What is Science?

Science is a method of investigation, based on observation, testing hypotheses, measurement, experimentation, and creating theories. This leads to better explanations of the way the world works.

About Science

In science you ask a lot of questions, investigate the answers by doing tests (experiments) and report the results of those tests to other scientists. The most important part of asking questions is to have an idea of how things will turn out. This is called a hypothesis.

Scientific Thought

Think about it: Is it easier to get from home to a store you’ve never seen if someone just gives you a list of directions or if they simply tell you the location of the store? If you have the directions, then you have to think, “OK, I’m at the corner of Euclid and Taylor, and I’m supposed to turn right.” If you have the location of the store, then you can figure it out as you go. Either way, you can get it wrong, but it’s harder to figure out if you only have directions and you take a wrong turn!

When you make a hypothesis, you are essentially saying that you think you know where the store is, and the experiment will be to try and figure out how to get there. If you end up at the wrong store, it could be that your hypothesis was incorrect or that your experiment was done incorrectly. We all make wrong turns sometimes!

The important part about science is that you realize that it is OK – in fact, it’s necessary – to make mistakes. Thomas Edison tried over 700 times to invent the light bulb, but failed each time. Only after those hundreds of experiments did he get it right. When Edison was asked how he felt about making so many mistakes, he said, “I have not failed 700 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 700 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.” This means that those 700 ways are actually useful knowledge: Understanding why something does not work the way you think it should will help you understand how it actually works!

Once you have completed the experiment, you need to tell other scientists your hypothesis, how it works (in our example, sharing the directions to get to the store), and the results (data) of your experiment. You can also form a conclusion based on the data. In our example, the conclusion might be: “You need to make two left turns and a right turn in order to get to the store.” If the conclusion is something that is a completely new scientific idea, then other scientists need to test your experiment and get similar results. What this means is that they need to do your experiment exactly as you did it and see if they end up with the same data that you have.

If the experiment is repeated by enough different scientists, and they come up with the same results, then a theory is formed in order to explain what is happening. A theory is different from a hypothesis because it has been tested over and over again, and scientists are pretty sure that it’s true. A hypothesis that has not been tested can not be a theory; a hypothesis that cannot be tested is not scientific! For example, science cannot test to see if God exists, what you are thinking at this exact moment, or if unicorn eyeballs taste salty.

1. Complete: After a ________ has been well-tested and confirmed by other scientists, it can become a ________ .
2. Define data in your own words.
3. Name a famous theory about anything that you are familiar with.
Put it together
4. Explain why it's not bad to make mistakes in science.
5. Compare and contrast a conclusion and a theory. You can use a Venn Diagram.
Think about it
6. Imagine you were a great inventor like Thomas Edison. You have an interest in inventing things to make your life easier.
a) What would you invent?
b) How would you do it? Include at least four steps that are used in any scientific experiment!
No review questions!
Think Like a Scientist

By Kenny Felder

The following is a story which illustrates which I think the scientific method is really all about. As with any fable, I’m going to tell the story first, and give the moral of the story afterward.

Once upon a time, there was a caveman named Fred. (I refuse to name him “Oog” or something, just on principle.) Fred was a very bright guy, but he had absolutely no knowledge of the laws of nature. Please don’t ask how poor Fred managed to grow up this way: it’s a sad sort of story, and not terribly relevant to my moral.

Where was I? Oh, yes … one day, Fred was walking through the woods, incredibly hungry as cavemen often were, and he picked up a rock. He looked at it, maybe took an experimental bite or two, and decided that it was not particularly edible. Anyway, he’d had rocks for breakfast that morning. So, he let the rock go, content to move along his way. Bam! Down came the rock, right on his foot. This is the critical part of the story, so pay close attention: he let go of the rock, and it fell on his foot.

Has the science part started yet? No: actually, all Fred has right now is a hurt foot. This is because all Fred has so far is one incident, which by definition is not related to anything else. In science, it’s pretty fair to say that if you only know one thing, you don’t know anything. (In math, that statement would probably raise a few eyebrows. But this is science, not math. You there in the back, sit down.)

