Strategies and Methods for Science Education


In inquiry-based learning, students are presented with a challenge (such as a question to be answered, an observation or data set to be interpreted, or a hypothesis to be tested) and accomplish the desired learning in the process of responding to that challenge. As with all inductive methods, the information needed to address the challenge would not have been previously covered explicitly in lectures or readings, although it would normally build on previously known material. Inquiry has frequently been found to be more effective than traditional science instruction at improving academic achievement and the development of thinking, problem-solving, and laboratory skills (Felder and Prince 2007).

Predict-Observe-Explain Method

The Predict, Observe, Explain (POE) strategy is designed to foster student inquiry and challenge existing conceptions that students bring to the classroom.  The POE strategy allows students to reflect on their experiences with and understanding of a subject before making a prediction about the outcome of an experiment and discussing the prediction with classmates. Following up this discussion with observations and then scientific explanations of the outcome gives students a more in-depth understanding of the subject at hand. POE is a very effective method for developing student scientific reasoning skills as it makes students utilize both their observation and inference skills to develop explanations to natural phenomena they have observed.

5E Method

The 5E instructional model is a constructivist learning cycle that is designed to help students build their understanding through experiences and new ideas.  The 5Es are five stages that facilitate inquiry based learning and are engage, explore, explain, elaborate, and evaluate.  The engage stage focuses on capturing students’ interest in the lesson.  The explore phase involves students working together to directly investigate phenomena and develop common experiences.  The explain phase lets students communicate what they have learned so far and what it means.  The elaborate phase lets students use their newly acquired knowledge to explore new implications.  Finally the evaluate phase determines how much learning and understanding has occurred.

Discussion Based Learning

Discussion in the science classroom is very important in the development of student understanding and refinement of ideas.  There are three different types of discussions: recitation, guided, and reflective. Discussions can either be with the whole class or in smaller groups and are designed at refining conclusions about content using inquiry techniques. These conversations can be arranged to be either formal or informal and teacher centered or student centered. Discussion based learning can be combined with multiple other techniques such as argumentation to produce meaningful student learning.


A demonstration is a valuable alternative to getting students to ‘learn by doing’ when outside factors such as safety hazards or limited resources prevent full student participation.  Teacher demonstrations can introduce students to specialized equipment and materials and show them how they are used.  Additionally, teacher demonstrations can provide students with opportunities to develop key scientific skills. Students can be encouraged to make predictions and announce or record their observations as they watch.  These can be accompanied by explanations as well in order to address misconceptions and develop understanding.

Problem-based learning

In problem-based learning (PBL), students—usually working in teams—are confronted with an ill-structured open-ended real-world problem to solve, and work together to clearly define the problem, identify the relevant knowledge needed to solve the problem, and obtain the appropriate information to develop a solution.  Students then produce and evaluate potential solutions, select the best one and defend it, and then reflect upon the learning process.  When students recognize the need for instruction on new material, the teacher either provides it or guides the students to obtain the required information themselves.  Constructing PBL lessons can be exceptionally time consuming due to the amount of preparation required for proper development but the benefits in terms of engagement and critical thinking skills are extremely high.

Case-based learning

In case-based teaching, students study historical or hypothetical cases involving scenarios likely to be encountered in professional practice.  Students are challenged to explore their existing preconceptions and modify them to accommodate the realities of the cases.  Case based learning forces students to systematically utilize proper scientific procedures in order to solve the case.  Compared to typical problems used in problem-based learning, cases tend to be relatively well structured and rich in contextual details, and students apply material that is already somewhat familiar.  While case based learning has historically been used in law schools, it is becoming increasingly used in the sciences, especially life and medical sciences.

Collaborative Learning

            Collaborative learning is based on the constructivist view that knowledge is a build through collective experiences. Collaborative activities are based on the concepts that the learner is the primary focus of instruction, interaction and “doing” are of primary importance, working in groups is an important mode of learning, and structured approaches to developing solutions to real-world problems should be incorporated into learning.  Collaborative learning can occur peer-to-peer or in larger groups. Peer learning is a type of collaborative learning that involves students working in pairs or small groups to discuss concepts, or find solutions to problems. This often occurs in a class session after students are introduced to course material through readings or videos before class, and/or through instructor lectures.

Cooperative Learning

            Cooperative learning is an educational approach which aims to organize classroom activities into academic and social learning experiences. Students must work in groups to complete tasks that collectively work toward academic goals which allow students to capitalize on one another’s resources and skills.  Furthermore, the teacher’s role changes from giving information to facilitating students’ learning by acting as a consultant towards the group.  Cooperative learning is common in science education as lab groups can cooperate to accomplish complicated steps and achieve more extensive learning.  It benefits students by developing critical thinking and inter-personal skills that will benefit them in the real-world.

