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Critically Reviewing Science Research

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Legitimate skepticism and respect for evidence are vital to scientific inquiry. They are also important "habits of mind" that enable us to critically evaluate what we read, hear, and are told. Scientists continually reflect on and evaluate their research plans and progress, accuracy of data, explanations, and conclusions. They ask the following types of questions:

  • Are there unintended factors that might influence, bias, or skew my results?
  • Was my reasoning logical and based on the evidence?
  • What might I do differently to gather better (more accurate, detailed, appropriate) data?

They also ask peers to review their investigation plans and offer feedback. Finally, they communicate their research and findings to colleagues via papers presented at meetings, conferences, and articles in scientific journals. Colleagues, in turn, ask critical questions about the research, looking for careful design and data collection, and reviewing evidence and conclusions.

The following strategies engage students in using this important scientific "lens."

Questions That Help Students Critically Review Research

  • Was the research question clear?
  • Why did you choose to investigate this question?
  • What did you already know or observe that helped shape the hypothesis?
  • How did you decide what to observe or test and what type of data to collect?
  • What standards/protocol did you use when gathering data?
  • Did you find any interesting patterns or relationships in the data? What were they? Any surprises?
  • How else could the results be interpreted or explained?
  • Did you have to revise your question, setup, or hypothesis at any point? Why?
  • What kinds of conclusions or explanations, if any, can you draw from your data? How do they relate to your hypothesis?
  • Did the information gathered help answer the question? Why or why not?
  • What other factors might have influenced your results (e.g., the way data were collected)?
  • How would you revise this if you were to do it again?
  • Now what do you wonder about?

Encouraging Peer Review

Routinely create opportunities for students to evaluate and ask questions about scientific research featured in Journey North, and about peer's suggestions for investigations or actual research. Pull questions from the list below. (You can also reword these so students can reflect on their own investigation designs.)

Consider staging a classroom scientific meeting in which small groups present and discuss results of investigations (see Format of a Scientific Paper) or hold a Scientific Convention in which students prepare posters or displays to present investigations and findings. Classmates then tour the displays and write questions and comments about the research on posted sheets.

 

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