Fred kept walking. Still hungry. He picked up another rock, let it go. Bam! It missed his foot this time, but other than that, it went pretty much the same way the first rock did: straight down. His mind racing, Fred began to suspect a pattern. If he were scientifically minded, he might have expressed it something like this:

Theory 1: When I let go of a rock, it falls down.

Being a bright guy (remember?), Fred realized he had to test his theory. So he picked up another rock, and said aloud in cavemanese: “When I let go of this next rock, it will fall down.” He gave it a try, and sure enough! This is the point where Fred really started feeling good about himself. Because the ability to make a prediction, and have it come true, is the key indicator that you are really on to something.

So, Fred kept going, dropping rocks in his wake with childish glee. But he was still hungry. He picked up a pine cone, gave it a cautious sniff, and decided to let it go. Imagine his surprise when the pine cone clattered to his feet, in almost exactly the same way that the rock had! Now, you might think that Fred would conclude “When I let go of a pine cone, it falls down.” But Fred was smarter than that. He started picking up leaves, sticks, helpless cats, whatever he could get his hands on. Fred was on to a much more general theory! As before, he began to make predictions based on his new theory; and when his predictions came true, he decided confidently that:

Theory 2: When I let go of anything, it falls down.

Note that Fred did not have two theories at this point, he only had one: because theory 1, although still true, was no longer necessary! Theory 1 was now a special case of theory 2. Nothing made a cave scientist happier than finding one theory that explained a lot of different results. This is because cave scientists had to carve their theories on stone tablets, and quite frankly, the fewer the better.

Fred was excitedly testing his theory on one of his own teeth when he happened to see a red balloon tied to a tree. Fred untied the balloon and let it go, fully ready for yet another vindication of his wonderful theory. The balloon drifted away. Up. It fell up!

Now, at this point, Fred was faced with his first serious scientific crisis. His predictions had been right hundreds of times: but now, one had gone wrong. So like any good scientist, Fred decided that it was a fluke, it hadn’t really happened, and his original theory was right all along. Unfortunately, the next balloon went up too. And the next. The darn things were getting harder and harder to ignore, not to mention he couldn’t figure out where all these balloons had come from and who had tied them to the trees.

Fred had two choices. He could tweak his theory, or he could throw it out and start over. Now, one thing a cave scientist always hated to do was throw out a theory and start over (remember the stone tablets?), so Fred started diligently keeping track of what things fell down, and what things fell up. Skipping ahead by a very long time, we find one of Fred’s descendants carving the following:

Theory 3: Things that are lighter than air, fall up. Things that are heavier than air, fall down.

Note that we still have only one theory that explains everything! Both 1 and 2 are now special cases of this latest-and-greatest.

I could go on with this story. But this is a fable, not a lecture. So I think it’s time for a few morals.

Moral 1: Everyone likes to have theories that are right. Scientists spend a lot of time making predictions, and hoping they will come true. But they actually don’t learn much when they do! The real learning happens when the predictions don’t come true. In many cases, the scientists themselves refuse to believe the key results that lead to the new theories. (Scientists are people too. They like to be right as much as anybody.)

Moral 2: Wrong theories are still useful. Every one of Fred’s theories was eventually proven wrong, or at the very least, to be a specific case of a more general principle. Einstein is probably wrong too. But each theory is a building block to the next, bigger theory: and each one is also useful, as long as you work within the domain in which it is true. Almost everything we build today is based on 19th century Physics, which has been known to be very fundamentally wrong for almost a hundred years. But it’s still useful for making cars and bridges and rockets and anything else that isn’t too fast or too big or too small.

Moral 3: Sometimes you get so caught up in the excitement of science, you forget to eat. Which about wraps it up for Fred, I’m afraid.


