DAY 30: Discussing Scientific Methods (10 min)
As soon as students turn in their final reports, I wrote the basic steps of "the scientific method" on the board.
1) identify problem
2) state a hypothesis
3) design an experimental setup to test hypothesis
4) collect data
5) analyze data
6) communicate results
Then, I asked students to identify the parts of their butterfly research study that fit in each step of the method. Most students force-fit the steps, but in reality, this study was not experimental and did not follow this method. They may have identified the problem being that they wanted to learn more about the life of a butterfly species. Also, they collected observational data, and they did communicate their resulting observations through a webpage, but the rest of the steps do not apply to their research.
When probed as to whether they actually made a hypothesis, students began to see the difference between an experimental and observational study. We are often able to identify a problem to be studied in an experimental design after we make careful observations, but this is not a necessity in the scientific inquiry process.
I asked students to identify a hypothesis that they would like to test after having done this observational study. Ideas included raising a test group of butterflies in a warmer or colder room to examine growth rate, or testing the effect of pesticides, such as BT, on the Painted Lady larvae.
I asked the students to decide whether or not they thought their project was something a real scientist would do. I also asked them to identify scientists (e.g., Jane Fossey) and other scientific studies that do not follow a strict scientific method (e.g., paleontology). Finally, I emphasized the importance of the scientific method in many scientific research projects. My students had concurrently worked on an experimental study on acid rain's affects on plant growth, where they did follow a more direct scientific method. This served as a great comparison.
THE BUTTERFLY PROJECT