How to Use the Scientific Method Steps (With an Example)
Updated July 9, 2022
As a teacher, you can show students how science depends on following the processes and methods that lead to reliable conclusions. The scientific method is the most commonly used process for testing hypotheses and reaching accurate outcomes. Understanding how this method works can help you teach this essential process to your students. In this article, we discuss what following the steps of the scientific method can achieve, and describe how to use them with a helpful example for every stage.
Why follow the scientific method steps?
The seven scientific method steps can be used to resolve questions about the world around you through observation and experimentation. The best outcome of this method is the discovery of relationships between cause and effect. You might observe that your own intuitions and expectations change as you uncover new information. This is an important part of the method. The rigorous way you ask questions, test observations, and rework your questions according to the evidence defines you as a scientist. The scientific method is a tool for organizing your research questions and for understanding your findings.
How to use the steps of the scientific method
You can use the scientific method by practising exercises where you already know the results. The purpose of these practices is testing procedures, equipment, and your approach to the method. Then you can run experiments and compare the outcomes against investigations with similar topics. Based on the type of question you might ask and the field of science your own experiments involve, you can adjust this method by modifying one or several of the following steps:
1. Make an observation and ask a question
The first steps of the scientific method require observing something that interests you and formulating a question about what you have observed. The question can include one or more of the foundational prompts of who, what, when, where, why, and how. This question you ask might also expect an answer that is measurable and answerable through experimentation. Sometimes you can measure the question with a numerical result, and sometimes you might use non-numerical forms, which means data you can't manipulate mathematically. Beyond numerical data, the scientific method expects behavioural results.
For example, you can instruct your students to get a standard size sheet of printer paper. Then, ask them how many times they can fold the piece of paper in half. This may encourage your students to think about the best approach to answer that question.
2. Begin your research
To answer your question, you may first want to consider the possible outcomes. Consider searching online or in your local library to find related information that adds context and direction for your hypothesis. You may also find previous studies and experiments that can help with your process and conclusions. By reviewing previous studies, you may find that others before you have found the answer to your question. You may learn something new and reformulate your question.
For example, your students can start their research and discover that the paper's surface area decreases by half with each fold. This finding may suggest that a folded paper sheet becomes very tough because of the increase in density. They may learn that you can fold a single sheet of paper in half only seven times. With enough contextual information, they could navigate related academic articles or go to the library to learn more.
3. Reach a hypothesis
A hypothesis is an idea that suggests an explanation for a natural event or a specific incident. The hypothesis is the key element of the scientific process. And is an explanation that you can test through study and experimentation. Once you've chosen your approach, you can develop your question into a hypothesis. The hypothesis can describe a specific forecast, but it can also describe one or several generalized predictions. You may find that topic or specific subject more meaningful than you first imagined.
For example, your students may try to determine if using a larger sheet of paper could make it possible to fold the paper in half more than seven times. You may consider at this point how this experiment could develop into an in-class or take-home assignment for your students.
4. Conduct an experiment to test your hypothesis
Test your hypothesis through experimentation and compare the results with your predictions. Experiments involve careful preparation and execution, but unexpected results can encourage you to continue your quest. There is no such concept as a failed experiment. It's just as important as a success to see unexpected results if you're on the path to learn about your subject. Document the stages of your experiments so that other scientists can repeat them. This means it's essential for your experiment to be clear and reliable. Depending on what a scientist is investigating, an experiment can be brief or take years.
For example, your students can start by measuring the sheet of paper and then calculating its density. They can repeat this process every time they fold the paper in half. They may also use rulers, calculators, and formulas to complete the experiment. You can encourage them to consider the best method to complete this activity.
5. Make an observation
Science is a process that depends on truth, but facts aren't always available, so scientists can rely on their capacity for patience and observation. Now that you have some results, look back on the process so far and make sure that the conditions have remained the same throughout all testing measures. If you change any one element of the process, keep all other elements the same and record the change before you conduct the experiment again. Make any other changes one at a time and repeat the experiment to test the reliability of the new outcomes.
Your students' experiment may result in observable patterns that they can collect and record in a notebook or a spreadsheet. The observer is also a factor in experiments, so they might record their own thoughts and feelings as well. For instance, they may think that if they change the thickness of the paper, they can increase the number of folds. With all the data available, their attention can turn to how and why. They might notice that even simple observations help them identify patterns.
6. Analyze the results and draw a conclusion
By recording your results, you can evaluate what happened in the experiment. At this stage, you can take your findings and analyze them for common factors. You are now free to determine whether this analysis supports your hypothesis. An observation that seems to contradict your hypothesis could mean you're progressing. If your hypothesis is falsifiable, it could strengthen your research long term. Science relies on improving claims in order to advance testing and expand knowledge. Stay positive, because concluding your research means you're contributing to a project much larger than yourself, regardless of whether your predictions are true.
For example, your students at this stage may have registered all their results, including details related to density, thickness, and resistance. Now, they can create charts and graphics to generate patterns. At this stage, they may discover that it's virtually impossible to fold a sheet of paper more than seven times. But by challenging the theory and looking for new answers, they may have learned the importance of the scientific method and how all the science relies on it.
7. Present the findings
There are channels in modern society for the presentation of scientific findings, whether you're a back-yard astronomer or a climate science researcher for a government. Prepare a written report you're ready to distribute and present your findings. If you choose to publish, you may learn that you need more research for a published, peer reviewed study.
Your students' project may have started small, but now there's a basis for deeper, more involved research. This could be an excellent time to start a new lesson about physics. They might also revisit their work in a more advanced academic setting. They could even use the advice of other teachers and classmates to find ways to workshop the research, refine how it's presented, and seek publication in the school journal.
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