What is the Scientific Method?

So, just what is the Scientific Method? Believe it or not, it depends on which scientist is talking. There are either six, five, or four steps to the scientific method. Doesn’t sound very scientific, does it?! It’s all basically the same general idea, so we’ve taken the average, and are giving you five steps:

1. Observation – Looking at something in the world. Watching things closely makes you curious about why or when or how something happens. That leads to the next step…

2. Question – Wondering about what you see in the world. The questions that come up during your observations are the second step of the scientific method.

3. Hypothesis – A guess at the answer to the question. An hypothesis is an “educated guess”. You take what you already know about the subject and use it to guess the answer to your question. You could be right. You could be wrong. It doesn’t matter, because you’re going to find out in the next step…

4. Experimentation – Testing your hypothesis. You come up with an experiment to find out the answer to your question. This is the trickiest part of the scientific method, because an experiment has to be designed with controls and variables in place. (Keep reading – we’re getting to the definitions!)

5. Results – The answer to the question. When the experiment is complete, your question will be answered, and you’ll have your results!

The scienctific method may look complicated, but it is really a simple process that we use every day to understand and solve problems in the world around us. Use this example with your child: Suppose you observe that your DS isn’t working. You’ll ask yourself the question “What’s wrong with my DS!?” Then you’ll come up with a couple of ideas, or hypotheses: “The battery could be dead, the game could be dirty, or maybe the baby dropped it into the toilet.” So you’ll check the battery, take out the game and blow out the dust, then check for signs of dried Cheerios and wet spots. These experiments will hopefully lead you to the result, and you’ll know why your DS wasn’t working. You’re brilliant! You’ve just followed the scientific method!

The big trick, of course, is to find an experiment that follows the scientific method. For five (or ten!) projects that do, check out 24 Hour Science Projects. And yes, all the projects follow the scientific method!