Scientific Method

The Scientific Method
You will learn how to use many of the tools in science.
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We begin the year with a unit called the Scientific Method. In this unit, we will explore how to scientifically solve a problem, and record your work in a lab report. You will also learn many of the tools of science. A few examples include the triple beam balance, graduated cylinders, beakers, meter sticks and the metric system.
  Key Concepts and Skills in the Scientific Method
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Observation vs. Inference:

An observation is a fact gathered using any or all of your 5 senses. On the other hand an inference is an interpretation of observations. For example, let's say you left your cookies and milk on the kitchen table to answer the phone in the family room. When you get back, the cookies and milk are gone. Those statements are observations, because you saw the cookies and milk on the table, and then saw they were gone. How you interpret those observations is what in an inference is, because you didn't observe first-hand how they disappeared. You may infer that your mother came by, and cleaned it up. Or, you may infer that your little brother snuck off to his room with the snack. Maybe you forgot that you carried it with you when you went to answer the phone and you left it in the family room. All these are inferences, and by investigating each inference, you can determine which are wrong and, hopefully, in the end, which one inference, if any, is correct. So whether your investigation is about milk and cookies, or rocket science, solving a problem requires good skills in both observing and inferring.
Lab Report
Most of the work for the lab report will be done in school, but you will have some details you must complete for homework.
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The Steps of the Scientific Method
-Our First Project, The Lab Report-

1. Problem

Clearly identify the question you are trying to solve, and present that statement in the form of a question.
Example (from above): What happened to my milk and cookies?

2. Research

Investigate your topic. Depending on the problem, this can lead you to the library, internet, experts on the subject... even friends or family. If trying to solve the mystery of the milk and cookies, investigate around the house for clues.

3. Hypothesis

A hypothesis is often defined to be an educated guess, because in order to offer a thoughtful solution to your problem, you had to do your research in step #2 above. When wording your hypothesis, simply state what you think the answer is to your original problem in step #1. For the milk and cookies caper "My little brother took my snack" would be a good hypothesis, or educated guess, let's say, if you had found crumbs leading down the hall toward his room in your research. If you found the dishes in the dishwasher, your hypothesis may be "My mother cleaned up my snack".

4. Experiment

It's not enough to stop at the hypothesis, just because it sounds like the right answer. To be scientific, you have to test your hypothesis with an experiment to prove your idea is correct. Maybe your experiment involves setting up another plate of milk and cookies and watch to see what happens. More complicated and scientific experimentation is necessary when trying to solve more difficult problems (which we will explore in depth in class).

Designing a good experiment is perhaps the most important part of scientific method, because getting good, reliable results depends on how well your experiment is designed.

Safety comes first in any lab work we do!
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5. Observations

Once you are at the point where you are actually carrying out your experiment, recording good observations is very important. Remember, observations are facts gathered using your senses, and should not contain any of your own inferences. For example, an observation that states "The water is cool" would be better observed with a thermometer which actually measures exactly how cool the water is. Stating that "The water is 60 degrees (F)" is a better observation because instead of using a word like cool, which can feel different from person to person, it is more precise since the observation was made with a measured scale.

There are basically two categories of observations, qualitative and quantitative. A qualitative observation describes the quality of something. "The milk tasted very sour" would be an example of a qualitative observation because it describes the qualities of the milk.

When possible, use as many quantitative observations as possible. Quantitative observations involve some kind of measurement. "The car was travelling 50 miles per hour" is a quantitative observation, while "The car was travelling quickly" is a qualitative observation.

6. Analysis

Once you've recorded your observations, it's time to make sense of what they mean. Here is where you may create graphs or charts that display your observations and show meaningful evidence toward an answer to your hypothesis. Was your hypothesis right or wrong? Use your observations as evidence to support whether you think your experiment clearly answers your question or not. In this part of the scientific method, analyzing your results means its time to make some very good and insightful inferences from your observations. It is possible that even with good observations, different people might make different interpretations of the same observations. That is one important reason that you must separate your observations from your analysis.

7. Conclusion

This is where you wrap up your entire investigation. When writing it down, we often think in three paragraphs. In the first paragraph, review the purpose, hypothesis and experimental set-up. Don't go into great detail about the experiment. Just remind the reader where we started.

In the second paragraph, talk directly about how your observations prove your hypothesis right, wrong or somewhere in between. Highlight a few key observations to support your claims. Use your skills of pursuasive writing in this paragraph to prove your point.

In the last paragraph, reflect on your investigation now that your investigation is over. If you were to continue on or re-design the experiment for future research, what would you advise? What things in this investigation could have been done better? What unexpected problems came up that you now can see how to test your hypothesis better?


When we create our lab reports, we will be following the above format step-by-step, and recording what we do at each step. In the end, we will combine our steps together into one full lab report, reflecting two to three weeks of work in and out of the classroom.
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