Have you ever put together a piece of furniture using instructions that were translated into English by someone who learned to speak English by reading a Sports Illustrated magazine from the 70’s? Talk about confusing! To many people, this is what they feel like when trying to read and use science.
In a previous article, we talked about the importance of the scientific method. But now we run into a problem. The scientific method is a doorway to knowledge, but using it can be confusing and frustrating, especially if you don’t have much practice. Plus, if you use it wrong, it can lead to misunderstandings and untruth.
Misunderstandings like forensic tests gone wrong in Germany. For years, the German police searched for a woman who’s DNA popped up at all sorts of crime scenes. What kind of crazed criminal mind were they searching for? A female worker from the cotton swab plant, that’s who. She had accidentally contaminated the cotton swabs they used for crime scene sampling which is why her DNA was popping up everywhere. Oops! Where’s our control sample when we need it?
Follow the right Path (Scientifically speaking)
Well, don’t worry, we’ve got your back! Move through these steps and you can follow the scientific method to the right answer to all of your questions. And if you’re not careful, you might just have fun in the process!
Before we get started, you should grab the Scientific Method flow sheet from our last post if you are working with younger students (K-5). We also have a How to Design the Perfect Experiment guide for older students (5th grade+) to carefully plan a more complex experiment.
Step 1 – Finding a Topic
Go outside and explore! Lift up rocks, crawl around on your belly or climb a tree. Find something you are interested in. It can be very general like birds or plants.
Why outside you ask? Because the outdoors are the perfect laboratory for life! Of course taking our kids outside helps them learn about science and nature but it also lets them take risks, push boundaries, and learn to think for themselves.
Ex. my topic is bugs
Step 2 – Make an Observation
Take some time to watch your chosen topic. Study it and find something you don’t understand. Look for things that don’t make sense or are unexpected such as
- plants not growing where you think they should
- bugs on one plant and not another
- a plant growing taller in one part of the yard than another
Ex. my observation is that there are little green aphids on the broccoli but not on the cauliflower
Step 3 – Ask a Question
Ask a question about your observation. It should be a specific and simple question. Avoid complicated or multiple part questions. Make it simple silly! Many times, it is as easy as rewording your observations as a question.
Ex. my question is “Do aphids like broccoli more than cauliflower?”
Step 4 – Research your Question
Find out if anybody has answered this question through research. Start with an internet or library search. Try searching for the exact question or similar questions. Don’t trust everything you read! Find good, reliable sources like scientific journals. Learn as much as you can about the question.
Has someone already answered your question? If yes, try to recreate the experiment or ask a new question. If not, follow the steps to design a good experiment.
Step 5 – Make a Hypothesis
You’ve researched your question. Now is the time to make a hypothesis. A hypothesis is an educated guess about what will happen in your experiment. It is of course related to your question.
Ex. If I put aphids with broccoli and cauliflower, then the aphids will only stay on the broccoli.
Step 6 – Design an Experiment
For the younger kids, keep this pretty simple. For our example experiment, you could take some of the aphid-covered broccoli and put it in a container with cauliflower to see this they move between each.
For older kids, we can get into the nitty gritty that makes a really good experiment. Like having only 1 independent variable and using control samples. The scientific method isn’t so scientific if you have a meaningless experiment.
To delve deeper into designing the perfect experiment for your scientific questions, grab our How to Design the Perfect Experiment guide. It has step-by-step directions for designing your experiment and worksheets for planning, recording results, and actually using those results to make a conclusion. You know, all those helpful things. Plus, it’s free!
Step 7 – Analyze Results & Draw a Conclusion
You’ve done all the work of asking questions and experimenting. Now do something with those results! Graph them. Look at them. Compare them to your hypothesis. Do your results fit with your hypothesis?
You’ve now successfully moved through the scientific method! That wasn’t so bad was it? And once you are familiar with the method, it becomes a lot easier to plan and apply it with ease.
Don’t forget the Good Stuff!