Scientific Demonstrations or Experiments?
Scientific demonstrations and experiments are two different types of scientific tests used in the educational setting. Many people use these two terms interchangeably, however, there is a difference between these types of scientific tests.
Scientific demonstrations are very teacher-directed, while experiments are much more student-led.
What is a scientific demonstration?
A scientific demonstration is an explanation of a process that is illustrated through an example, which serves as proof or evidence of the scientific principles at work. In other words, a scientific demonstration allows the student to see the principles of science firsthand.
The teacher is introducing the student to the scientific method through modeling the process for him during the demonstration. The student is observing what is happening, absorbing the information and storing it for later use.
While the student may participate, the teacher remains the driving force behind this type of scientific test.
What is an experiment?
An experiment is a test or trial done for the purpose of discovering something unknown or validating a theoretical principle. Experiments always follow a pattern of discovery known as the scientific method.
In the educational setting, the student is the driving force behind the experiment, while the teacher plays a more supervisory role.
In this type of scientific test, the student is discovering a new aspect of science that was previously unknown to him. He is testing what he thinks to be true based on his knowledge of the principles at work and learning what the real answer is through hands-on experience.
Should I use scientific demonstrations or experiments in my homeschool?
Scientific demonstrations are best employed during the early elementary years because the younger student has virtually no scientific knowledge base. So, it is very difficult for them to make an educated guess or hypothesis about the outcome of a scientific test.
Unlike the experiment, the scientific demonstration does not require the student to formulate a hypothesis and the teacher demonstrates this type of scientific test. She guides the student through the process and spoon feeds the necessary information to him, which means that the student is able to focus on learning the science that is occurring right in front of him.
Let me be clear in saying that younger students are completely capable of guessing the outcome of a scientific test. However, there is a difference between a “guess” and an “educated guess”. The educated guess, which is known as the hypothesis in the scientific method, requires that the scientist has at least background knowledge of the principles at work in what they are trying to test.
The scientist using the scientific method is taking a look at a new aspect of a scientific principle or testing a theoretical principle to determine its legitimacy. This means that this type of scientific test is not a completely blind because the one employing the scientific method to its fullest will seek to understand the science going on behind the test before guessing at the outcome.
As the student builds his scientific knowledge base, he increases his ability to make an educated guess at the outcome of a scientific test. This is why as the student progresses into the middle and high school years, he can move from watching scientific demonstrations into performing experiments.
As the student expands his knowledge of the scientific principles, he is more and more capable of being in charge of the scientific tests he is performing. So as the student ages, the role of the teacher shifts from demonstrator to supervisor. During the experiment, the teacher is watching over the student, making sure he follows the steps, maintaining a safe environment for the student to work in and answering any questions that he may have along the way.
Wrapping it Up
Whether you choose to use scientific demonstrations or experiments in your homeschool will largely depend on the ages of your students and their grasp of the scientific principles.
In Success in Science, we recommend that you perform scientific demonstrations during the elementary years and shift towards using experiments in the middle and high school years.
If you still have questions, leave a comment and we'll answer them!
- Paige Hudson