ImageLearning about the scientific method is almost like saying that you are learning how to learn. You see, the scientific method is the way scientists learn and study the world around them. It can be used to study anything from a leaf to a dog to the entire Universe.

The basis of the scientific method is asking questions and then trying to come up with the answers. You could ask, “Why do dogs and cats have hair?” One answer might be that it keeps them warm. BOOM! It’s the scientific method in action. (OK, settle down.)


Just about everything starts with a question. Usually, scientists come up with questions by looking at the world around them. “Hey look! What’s that?” See that squiggly thing at the end of the sentence? A question has been born.

So you’ve got a scientist. When scientists see something they don’t understand they have some huge urge to answer questions and discover new things. It’s just one of those scientist personality traits. The trick is that you have to be able to offer some evidence that confirms every answer you give. If you can’t test your answer, other scientists can’t test it to see if you were right or not.

ImageAs more questions are asked, scientists work hard and come up with a bunch of answers. Then it is time to organize. One of the cool things about science is that other scientists can learn things from what has already been established. They don’t have to go out and test everything again and again. That’s what makes science special: it builds on what has been learned before.

This process allows the world to advance, evolve, and grow. All of today’s advancements are based on the achievements of scientists who already did great work. Think about it this way: you will never have to show that water (H2O) is made up of one oxygen (O) and two hydrogen (H) atoms. Many scientists before you have confirmed that fact. It will be your job as a new scientist to take that knowledge and use it in your new experiments.


ImageExperimental evidence is what makes all of the observations and answers in science valid (truthful or confirmed). The history of evidence and validations show that the original statements were correct and accurate. It sounds like a simple idea, but it is the basis of all science. Statements must be confirmed with loads of evidence. Enough said.

Scientists start with observations and then make a hypothesis (a guess), and then the fun begins. They must then prove their hypothesis with trials and tests that show why their data and results are correct. They must use controls, which are quantitative (based on values and figures, not emotions). Science needs both ideas (the hypothesis) and facts (the quantitative results) to move forward. Scientists can then examine their data and develop newer ideas. This process will lead to more observation and refinement of hypotheses.


There are different terms used to describe scientific ideas based on the amount of confirmed experimental evidence.

– a statement that uses a few observations
– an idea based on observations without experimental evidence
– uses many observations and has loads of experimental evidence
– can be applied to unrelated facts and new relationships
– flexible enough to be modified if new data/evidence introduced
– stands the test of time, often without change
– experimentally confirmed over and over
– can create true predictions for different situations
– has uniformity and is universal

You may also hear about the term “model.” A model is a scientific statement that has some experimental validity or is a scientific concept that is only accurate under limited situations. Models do not work or apply under all situations in all environments. They are not universal ideas like a law or theory.


The scientific method is split up into five major steps:

1. Determining the problem or question.

– In this step, you (the researcher) must decide what it is that you will be studying. This sounds like a simple procedure, but it is actually very important. It identifies exactly what you wish to learn and it allows you to focus only on that material.

2. Development of a hypothesis.

– The hypothesis is not a just a random W.A.G (Wild @$$#& Guess) to your problem. Instead, the hypothesis is an Educated Guess. In other words, it involves researching the problem and finding out what other people have learned, and using that information to help devise an answer. An important aspect of the hypothesis is that it should answer the original question, and it should be testable!

3. Design an experiment to test the hypothesis.

– Design an experiment whose results will either support or disprove your hypothesis. If your hypothesis is supported, then the results of your experiment will indicate that your hypothesis is correct. However, this does not mean that your hypothesis is 100%, beyond a shadow of a doubt, correct. There may be other factors that will influence the results that you haven’t tested. Therefore, it is important to say that the hypothesis is supported, you should never say that it is proven! However, the results of your experiment can prove your hypothesis wrong!

 – There should be at least two groups in your experiment. The first group is the experimental group. This group is the group that has the factor that is being tested (Experimental Variable). It is easy to identify the experimental variable, since it is usually stated in the hypothesis. The second group is the control group. The control group is identical to the experimental group in every way, except that they lack the experimental variable. (If there were other differences, then they would invalidate the results of the experiment.)

4. Conduct the experiment and collect the data.

– Run the experiment that you have so carefully constructed. In this step, you will be measuring the dependent variable. This variable (DO NOT confuse it with the experimental variable) is the thing that is being observed or measured. Any pieces of information that you collect regarding the dependent variable are called DATA.

5. Draw Conclusions from your data.

Here, it is stated directly whether the hypothesis was supported or disproven.

– If your hypothesis is supported, it should be repeated, since one of the basic foundations of the scientific method is that it is repeatable. The more an experiment is repeated, the more valid the results are. However, if there is a hypothesis that is supported by many experiments and a lot of data, we call that hypothesis a theory. 

-The word theory is often misused in everyday language. Theory and hypothesis are not synonyms, a hypothesis is just an educated guess that perhaps has been supported once or twice by an experiment. A theory was once a hypothesis, but is now supported by a lot of data and is accepted as being correct, until new information is discovered to disprove it.


1. List the parts of the scientific method in order.

2. What are dependent and experimental variables?

3. Which group contains the variable that is being tested?

4. Give the general name for the factor that is observed, measured or counted in an experiment.

5. Which group is identical the group above in every way EXCEPT for lacking the variable that is being tested?

Scientific Method In Action

The Strange Case of BeriBeri

In 1887 a strange nerve disease attacked the people in the Dutch East Indies. The disease was beriberi. Symptoms of the disease included weakness and loss of appetite, victims often died of heart failure. Scientists thought the disease might be caused by bacteria. They injected chickens with bacteria from the blood of patients with beriberi. The injected chickens became sick. However, so did a group of chickens that were not injected with bacteria.

ImageOne of the scientists, Dr. Eijkman, noticed something. Before the experiment, all the chickens had eaten whole-grain rice, but during the experiment, the chickens were fed polished rice. Dr. Eijkman researched this interesting case. he found that polished rice lacked thiamine, a vitamin necessary for good health.

1. State the Problem

2. What was the hypothesis?

3. How was the hypothesis tested?

4. Should the hypothesis be supported or rejected based on the experiment?

5. What should be the new hypothesis?

How Penicillin Was Discovered

In 1928, Sir Alexander Fleming was studying Staphylococcus bacteria growing in culture dishes. He noticed that a mold called Penicillium was also growing in some of the dishes. A clear area existed around the mold because all the bacteria that had grown in this area had died. In the culture dishes without the mold, no clear areas were present.

Fleming hypothesized that the mold must be producing a chemical that killed the bacteria. He decided to isolate this substance and test it to see if it would kill bacteria. Fleming transferred the mold to a nutrient broth solution. This solution contained all the materials the mold needed to grow. After the mold grew, he removed it from the nutruient broth. Fleming then added the nutrient broth in which the mold had grown to a culture of bacteria. He observed that the bacteria died.

6. Identify the problem.

7. What was Fleming’s hypothesis?

8. How was the hypothesis tested?

9. Should the hypothesis be supported or rejected based on the experiment?

10. This experiment leads to the development of what major medical advancement?

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