The Young Scientist and the Scientific Method
Browse articles:
Auto Beauty Business Culture Dieting DIY Events Fashion Finance Food Freelancing Gardening Health Hobbies Home Internet Jobs Law Local Media Men's Health Mobile Nutrition Parenting Pets Pregnancy Products Psychology Real Estate Relationships Science Seniors Sports Technology Travel Wellness Women's Health
Browse companies:
Automotive Crafts, Hobbies & Gifts Department Stores Electronics & Wearables Fashion Food & Drink Health & Beauty Home & Garden Online Services & Software Sports & Outdoors Subscription Boxes Toys, Kids & Baby Travel & Events

The Young Scientist and the Scientific Method

The young scientist and the scientific method

Since my first article in The Young Scientist series, The young scientist: Building a hydrogen fuel cell as a science fair project, was published a few days ago, I have received numerous personal emails from homeschoolers asking for more articles that would help them teach their students the basic concepts of science. My wife, a retired schoolteacher, suggested that I do these articles in the form of lesson plans. Lesson plans are really outlines and outlines don’t provide enough details for one of my articles. These articles need to be a complete text on the subject under discussion and what better place to start then with teaching the basic concepts of science then with teaching the concepts of the Scientific Method.

Historic overview of the scientific method

Many people claim that the use of the scientific method can be traced all the way back to the 5th century BC and the ancient Greeks but Galileo is known as the father of the scientific method. The Encyclopedia Britannica (1970) states: Even while Bacon was philosophizing, the true method was being practiced by Galileo, who, with a combination of observation, hypothesis, mathematical deduction and confirmatory experiment founded the science of dynamics.

The scientific method

The first step:

Ask a scientific question

The first step in using the scientific method is to ask a scientific question. So, what is a scientific question? As a rule, any questions that begin with Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How" make excellent scientific questions. In order for a question to be considered a scientific question it must be phrased in such a way that concrete data can be collected that will prove or disprove the concept.

A few examples of good scientific questions are

  1. How do free electrons travel through a conductor?

  2. Why do the free electrons travel from the negative battery terminal to the positive battery terminal through the external circuit?

  3. What causes the free electrons to move from the negative terminal to the positive terminal?

  4. When will the free electrons move in a copper conductor?

  5. What materials make good conductors?

  6. What materials make good insulators?

  7. Why doesn’t an electric current flow through an insulator?

These are all good scientific questions because they can be answered concretely through experimental observation and measurements.

The second step:

Conduct background research

No matter what your scientific question is, you will want to research the question to see what others have already found out about the subject. This background research prepares you to form an informed hypothesis and it keeps you from making the same mistakes that others have already made.

Keeping accurate notes begins with the forming of your scientific question and continues throughout the application of the scientific method. Thomas Alvin Edison, one of the world’s most prolific inventors filled over 5 million notebook pages with his observations. These detailed records of his experiments and observations not only helped those that came after him to improve upon his many inventions they kept him from repeating experiment that he had already conducted. In his quest to develop the incandescent light bulb he tried over 6,000 materials, even he couldn’t have remembered what he had already tried if he hadn’t kept detailed notes.

The third step:

Formulate a scientific hypothesis

A hypothesis is nothing more than an educated guess as to why something happens or doesn’t happen. In order for a statement to be a scientific hypothesis it must meet two requirements. First, it must be a testable statement. To be testable it must suggest scientific experiments that can be conducted to prove or disprove its validity. To be testable it cannot be based on mere speculation. Second, it must be falsifiable. For example, this is a legitimate scientific hypothesis: electrons are negatively charged subatomic particles that repel one another. It’s both testable in the laboratory and it’s falsifiable.

The fourth step:

Devise and conduct experiments to test the hypothesis

There are many different experimental procedures that we could use to test the hypothesis that electrons are negatively charged subatomic particles that repel one another. For example, we could use two suspended pith ball to test this hypothesis. It tests true because when both pith balls receive an equal negative charge they fly away from one another.

The fifth step:

Analyze collected data and for conclusions

The sixth step:

Conclude whether the hypothesis is true or false.

If the results of the experiment are inconclusive, repeat steps four through six, devising new experiments to test the validity of the hypothesis that you formulated in step three. Repeat these steps until you can conclusively declare that they hypothesis is either true or false.

When keeping notes write out each of the steps you take to prove or disprove your hypothesis beginning with your scientific questions. State your hypothesis. Describe the experiments you conduct to test it. Include sketches of the apparatus that you use to conduct your experiments. These sketches are especially important if the apparatus used is something that you have devised yourself or if the apparatus was used in a new and unique way. In order for your result to be accepted by the scientific community your experiments have to be replicable by other members of the community.

Start keeping your lab notebooks now.

My first choice for a lab notebook is a loose-leaf binder because one can replace pages when they become illegible and one can insert pages between pages when necessary.

Additional resources:

Need an answer?
Get insightful answers from community-recommended
in Science on Knoji.
Would you recommend this author as an expert in Science?
You have 0 recommendations remaining to grant today.
Comments (0)