What is the Scientific Method?
Have you ever wondered what goes on in the laboratories where scientists make their magic? Here is a sneak peek into the scientific method- a strategy scientists have been using for centuries to discover the fascinating things we now know about the world around us.
Even though there are many strategies to choose from when doing science, this one has often led to important findings. The scientific method describes the steps we should follow if we want to make a meaningful discovery.
1 – Make an observation
Many scientific discoveries start by looking at, or observing, the things that are happening in the world. When we have carefully observed something and we notice the same result happening every time, we are observing a phenomenon.
The scientific starts with an observation about a phenomenon. This can be something simple as “every time I accidentally drop my toast, the side with butter on it always ends up on the floor”
2 – Formulate your research question.
An observation is a crucial step, but it can’t lead us to create scientific experiments on its own.
Good scientists let their curiosity lead the way and formulate a research question – a question that they are then going to answer with the help of experiments.
When creating the research question, we need to ask ourselves what we’d like to learn. Is it a question about the speed at which the toast falls to the ground? Or is it a question about the number of times the toast can spin while falling? Or perhaps about the reason it always seems to fall with the buttered side facing downward?
Let’s formulate our research question! It can be something like, “what makes the toast always fall with the buttered side facing downward?”.
3 – Make a prediction
Scientists often look at other phenomena in the world to help understand and explain the new ones they observe. Thinking about other things you might have observed falling to the ground might help you come up with an answer.
What do we know about objects when they fall? We might remember that heavy objects fall down quicker than light objects, so a heavy object will hit the ground before a lighter one.
Based on this, what prediction could we make about our toast? It could be something like this: “if we butter one side of the toast, that side will become heavier. This means it will reach the ground quicker than the unbuttered side. If we spread even more butter on a second slice of toast, that slice will reach the ground with the buttered side facing downward even quicker.”
Remember, this doesn’t need to be the right answer! It can be any answer that you think could be right. We will test whether this is the correct answer in the next step and mistakes are a very important part of science, so don’t be afraid to make them at all!
4 – Test your prediction
Everyone knows that this is the most fun part of science – including scientists. This step allows us to try again and again and see whether we were right in our prediction. To do this, we will design and run one or more experiments.
To test our prediction, we can start by spreading different amounts of butter on two slices of toast. This way, we will have two slices with a total of four sides: two non-buttered sides which are the lightest, one heavy side with a small amount of butter, and one even heavier side with a larger amount of butter.
To test our prediction, we will drop them from the same height at the same time and will repeat this as many times as we can to see if our results are consistent. Good scientists make small changes in the way they test their prediction to make sure that their results are not due to the way they run the experiment. We can change the starting position of the toast – buttered side up, down, or even on the side – to see whether that changes which side ends up on the floor.
Remember: Even though this experiment only involves toast, we must always be careful not to hurt anyone when testing our predictions. Good scientists are careful to be kind and considerate of others’ feelings and experiences when designing their experiments. We must always think about our’s and other’s safety when doing science and stay away from any danger.
5 – Draw conclusions.
This is the part where we try to answer our research question. What have we observed? Did it prove our prediction? Did we the same thing happen every time we ran the experiment? If not, under which circumstances did our prediction happen? When it didn’t happen, what did we do differently?
As scientists, we need to make a note of everything we’ve noticed, even if it doesn’t confirm their predictions. The most important part of this step is honesty– we must tell the truth about the way we ran the experiments and what we observed. Otherwise, we will only discover what happened in circumstances that are exactly like the ones in our experiments rather than make a meaningful discovery about what typically happens in the world around us.
6 – Disseminate your findings
Science is a collective process, meaning that it is good to work as a team with other scientists to discover even more. After we have made our observations, formulated our questions, made and tested our predictions, and drawn conclusions, it is time spread the word!
Tell people about the experiment you did, and help them understand why you did it the way you did. Share your science with others – friends, classmates, teachers, mum and dad – and invite them to do the experiments together. After all, science is the most fun when we enjoy it with others!