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Great thoughts reduced
to practice
become great acts
William Hazlitt 1778 - 1830
English grammarian/essayist

Science and math series

Following the Scientific Method

Observe * Research * Hypothesize * Test * Conclude

The scientific method is a process
for forming and testing solutions to problems,

or theorizing about how or why things work.
It tries to reduce the influence of "faith" or bias or prejudice of the experimenter so that the process is valid anywhere in our world

The following exercise presents two options:

  1. Working through steps of the scientific method
  2. Solving an every-day problem with the scientific method

From the example,
you can now repeat and demonstrate that the computer and television were the answer.
You can repeat this condition, and predict the outcome (experiment or test your theory).

If not paying your bill was the problem, you can repeat that also,
but it can be expensive and inconvenient!

The Scientific Method

State the problem and observe conditions
Observe or wonder about something in your world, or in your class,
and wonder how, why, when, something occurs

  • Create a short, meaningful title
    of your project
  • Write out a statement of purpose
    that describes what you want to do
  • Make a careful, step-by-step notation
    of your observation
  • Be objective!
    and do not guess why something is happening. That takes place later
  • Gather information of similar research
    This is a literature review
  • Identify significant conditions
    or factors of the situation
  • Summarize the problem
    in a clear, simple statement. Emphasize the end result or effect

Form your hypothesis

Research options:

  • What are possible causes for what you observed?
  • Could they reliably and consistently predict or determine the same outcome?
  • What causes are the least likely to affect the outcome?
  • What are the best choices?

Choose the best option
or answer to your problem as your hypothesis.
This will be an "educated guess" based upon both your observation and past experiences

State your hypothesis
in a simple, clear statement

Hypothesis:
a possible explanation for a cause and effect of a given situation or set of factors that can be tested, and can be repetitively proved right (or wrong!) (Remember: A hypothesis is not an observation or description of an event, that is in the first, observation stage!)

Test

Types of data you need

  • The physical sciences of chemistry and physics rely heavily on numbers as data, and on replicable experimentation to measure and calculate results
  • Sciences such as sociology rely on interviews and observation due to limitations of experimentation with human subjects, and use descriptions and inferences to arrive at results

Design an experiment to test your hypothesis

  • Make a step-by-step procedure with each step's purpose
  • List and obtain materials and equipment you will need
  • Identify two groups in the test: the control group is your reference point; no variables are changed; the experimental group is the focus of changes to affect the outcome
  • Rely on your past experience to identify variables, but consult with a knowledgeable person for a second opinion

Run a series of experiments

  • Change only one variable in each experiment in order to isolate effects reliably
  • Make and record accurate measurements
  • Repeat the test as often as necessary with the experimental group to verify your results. Always change only one thing, or variable, in each test
  • Repeat successful tests with other groups to verify your findings

Common mistakes

  • The hypothesis is assumed
    to be the "answer" and is not supported with testing
  • Data is ignored
    that doesn't support your outcome
  • Beliefs/bias blind you to fatal flaws
    in the testing phase
  • Systematic errors are not noticed
    and are repeated within each experiment. These bias the outcome's standard deviation
  • Equipment or conditions are not adequate

Draw conclusions

  • Summarize your results and conclusions use graphs and tables to illustrate these
  • Refer back to your observations, data, and hypothesis for consistency
  • Note difficulties and problems, items for further research, or what you would do differently if you could

If you did not prove your hypothesis, you have succeeded in another sense!

  • Unsuccessful experiments provide information that can lead to answers by eliminating options
  • save someone the trouble of repeating your experiments
  • suggest other ways of solving similar problems

Remember: research builds on the work of others.


Science series

Following the scientific method | Studying text books in science |
Writing lab reports and scientific papers | How to write a research proposal |
Writing white papers | Lab safety

Flash exercise contributed by Ingrid Noble and Dr. Brad Hokanson, Interactive Media (DHA 4384) School of Design, University of Minnesota.