Role playing

Role-play refers to activities where students simulate a scenario by assuming specific roles. In the classroom, students can work through a situation and practice behavior for the real world. Alternatively, the role-playing activities may be used to shed light on any complicated topic. To be effective, students must take on the roles that they are assigned and assume the vantage point of a specific character. Some students may play themselves while others are given roles that require them to behave in a way that they would not normally conduct themselves.  While these may seem more inclined for younger students, utilizing roles can be very effective in science education as students can experience what it is like to be part of a surgical team or nuclear power plant operation staff.

Modeling in science teaching

Modeling in science teaching involves constructing and using scientific models to describe, explain, predict and control physical phenomena.  Students will model physical objects and processes using diagrammatic, graphical and algebraic representations with the purpose of developing a small set of models as a content core.  It also teaches students how to evaluate scientific models through comparison with empirical data and learn the process required for developing models.  It is important to note that effective modeling involves students creating models for phenomena that they have not explored yet in order to focus on inquiry and understanding.

Learning Centers

A learning center is a space set aside in the classroom that allows easy access to a variety of learning materials in an interesting and productive manner. Learning centers are usually designed to offer a variety of materials, designs, and media through which students can work by themselves or with others to break down the information learned in the classroom. Centers are designed to enhance the learning of concepts, skills, themes, or topics by allowing for more specialized scientific inquiry. This learning can take place at any time in a unit depending on the topic being discussed.  In science they can look like specialized areas that allow for more detail scientific inquiry such as microscope stations or circuit building kits.


            Learning stations are a variety of different materials, designs, and media that are set up around the classroom in order to allow students to engage in an exploration of content.  Learning stations have students work simultaneously and are set up so that students can move around at their own pace.  The stations are designed to be related to each other in order to foster deeper student learning.  Stations can be designs to be independent or cooperative and allow for differentiation to occur based on skill level.  In science education, stations could be designed to look like a forensics lab looking at evidence or a mock power plant.

Project-based learning

            Project-based learning involves assignments that call for students to produce something, such as a process or product design, a computer code or simulation, or the design of an experiment and the analysis and interpretation of the data. The culmination of the project is normally a written or oral report summarizing what was done and what the outcome was.  Project-based learning can be tailored to either individual or collaborative assignments and can be assessed on both the product and process for producing the product.

Just-in time Teaching

In just-in-time teaching (JiTT), students respond electronically to conceptual questions before each class, and the instructor adjusts the lesson to react to misconceptions revealed by students’ responses. Since the conceptual questions involve material not yet covered in class, the method qualifies as inductive.  JiTT does not necessarily require expensive clicker systems as it can be completed using easily accessible technology.  This method can be difficult to implement due to the amount of flexibility required by the teacher but provides immediate clarification to students in order to address misconceptions.

Discovery Learning

In discovery learning, students are confronted with a challenge and left to work out the solution on their own.  The instructor may provide feedback in response to student efforts but offers little or no direction before or during those efforts.  This can be seen as an extreme hands off style of teaching as students engage in trial and error in order to move forward. The lack of structure and guidance provided by the instructor and the trial and error consequently required of students are the defining features of discovery learning relative to other inductive methods.  In order to scaffold discovery learning to ensure students do not become overwhelmed, it can be combined with engineering design in order to create a more guided discovery.


Argumentation is a dialogue in which participants can take different positions and change their minds as it proceeds. In order to successfully engage in such a dialogue, participants should normally go through a five phase cycle. The five phases are understanding the stakes of the position, exploring the subject in detail, considering different positions, creating and evaluating arguments, and organizing and presenting arguments.   Students can start anywhere in the argumentation cycle and proceed in any direction between parts of the process. They may even repeat steps when needed. Each of these phases draws upon a different set of skills that requires separate learning progressions.  Argumentation is an often underused tool in science education but is critical for developing evidence-based reasoning skills that are critical for academic success.

Target Labs

            Target labs are a variation on traditional verification labs performed by students.  In target labs, students are encouraged to utilize their body of knowledge to make predictions on what will occur in the lab.  Their success will be determined based upon the accuracy of these predictions allowing students clearly be responsible for their success.  Target labs encourage student engagement by letting students use their knowledge to try and reach the target of the lesson instead of simply verifying what they have already learned.  An example of a target lab is having students determine where the point of impact of a toy car launched off a ramp will be and where a basket should be placed in order to catch the car.


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