On the scientific method

Janice M. Glime jmglime at mtu.edu
Sat Mar 24 13:09:18 EST 2001

  I have to disagree at the dismay expressed by lack of statistical
analysis used by high school students.  At that stage, they do not even
know what statistical analysis is.  Most of their teachers likewise have
not come through a research oriented program in which they were required
to analyze anything statistically or to take a statistics course.  Most of
us do not require our college freshmen to do statistical analysis of data.  
Yes, there is statistical software where the students could do this
easily, but what would be gained by their blind use without understanding
the assumptions?  Wouldn't we be encouraging even more bad habits instead
of simply accepting the fact that they have not yet reached that
developmental stage?
  I do, however, agree that the importance of replication should be
stressed.  In junior high I won a science fair in which I had one plant
with a broken top and one with its normal apex.  In my poster I explained
the role of IAA in inhibiting lateral growth.  My experiment was
serendipitous - I was going to test fertilizers, but my plant broke on the
way home from purchasing it and I at least knew it would no longer be a
suitable control.  I often use this example to my students, commenting on
my naivity at that stage.
  To me, the science fair project is the student's opportunity to develop
scientific creativity, to ask a question and design an experiment.  As
long as students understand there are more sophisticated ways to analyze
the results, shouldn't we do this one step at a time so we don't overwelm
them before they have learned the basics of design?  Or should we ask our
high school teachers to teach the students statistical analysis as part of
every science course?
  If I were to see statistical analysis on a poster with a high school
student's project, I would suspect there had been too much parental input
and that the project was not truly the student's.

 Janice M. Glime, Professor  
 Department of Biological Sciences
 Michigan Technological University
 Houghton, MI 49931-1295
 jmglime at mtu.edu
 FAX 906-487-3167 


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