Question: Single or Multiple Hypotheis?

Ross Koning koning at ECSUC.CTSTATEU.EDU
Mon Mar 30 10:39:21 EST 1998

At 2:48 PM -0500 3/29/98, Boukmn wrote:
>Question: Single or Multiple Hypotheis?
>A controversy has emerged at our school largely between teachers with
>Degree Science Backgrounds and teachers with Traditional Education
>Degrees, over the appropriateness of allowing students to use single
>as opposed to multiple hypothesis testing to answer a scientific
>question.  DSB teachers adopt the multiple hypothesis approach ,
>claiming that
>	a.)	=EBReal=ED scientists always investigate several possible
>explanations for the question they wish to answer. They in turn design
>their experiments to attack each of these possibilities with equal
>	b.)	They believe all students should be taught the
>scientific method more in line with =EBreal world=ED practice using terms
>and subjects that is age appropriate.
>	c.)	They wince at statements like =EC A hypothesis is an
>educated guess.=EE calling this an oxymoron.  The DSB=EDs reason that
>since  hypotheses are explanations based of carefully gathered
>background information, calling hypotheses a guess cheapens their
>rigor in the minds of students.
>On the other side, TED teachers (the vast majority) believe students
>should propose the best hypothesis to answer their question, design
>the experiment to test their hypothesis.  If the data does not support
>their hypothesis, they then propose a new one and then test it.  The
>TED=EDs see no reason why students in middle and high school  who should
>be burdened with having to propose more than one possible explanation
>to answer their scientific question for two reasons:
>	a.)	most are not going to college and of those that do go,
>most will not be science majors.
>	b.)	students in advanced and gifted programs are not
>required to propose multiple hypothesis for their project entries and
>based on the winners, there seems to be no advantage in doing so.
>	c.)	they know of no leading secondary or tertiary
>educational institution that endorses =EBmultiple hypothesis=ED as
>doctrine in teaching the scientific method.
> I want what is best for my students in terms of accuracy and would
>love to hear from science teachers and scientists their most
>persuasive arguments on either side of this issue.  Please e-mail me.

I have always felt that we should teach authentic
science as opposed to only the outcomes of authentic
science.  In other words, we should be teaching
process as well as just content.  The controversy
you face is a healthy one for your school--it is the
kind of dialog that teachers need to be engaged in

Old-fashioned science attempted to teach content to
the exclusion of process.  Sure the students of such
teaching could answer multiple-choice questions but
many were lost in a laboratory or a field site.  The
importance of math in science was impossible to
appreciate as math was seldom if ever used.  Such
students were often labeled fact-idiots--good catalogs
but lousy scientists. I'm glad times are changing!

Rather than comparing EDU versus SCI degrees among your
staff, an interesting variable might be years since

I don't care how simple-minded the project is that is
done in middle-school science classes, just so the
student is modeling authentic science.  I hope they
learn to observe and observe critically using the
metric system exclusively. I want them to be curious
and ask questions that are critical and lead to inquiry.
I hope they are supplied with sufficient resources in
terms of personal background and library content to form
testible hypotheses.  By hypothesis I mean "educated guess"
rather than "wild guess" about the question being investigated.
But this hypothesis should lead directly to predicting the
outcome of a controlled experiment to test the hypothesis.
The experiment must be carefully controlled and this is
the area where teachers (I find) need the most interaction
with students. The experiment should be replicated either
by the student or the class to achieve a dataset that can
be put to statistical analysis.  Perhaps simple average
in lower grades, standard deviation in middle school, and
perhaps a t-test in high school would suffice (depending
of course on the kind of experiment!). Finally the hypothesis
should be evaluated and either modified and retested or
rejected outright. Multiple recursions through this process
is OK, but I'm afraid in many schools this idea about science
is not even traversed once!

=46rankly the most discouraging aspects I have observed in
middle-school science is too-much "across the curriculum"
stuff and not enough actual science.  My daughter's eighth
grade science class turned her off...the projects were a
journal, a collage, a story, a word-search puzzle, and a
role-play.  Leave the collage in art class, the story and
journal to language arts, and the role-play in social studies
and yes let them be about science findings...but in science
class let's be DOING science.  If the student's haven't done
a true experiment, IMHO, then the teacher has not taught
one bit of science.  Science is what you DO in your mind and
with your hands and eyes in the field or is
not what you read in a book no matter how good the book may


Ross Koning                 | koning at
Biology Department          |
Eastern CT State University | phone: 860-465-5327
Willimantic, CT 06226 USA   | fax: 860-465-4479

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