space telescope is much more advanced than Galileo’s 17th-century original , for example. But we can also travel into the outer atmosphere of Earth and beyond, sometimes sending humans and other times robots. The more we learn about our universe, the more questions we have to explore!

This collection of adapted research articles introduces students to research on astronomy and space . Engage students with standards-matched adaptations, introductory video content, comprehension questions, and vocabulary to further the lesson outcomes. Each adapted article also comes with additional suggestions for activities to enhance the readers’ understanding and make the class more exciting.

1. How can we predict bone loss in astronauts?

scientific method case study high school

Abstract : Have you ever dreamed of being an astronaut ? Exploring outer space sounds exciting, and astronauts get to do that. However, going into space can lead to health problems . The lack of gravity has a negative impact on bones, called bone loss . Astronauts try to compensate for bone loss with a lot of exercise – both in space and on Earth. But even exercising doesn’t prevent bone loss in some cases. We wanted to find out what factors affect bone loss. We also wanted to find a way to predict bone loss in astronauts before spaceflight. We analyzed the leg and arm bones of 17 astronauts before and after a space mission . We also looked for markers of bone change in their blood and urine. We found out that bone loss happens quickly in space. The longer the space mission, the bigger the problem. More exercise before spaceflight predicted greater bone loss! Elevated markers of bone metabolism before flight also predicted greater bone loss.

This article is suitable for middle school and lower high school students. An audio version is available in English, and there is a written translation in Bulgarian . This article includes a Lesson Idea video to engage students in examining bone density.

  • Key terms : astronomy, gravity, metabolism, physics, space travel
  • Scientific figure : line graph
  • Scientific method : case study, CT, experiment, field study, representative sampling, risk analysis

2. Can we grow safe and nutritious food in space?

scientific method case study high school

Abstract : Have your parents ever told you to eat your vegetables because they’re “good for you”? Well, vegetables have a lot of nutrients in them that are essential to a balanced diet. While you might get these foods at the store, astronauts rely on processed meals . We wanted to find out if there was a way to grow safe and nutritious salad crops on the International Space Station (ISS) to help supplement their diets. We used a growth chamber called Veggie to grow crops of red romaine lettuce over three different years . We found that our lettuce was safe to eat, although the nutrient content of our lettuce varied slightly each year. For future long-duration space missions, it will be important to make sure that astronauts can create the same growing conditions for every crop of salad.

This article is suitable for middle school and lower high school students. An audio version is available in English, and there is a written translation in Bulgarian . This article includes an Ask-a-Scientist interview with the original researcher, Dr. Gioia Massa.

  • Key terms : astronomy, gravity, infectious diseases, nutrition, physics, plants, space travel
  • Scientific figure : bar graph
  • Scientific method : agricultural yield data, DNA sequencing, experiment

3. What can we learn from carbon on Mars?

scientific method case study high school

Abstract : Mars is currently dry and cold and doesn’t have much of an atmosphere , but what was it like in the past? Did Mars ever have a climate or environment that could support life ? Luckily, we have rovers on Mars that can help us investigate! We used the Curiosity Rover on Mars to sample the planet’s surface where there might have been a lake long ago. We looked at the carbon in our sample to see how much there was and where it came from. This could give us clues about what the environment was like and if there used to be organisms living in the area. Our data suggest that there is more carbon on Mars than we had expected. Most of the carbon came from meteorites and volcanic rock . We can’t rule out that it came from living things , but we need a lot more information to help us figure it out.

This article is suitable for middle school and high school students. It is available for both upper and lower reading levels, and there is an audio version .

  • Key terms : astronomy, molecular biology, physics, space travel
  • Scientific method : experiment, field study, mass spectrometry, proxy data

4. How do we find a planet in another galaxy?

scientific method case study high school

Abstract : Have you ever looked up at the sky on a dark, clear night and wondered about all those beautiful, shining stars above you? How many are there? What would they look like if we were able to see them up close? Is there another form of life somewhere out there, also looking at the night sky and asking the same questions? We were once children too, standing outside on a cold night, marveling at the sky and all the secrets out there still left to uncover. And now, we are the first scientists to discover a planet that is not in our solar system, not even in the Milky Way – but in another galaxy !

This article is suitable for middle school students. An audio version is available.

