Science Fairs Inside Out
The Scientific Method
Why does anyone want to do an experiment? People in many different careers do experiments to answer questions or to solve problems. These people not only include scientists but doctors, computer programmers, architects, engineers, professors, garden landscapers, sports enthusiasts, police crime unit staff and those in many other careers.
The scientific method is a tool that includes a series of steps that serve as a guideline to help do experiments, solve problems and answer questions in an objective manner. Every great science fair project starts with The Scientific Method.
6 Steps to the Scientific Method:
1) What questions do you have about your topic? What do you want to learn? Come up with one or two questions or a problem. Think about what you want to learn from your experiment. Why does the grass in your neighbor’s yards looks better than the grass in your own yard? Do different smells affect memory when studying for a test? How much bacteria is present on or near school drinking fountains?
2) Do some background research about your selected topic. Collect information from your own experience or by talking with parents, friends and teachers. Read some books or check out websites like you’re doing now.
3) Come up with a Hypothesis or your “educated guess” about what you think is going to happen when you’ve finished your experiment. This is where you come up with a possible answer to your question. The Hypothesis is presented as a statement…not as a question. For instance, if you’ve read that Vitamin E acts as an Anti-Oxidant in plants and you wonder if feeding Vitamin E to plants will improve their growth, you might have a Hypothesis that reads “If I test the effects of Vitamin E on plants, I believe they will grow quicker and stronger.” If you’re checking the germ levels of water drinking fountains in your school, maybe your “educated guess” will be that there are more germs on the wall next to the water fountain because everyone uses the wall to brace themselves from falling face-first into the fountain!
4) Design and perform your experiment to test your Hypothesis. This is the fun part and is the real difference between a Demonstration Project and a Science Project. You need to make sure that the results of your experiment can be tested and that the outcome can be measured. The design and method of your research should be organized with controls and variables, and you should make sure you have at least three trials. With the Vitamin E and Plant experiment, you could have a group of seeds you just plant that don’t get fed Vitamin E, and your “variable” is a group of seeds that do get fed varying amounts of Vitamin E. Make sure your control factors are the same and that you’re using the identical amount and type of soil, fertilizer, seeds, pots, sunlight, etc. for the different plant trials.
In the case of the water fountain experiment, you might want to test the germ levels at ten water fountains, and at five different locations on or near each of the fountains. Make sure you do additional research to see if anyone else has done a similar project. Check out this story of a 13 year old from Oregon who did a similar water fountain germ project. When you present your science fair project to judges, they’ll ask you about other similar research and what you’ve done in your experiment that’s different from others.
5) Record the results of everything you do and every step you take on your Science Project and your Experiment in a note book. Don’t just take notes, but draw pictures, use your camera to take pictures of you working on your project, make simple charts, lists and graphs in your notebook. Include phone call and meetings you’ve had with scientists and other people about your project and record all observations even if they seem simple or uninteresting. Make sure every entry is dated and it’s a bound notebook not in a loose-leaf binder. You’ll be surprised how much of your data and notes you’ll end up using as part of your display board or report. You’ll also be able to share the information with others who are interested in what you did as part of your project, like your teachers and science fair judges. If you discover something important through your experiments, others will want to be able to repeat your experiment and they can only do this by following the instructions of what you did.
6) What are your conclusions? In looking at your data and your experiments, you may make many discoveries. For instance, the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope resulted in the discovery of many new planets, black holes and mysteries about space. Some of these discoveries resulted in concluding that there was a force we never before knew existed that’s pushing our galaxies apart called “Dark Energy”. Conclusions, are summaries about what happened in your experiment and whether or not your experiment was successful. Conclusions are always logical and supported with the results of your data by using charts and graphs, and sometimes photos. Make sure you answer the question of whether or not you proved or disproved your Hypothesis. The conclusion should include any surprises you found in the results and thoughts about possible future project improvements. It’s okay if your hypothesis was wrong. But if it was wrong, try to figure out why so you can be prepared to explain it to the judges or to include it in your report.
Sometimes we have questions just because we’re curious. Why is the sky blue? Or, why do cats purr? But, these types of questions really can’t be answered by using the Scientific Method where you need to be able to measure the results.
Some people ask questions because there are many health, medical, agricultural and environmental problems. Scientists work hard to try to find medicines to cure cancer, lung disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and to find the sources of and solutions to pollution, global warming or other problems. The Scientific Method helps them to do this.
Maybe if you learn more about The Scientific Method, you might be responsible for answering some of the Big Questions about Life.