The Scientific Method
The Scientific Method
is the way
scientists learn and study the world around them. The basis of
the scientific method is observing and gathering background
information, asking a question, forming an
hypothesis (or an educated guess about the answer to your
question), and then trying to come up with the answers by
collecting and analyzing data.
We use the
scientific method all the time. For instance:
- Observe: The TV
won't turn on.
- Think of a question:
What is wrong with the TV?
- Predict the answer
(hypothesize): The TV won't turn on because the cord is
- Plan the experiment:
I will check to make sure the plug is in the outlet.
- Collect data:
The TV is unplugged.
- Analyze results: The TV won't turn
on because the cord is unplugged.
The scientific method is often divided into
steps. This is helpful for organizing the process, but keep in
mind that the key element of the scientific method is testing
the hypothesis. In other words, can you prove that your
hypothesis is wrong?
A good scientist is observant and curious about
what is happening around him/her. This step also includes
reading and studying what others have done in the past because
scientific knowledge is cumulative.
Spend time observing
and exploring before coming up with a question to investigate.
The scientist then raises a question
about what (s)he sees going on. The question raised must have a
“simple,” concrete answer that can be obtained by performing an
The hypothesis is a tentative answer to the
question based on your observations and explorations. When
forming an hypothesis, remember that a hypothesis is a question
that can be tested by an experiment.
It may be easier to write a hypothesis if you use an
"if-then" format. For example: "If
magpies have an aggressive nature, then there should be fewer birds
feeding when magpies are present than when magpies are
Plan an experiment in which you can test your
hypothesis. Make a step-by-step list of what you will do to
answer your question.
- Select only one thing to change in each experiment. Things
that can be changed are called variables.
- Change something that will help you test your hypothesis.
- The list must tell how you will change this one thing.
- The list must explain how you will measure the amount of
- Each type of experiment needs a "control" for comparison
so that you can see what the change actually did.
Observations can be written
descriptions of what you noticed during an experiment, or
problems encountered. Keep careful notes of everything you do
and everything that happens.
Summarize what happened. This could be in the
form of a table of numerical data or graphs. It could also be a
written statement of what occurred during the experiments.
Using the trends in your experimental data and your experimental
observations, try to answer your original question. Did your
experiment support your hypothesis?
If your hypothesis was not supported, you need to think about
what might have gone wrong. Maybe your hypothesis was
incorrect and you need to make further observations and conduct
more research (return to Step 1). Or maybe your experiment
design needs some reworking (return to Step 4). Don't be
discouraged! The Scientific Method is a cycle that helps
us better understand the world around us.