The Scientific Method


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What's the scientific method?

The scientific method is one way that people can try to find the answer to problems that are bothering them. It's called "scientific", because people like to think of themselves as being very clever, or "scientific" for solving problems. In reality, there's not really anything special about this method, except that it happens to be pretty handy for solving any problem, not just scientific ones.


How do I use the scientific method?

The scientific method is just a list of steps that you need to follow when you're solving a problem. Depending on who you talk to, there are anywhere from five to eight steps in the scientific method. However, all versions of the scientific method involve the person trying to solve the problem experimenting to find an answer.

The version of the scientific method that I use in my class has six steps, as follows:

  • Purpose: You've got a problem that you want to have solved. The purpose step in the scientific method is just a restatement of what you want accomplished. What do you want to find out? What is your goal? You should write just one sentence for your purpose. You'll see what I mean in the upcoming example.
  • Hypothesis: How do you think you can solve the problem? The hypothesis step is always written in the form "If ___________, then ___________. The blank after the "if" is called the independent variable. The independent variable is just whatever you are going to do to solve the problem. The blank after "then" is the dependent variable. The dependent variable is what you think will happen when you do whatever the independent variable is. For example, if your hypothesis is that "If I take an aspirin, my headache will go away," your independent variable is "taking an aspirin" (this is what you do) and your dependent variable is "the headache will go away" (what happens as a result of your having done something).
  • Materials: What do you need to have in order to see if your hypothesis is true? This part of the scientific method is a list of everything you need to do the experiment. Leave nothing out!
  • Procedure: What are you going to do during this experiment. You should list everything that you are going to do in this section. Even if it seems obvious, write it down. A good rule of thumb: If a six-year-old child can understand what you've written, then you've written it well. If they can't, then you need to go into more detail!
  • Results: When you did the experiment, what happened? What did you see, hear, smell, etc? You should give a complete accounting of all data that you take (sometimes this is referred to as the "Data" section). There's an old saying among chemists: "If you didn't write it down, then it didn't happen." Make sure you write everything down!
  • Conclusion: What do the results mean? Was your hypothesis correct? This section should be only one sentence long. For example, if you proved the hypothesis that "If I take an aspirin, my headache will go away," then the conclusion should be "I took an aspirin, and my headache went away." Don't make this any longer than it has to be!


An example of the scientific method:

Let's say I have a problem: My car won't start. How would I use the scientific method to solve this problem?

  • Purpose: I want my car to start
  • Hypothesis: If I put gas in my car, it will start.
  • Materials: 5 gallon gas can, 5 gallons gasoline, money to buy gasoline, a ride to the gas station
  • Procedure: First, I will call my friend Bill and ask for a ride to the gas station. I will take the five gallon gas can and fill it with five gallons of gasoline at the pump. After paying the gas station owner for the gasoline, I will get a ride back to my car and put the gasoline in the tank. Once the gasoline is in the tank, I will attempt to restart the car.
  • Results: The car started on the first try.
  • Conclusion: When I put gas in my car, it started.

It's as simple as that!

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