How-To

7 Steps to Scientific Research

7 Steps to Scientific Research
Scientists learn how things work by forming a guess and then testing their assumptions by experimenting. The process usually starts with an observation that leads to a question. Here are 7 steps students can take when performing scientific research.

 

The Scientific Method in a Nutshell

At its very simplest the scientific method distills down to:

  • What do we think?
  • How can we find out if we are correct?
  • What did we learn?

This type of thinking can be introduced to children in a natural way at a very young age. They typically have an overabundance of “why” questions. Take one of those simple-to-answer why questions and ask them what they think. Devise a way to prove or disprove their conjecture. Next, sum it up by having them explain what they learned.

 

The Scientific Method Steps

As our children and students grow, we can move to using the scientific method in a more formal way by encouraging them to:

1. Determine what you want to investigate.

What do you have a question about?

  • Something you have observed?
  • Something you have read about?
  • That topic your textbook insists you understand? (Yes, that.)

Once you have a question, you need to frame your question in such a way that it can be answered. In other words, the question cannot be too broad (Exactly how many stars are in the sky?) and it cannot be something that cannot be tested and observed (How did the world begin?). [Note: It is not that this is something we cannot know. However, it is something that cannot be answered by scientific observation.]

 

2. Perform background research.

  • Where can you find information regarding what has already been proven relative to your question?
  • What type of research has already been performed?
  • What were the results?
  • Are there questions that have yet to be answered?

 

3. Form a hypothesis.

  • What do you expect the answer to your question to be?
  • How can you find out?

 

4. Perform an experiment or experiments to test your hypothesis.

  • Explain the experiment in detail.
  • What materials will you use?
  • What steps will you take?
  • How will you measure the results?

 

5. Record your observations.

  • What did you observe during the experiment? (Record the details.)
  • What went the way you thought it would?
  • What did not go the way you thought it would?
  • Did anything happen that was entirely unexpected?

 

6. Analyze the data.

  • What do your results indicate?
  • Did you get the results you expected? Why or why not?
  • Are you able to say your hypothesis is true or false? If not, what other experiment can you do to test it further?

 

7. Draw a conclusion.

  • What is the answer to your question based on your experiments and observations?
  • What conclusions can you draw from your analysis?

 

The fun thing is, even if the experiment fails we still learn something, don’t we?

You can start again with a new question.

 

The Scientific Notebook

All scientists know how crucial it is to record all of the details. Your student will want to keep a science notebook to make a record of his scientific inquiries.

There are many ways to do this, including sheets that can be used. (See the additional resources below for options.) In the end, the student wants to create his own notebook for recording observations. The format can resemble the following:

Title:

Purpose:
What is the question we hope to answer?

Background:
What does the reader need to know to understand the problem?

Hypothesis:
The guess you have about the answer to the question you posed.

Materials and Equipment that Will be Used:

Procedure:
Step-by-step explanation of experiment.

Results:
Record of the data gathered.

Analysis:
How did things turn out?

Conclusion
Summary of answer to question.

 

 

Additional Resources

Science Experiment Notebooking Pages {Freebie}
Great start for younger students.

Collection of Science Notebooking Pages {Free}
Series of experiment pages at Logos Press.

Scientific Drawing
Free download from Highland Heritage Home School.

10 Ways to Use Notebooking: #7 Science10 Ways to Use Notebooking: #7 Science
Other helpful resources.

Ultimate Science Project Notebook {Free}
Lots of great information including the major points at each step.

Science and Engineering Project Laboratory Notebooks
How to create your own at ScienceBuddies.org.

The Scientific Method
Article at Khan Academy.