7 - A New Model of Science

Why do we need a new model of science?

1. Who Keeps Old Bacon?

 Many high school texts still teach a model of science first articulated by Francis Bacon, about 1620. Usually Bacon's "method of science" has been presented as a set of familiar steps: purpose, hypothesis, method, observations and so on.

Do scientists follow that pattern? Conversations with scientists have convinced me that they don't. 

Very few high school lab activities follow this pattern. As a teacher, I've found that students are generally unable create these steps themselves. The pattern is an artificial framework. Teacher and student conspire to push the student's ideas into that pattern. 

2. Students Are Not Equipped to Infer Conclusions 

While it has undergone a number of revisions, one feature is still problematic in the modern secondary school: the whole thing depends upon the "method of inference." I doubt that you have ever seen "rules for inference," or anything resembling that. So how do you teach a grade ten student to "go home and infer?"

Early scientists such as Mendeleev could draw upon vast numbers of personal experiences, and even then found it difficult to discern patterns and infer relationships.

A typical modern student has only thin vapors of experience from which to draw. How, then, would one infer

3. Post-Modern Science for High School

The Baconian notion of science was something like natural history. Records, comparisons, parallels, contradictions and all of the stuff of historical research, were applied to nature. In its earliest years, scientists explored nature like historians explored past times. That does not seem to be the case with modern science. 

Suppose that we invert the Baconian notion. I propose this aphorism: 

"Science is not so much the study of nature
as the study of human representations of nature."

  In a modern scientific journal, the object of almost every scientific investigation is some kind of representation of nature, and not nature itself.

Chemists seek to improve their models of molecular behavior.

Ecologists gather evidence to determine whether their graphs are changing.

Climatologists modify their computer representation of the atmosphere.

Even when something new is found, like the recent photos of Pluto, planetary scientists modify their representations of Pluto.

The days of going out into the apple orchard and "discovering" gravity appear to be over.

 If we start at this epistemological position, then we can turn our instructional attention to the students' representations of the material world. This directly involves students in the activity of creating new knowledge.

4. Teenage Pedagogy

 Your teenage student does NOT possess a vast body of experiences of nature, or sophisticated intellectual capabilities. Your student arrives with some very ordinary cognitive and linguistic tools. Our pedagogy must intentionally make use of these cognitive and linguistic abilities. I would add one more: the ability to draw representational diagrams. We don't have very much else to work with.

5. Teenage Epistemology

 If we make that change, then the purpose of our teaching is reduced to a much smaller and more powerful goal. We must

  • teach our students certain critical diagrammatic representations of nature
  • demand that our students draw those diagrammatic representations of the things we are studying
  • design our experiments to test those representations
  • direct the students to the business of testing and modifying their own representations.

In this way, our students actually enter the activity of creating and modifying their knowledge, based upon both (a) knowledge of a carefully chosen representational system and (b) experimental experiences.

6. Teenage Scientists and the Ross Model

Here is a different image of science - one which better reflects the scientific research published in modern journals. The general path is a counter-clockwise circuit from 1 to 5, though a student might begin at any of these stations.   

For example, here is one from one of my books.

 download lab halogens

 This model of a scientific investigation emphasizes the student's ability to make representations of the elements, interpret those representations, and then edit them to come to some conclusions. Try it yourself! Then let your students attempt it.


You've worked hard.

It's time to tie all of this together.

In Lesson 8, we will introduce the concept of a "pedagogical model."

You know that scientists use scientific models to do scientists' work.

Teachers need pedagogical models to do teachers' work.

You will learn six characteristics of a pedagogical model

The Ross Periodic Table is just such a pedagogical model.  

I hope you agree that you have been learning a new way to proceed in chemistry teaching.

We call it Intuitive Science.


This lesson was really tough!
Please stick with us as we proceed to Lesson 8.