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Math & Science

Solving problems with the Scientific Method

Observe  * Research   * Hypothesize  * Test *  Conclude

The scientific method is a process for forming and testing solutions to problems, or theorizing about how or why things work. It tries to reduce the influence of "faith" or bias or prejudice of the experimenter so that the process is valid anywhere in our world.
You can also use the scientific method to solve everyday problems! If the lights are out in your residence, you can guess many reasons why:  you didn't pay your electric bill, there was storm that knocked out power, the toaster and microwave overloaded a circuit, etc. 

Look for the options or possibilities (research),  select the best explanation (form a hypothesis), test it, and form a conclusion or theory.  

If you think toaster and microwave were the answer, you can repeat this condition, and predict the outcome (experiment or test your theory).  If not paying your bill was the problem, you can repeat that also, but it can be expensive and inconvenient!

The Scientific Method.
State the problem and observe conditions

You observe or wonder about something in your world, or in your class, and wonder how, why, when, something occurs

Create a short, meaningful title of your project

Write out a statement of purpose that describes what you want to do

Make a careful, step-by-step notation  of your observations. Be objective!  and do not guess why something is happening.  That takes place later

Gather information of similar research. 
This is a literature review

Identify significant conditions  or factors of the situation

Summarize the problem 
in a clear, simple statement.  Emphasize the end result or effect.

Form your hypothesis

Research options:

What are possible causes for what you observed?
Could they reliably and consistently predict or determine the same outcome? 

What causes are the least likely to affect the outcome?

What are the best choices?

Choose the best option or answer to your problem as your hypothesis. This will be an "educated guess" based upon both your observation and past experiences.

 State your hypothesis in a simple, clear statement

Hypothesis:  a possible explanation for a cause and effect of a given situation or set of factors that can be tested, and can be repetitively  proved right (or wrong!)  (Remember: A hypothesis is not an observation or description of an event, that is in the first, observation stage!)


 Types of data you need

 The physical sciences of chemistry and physics rely heavily on numbers as data, and on replicable experimentation to measure and calculate results,
sciences such as sociology rely on interviews and observation due to limitations of experimentation with human subjects, and use descriptions and inferences to arrive at results

Design an experiment to test your hypothesis

make a step-by-step procedure with each step's purpose

List and obtain materials and equipment you will need
identify two groups in the test:
the control group
is your reference point; no variables are changed;
the experimental group
is the focus of changes to affect the outcome

Rely on your past experience
to identify variables, but consult with a knowledgeable person for a second opinion

Run a series of experiments

Change only one variable
in each experiment in order to isolate effects reliably

Make and record accurate measurements

Repeat the test 
as often as necessary with the experimental group to verify your results.  Always change only one thing, or variable, in each test

Repeat successful tests with other groups to verify your findings

Common mistakes

the hypothesis is assumed to be the "answer" and is not supported with testing

Data is ignored that doesn't support your outcome

Beliefs/bias blind you to fatal flaws in the testing phase

Systematic errors are not noticed and are repeated within each experiment. These bias the outcome's standard deviation

Equipment or conditions are not adequate

Draw conclusions

Summarize your results and conclusions
use graphs and tables to illustrate these.

Refer back to your observations, data, and hypothesis for consistency

 Note difficulties and problems,
items for further research, or what you would do differently if you could

If you did not prove your hypothesis, you have succeeded in another sense!   Unsuccessful experiments 
provide information that can lead to answers by eliminating options;
save someone the trouble of repeating your experiments;
suggest other ways of solving similar problems
Remember:  research builds on the work of others. 

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