  • Key terms : astronomy, galaxy, physics
  • Scientific figure : none
  • Scientific method : data extrapolation, observation, scientific modeling, X-ray scanner

5. How can dust make planets more suitable for life?

scientific method case study high school

Abstract : Have you read His Dark Materials or seen its movie adaptation The Golden Compass ? In the imaginary world created by the author Philip Pullman, dust was the most important thing – the material which connected it to ours. It turns out that even in real life, dust is important to worlds outside of Earth! Especially if we are trying to find out if they are habitable . We learned that dust can cool the hot surface and warm the climate of a planet, making it more suitable for life. On the other hand, larger amounts of dust can make it hard to look for such planets. And actually, if a planet does host life , dust might hide the signs of it!

This article is suitable for middle school and lower high school students. A written translation is available in Bulgarian .

  • Key terms : astronomy, atmosphere, galaxy, greenhouse gas emissions, physics, space travel
  • Scientific figure : map
  • Scientific method : climate scenarios, data extrapolation, data reconstruction, observation, proxy data, scientific modeling

6. Can we use bacteria to make renewable rocket fuel?

scientific method case study high school

Abstract : NASA’s space shuttle has to reach speeds of almost 18,000 miles per hour (29,000 kilometers per hour) in only 8.5 minutes . That’s necessary for it to reach outer space . That’s 300 times faster than a car traveling at 60 mph (97 km/h)! To reach these speeds, rockets need particularly high-energy fuels . It’s the same for airplanes and cargo ships, too. At the moment, these high-energy fuels are made using petroleum – a fossil fuel , and the leading cause of global climate change . So, there’s an urgent need for scientists to develop more sustainable high-energy fuels. We explored whether bacteria could make molecules we could turn into high-energy biofuels . We looked into bacterial DNA and used clever chemistry to produce new biofuels using Streptomyces bacteria. These “ POP biofuels ” seem to be even better (higher energy) than the current petroleum-made rocket fuels!

This article is suitable for elementary school , middle school , and high school students. It is available for both upper and lower reading levels, as well as a written translation in Spanish . There are audio versions in both English and Spanish .

  • Key terms : biotechnology, climate change, genetics, microbiology, renewable energy, space travel
  • Scientific figure : bar graph, pictograph
  • Scientific method : experiment, gene editing, PCR (polymerase chain reaction)

That’s Not All!

Check out this collection of external teaching activities on Space that we trust for the classroom. Or browse our full collections of adapted research articles on Astronomy and Space Travel .

Title image from European Space Agency

  • June 20, 2023

Share this Lesson Idea

Check out this related lesson idea, how do gender stereotypes impact girls' interest in science.

scientific method case study high school

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  1. PDF Scientific Methodology in Integrated High Schools: A Case Study

    International Journal of Instruction, 14(2), 571-590. "methodology" encompasses the steps for conducting research and guides students in writing and presenting scientific papers. All processes related to conducting research are objects of the study of methodology, which stimulates students' intellectual development (Moreira & Caleffe, 2011).

  2. Using the Scientific Method in High School History

    Applying the Scientific Method in History Class. Using a key concept from science class in history encourages high school students to analyze data with a willingness to make mistakes. In the 1980 movie Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda says, "Do or do not; there is no try.". As nice of a sentiment as that is, it doesn't apply to ...

  3. The scientific method (article)

    The scientific method. At the core of biology and other sciences lies a problem-solving approach called the scientific method. The scientific method has five basic steps, plus one feedback step: Make an observation. Ask a question. Form a hypothesis, or testable explanation. Make a prediction based on the hypothesis.

  4. Scientific Methodology in Integrated High Schools: A Case Study

    Abstract. This study evaluated how the process of teaching scientific methodology occurs in technical courses in integrated high schools. The qualitative case study was conducted through ...

  5. NCCSTS Case Studies

    The NCCSTS Case Collection, created and curated by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, on behalf of the University at Buffalo, contains over a thousand peer-reviewed case studies on a variety of topics in all areas of science. Cases (only) are freely accessible; subscription is required for access to teaching notes and ...

  6. Case study Archives

    Hundreds of scientific articles. Written for kids. Approved by scientists. Free. Search or Filter. Search Articles; Key Words ... Lower high school (40) Middle school (31) Upper high school (11) Scientific Topic. Biodiversity and Conservation (11) Biology (8) Chemistry (1) Energy and Climate (10)

  7. The scientific method (video)

    The scientific method. The scientific method is a logical approach to understanding the world. It starts with an observation, followed by a question. A testable explanation or hypothesis is then created. An experiment is designed to test the hypothesis, and based on the results, the hypothesis is refined.

