A Problem Solving Tool
Teaching students problem solving skills can carry them through a wide variety of academic subjects and life situations. The scientific method is one tool students can use in approaching a problem. The scientific method is not a set of steps to follow, but rather a tool that takes you through a variety of ways to study, investigate, and think about problems. From a scientific standpoint, you can design and plan an experiment using these steps.
The Seven Steps
There are seven steps your students can follow to design and plan an experiment.
- State the Problem: What do you want to find out? Look at your problem and express it as a question. Be sure to make the problem as specific as possible.
- Hypothesize: What do you think is the cause of your problem? Develop a logical answer to your problem; this will become your hypothesis. Your answer should include one explanation for the cause to your problem.
- Plan Your Experiment: The goal of any experiment is to test a hypothesis. Determine your variable and control; then write a clear step-by-step procedure so that anyone can repeat the process of the experiment.
- Make a Prediction: Using your hypothesis, make and record a prediction about the outcome of your experiment.
- Gather and Organize Data: Determine what kinds of data you will collect. Will it be measurements, observations, or estimates? Will you use tables, graphs, or drawings to organize this data?
- Analyze Data: Once you have collected your data, determine if you see any trends or patterns. Does the data support your hypothesis? Do you still need to collect additional information.
- Conclude: Use your data to state your conclusion. Your data should either support your conclusion or lead you to another hypothesis. Have any new questions or problems developed?
Application of the Scientific Method
Once you have introduced these steps to your students, have them complete the following enrichment activity:
Ask students to write an outline for an experiment to learn which substances take less than a month to break down in a landfill. Have them look at items such as plastic jugs, a hot dog bun, an orange, and a styrofoam cup. Invite students to share the outlines with the class and discuss which steps they may have skipped. What can they do in the end if their data does not support the hypothesis?
The scientific method can be applied in other areas besides science. It is a tool that can help students solve problems in other academic areas, as well as in their daily lives.