  8. Biology and the scientific method review

    The nature of biology. Biology is the branch of science concerned with the study of living things, or organisms. Biologists have identified traits common to all the living organisms that we know. Although nonliving things may show some of these properties, in order for something to be considered living, it must meet all of them.

  9. Exploring the Scientific Method: Cases and Questions, Gimbel

    From their grade school classrooms forward, students of science are encouraged to memorize and adhere to the "scientific method"—a model of inquiry consisting of five to seven neatly laid-out steps, often in the form of a flowchart. But walk into the office of a theoretical physicist or the laboratory of a biochemist and ask "Which step are you on?" and you will likely receive a ...

  10. Interactive Science: Labs to Master the Scientific Method

    The scientific method is an empirical method of acquiring knowledge. It has characterized the development of science since at least the 17th century. ... This activity works well for middle and high school students. Tips for Implementation. Review Cornell Institute for Biology Teachers instructions for the Slug Lab. Demo #4: Paper Tower Challenge.

  11. Steps of the Scientific Method

    The six steps of the scientific method include: 1) asking a question about something you observe, 2) doing background research to learn what is already known about the topic, 3) constructing a hypothesis, 4) experimenting to test the hypothesis, 5) analyzing the data from the experiment and drawing conclusions, and 6) communicating the results ...

  12. Engaging Activities Exploring the Scientific Method

    Mystery Eggs - students use the scientific method to guess how many nails are hidden inside plastic eggs. Mystery Powder - containers with baking soda, corn starch, flour, sugar and salt. Students conduct tests to determine the contents. Saving Sam - using paperclips rescue Sam, the gummy worm by putting a life preserver on him.

  13. Two Case Studies in the Scientific Method

    Scientific research, although often a less linear process than. depicted in textbooks, has the following hallmarks: 1. Data gathering through the use of reproducible, controlled experiments (or data gathering by observations capable of verification) 2. Hypothesis forming and evaluating. 3.

  14. "Knowing your own: A classroom case study using the scientific method t

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  15. PDF Scientific Method Unit

    For instance, scientific observations don't have to be about chemicals or lab rats, they can be about people, clothes, food, whatever. Step 2: Develop a question. Not every question is a good question that can be tested. In this class, we're going to focus on "testable" questions, or questions that we can do experiments on.

  16. Self-directed learning: A case-study of school students scientific

    The participants of the study were school students aged 14-15y from one class (Grade 8) of a municipal school in Tallinn, Estonia. Participation in the study was entirely voluntary. We chose this age group for two reasons: (1) in the age of adolescence the students often lose their motivation to learn science (Archer et al., Citation 2017 ...

  17. Scientific Method Activities for High School

    A great introductory activity to the scientific method is to put various objects and materials inside a sealed, mystery box. Examples include rice, nails, and sand. Pass boxes around the class ...

  18. Case Study Teaching Method Improves Student Performance and Perceptions

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  20. 6 Articles About Space and Astronomy

    This article is suitable for middle school and high school students. It is available for both upper and lower reading levels, and there is an audio version. Key terms: astronomy, molecular biology, physics, space travel; Scientific figure: bar graph; Scientific method: experiment, field study, mass spectrometry, proxy data

  21. Scientific Method Case Study by Lisa Michalek

    This case study assignment has 4 pages of critical thinking questions on the following topics in The Scientific Method: Observation, Investigation, Question, Hypothesis, Prediction, Control, Control Experiment, Theory, Verification, Conclusion. A Teacher Guide (Key) is included. A free product preview of the entire homework assignment is ...

  22. (PDF) Case study : analysis of senior high school students scientific

    The aim of this study to look the effect of using learning cycle 7E with HACL strategy on scientific reasoning and Conceptual Understanding of Momentum and Impuls on high school student.

  23. Scientific Method Case Study Worksheet- Stennett,M

    Scientific Method Case Studies Read each of the following scenarios, and then provide the informasure your answers are spelled correctly and keep the font Times New Roman or Courier New, yoution that is asked for. Make can change your answer to an assorted color if you wish. Case Study 1. A shopping mall wanted to determine whether the more expensive "Tough Stuff" floor