  1. When can theories no longer be necessary?
  2. What do you need to do when you find evidence that contradicts (says the opposite of) your theory?
  3. Predict Fred’s next theory. Explain your response!
  1. On a (large) sheet of paper, make a Venn diagram that fills the entire paper.
  2. Get at least nine different items from the teacher.
  3. Using your powers of observation, create two categories from the items. Make the categories so that at least one of the items could fit into both categories. Label the two categories on the Venn diagram.
  4. Place the items in the first category, second category, or in the middle if they share characteristics of both categories.
  5. Choose one item from each area (first category, both, second category). For each, describe in one short sentence why you placed it there.
  6. For each item, come up with a reason why someone might classify it differently than you did.
Question Quilt
  1. Add a question about science to the quilt.
  2. Using books or the internet, find an answer to someone else’s question.
  3. Get the answer approved by the teacher.
  4. Add the answer to the quilt and sign your name to the answer. Draw a picture or diagram illustrating the answer to the question.
Rope Trick
  1. In general when doing something, is it easier to start at the end and work towards the beginning or start at the beginning and work towards the end?
  2. Practice tying a knot with a string. Practice several times and repeat it with your eyes closed so that you can “feel” the process.
  3. Write a procedure and diagrams to describe how to tie the knot using the following format:
    1. Words to Describe
    2. Diagrams to Demonstrate
  4. Find a partner. Decide who is A and who is B.
  5. Person A turns their procedures towards person B. Without person A saying or doing anything, person B has 1 minute to follow the procedures.
  6. Person B now gives two suggestions to person A as to how to improve the procedures.
  7. Person A and B now switch roles. Do #5 and #6.
SI Activity
  1. Get in a group of three or four. Choose who will be person #1, #2 and #3. If you have a group of four, two people can be person #2.
  2. DO NOT READ DIRECTIONS FOR ANYONE ELSE! Read the directions ONLY for your role.
  3. Make a hypothesis about what is going to happen. Write it down!
  4. Start the discussion.
  5. Write down the results. Was your hypothesis correct? Why or why not?
  6. How far back did the person move and why?
  7. Was person #3 aware that they were moving away from person #1?
  8. What does this activity tell you about how you should talk about sensitive subjects?
  9. What does this tell you about how you can avoid getting into physical fights?

Person #1

Your goal is to carry on a conversation with person #3 about a controversial issue (something that people tend to not agree on). It could be about music, sports, politics or something happening at school. Very slowly, so that you will not be noticed, begin to “move in” on person #3 during the discussion. Move closer only when it appears natural. Try to see how close you can get to person #3 before he or she realizes what you are doing. Your ultimate goal is to get your conversation partner to move their chair back.

Person #2

You are the observer. You should position yourself so that you can read nonverbal signals (body language), but far enough away so you are not part of the conversation. You should be careful to observe the signals of distance and eye contact used by person #1 and their effect on person #3 as well as the ways that they avoided conflict.

Person #3

You are going to be involved in a conversation with person #1. The goal of the conversation is to select a controversial issue (something that people tend to not agree on) about music, sports, politics or something happening at school and discuss it. Try to choose a topic about which person #1 has strong opinions. Slowly make it clear that your position is opposed to theirs. While you are disagreeing, observe his or her eye contact and facial expressions. Pay close attention to signs of frustration or defensiveness.

Bean Plants

In this activity, you will be planting nine beans and tracking their growth for about three weeks. You need to keep all your procedures the same throughout the experiment, so it’s important that you write down all of the materials and procedures at the beginning. On a separate sheet of paper, you will make the following sections for this experiment:

  1. Question
      What is the question that you would like to answer with this experiment? For example, do you want to find out which plant grows the highest? Do you want to find out if you can give the plants hot water? Do you want to see what the effect of MiracleGro is on half of your plants? Be specific with the question that you want to answer and write it in the “Question” part of your paper.
  2. Materials
      Decide how many of which bean that you would like to use. You must choose exactly 9 beans. Write this down as part of your materials. Write down the other materials you will need in order to perform this experiment.
  3. Procedures
      Write down the procedures that you will follow over the next 2 – 3 weeks. You should be using about ¼ cup of water when you water them and you should plant the beans about ¼ – ½ inch below the soil.
  4. Hypothesis
      Make a hypothesis about what you think will happen by the end of the experiment. Be specific with what you think will happen and why! Include numbers, such as exactly how high you think the beans will grow. This hypothesis should answer your question.
  5. Use the charts below to help you keep track of your data. You will start recording the height of your beans once they sprout (germinate).
Bean Type of Bean Height (in cm) per day
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Type of Bean # Planted # Grew % Alive Average Height
Shaw Scientist Application

The following is a private application to be a participating scientist with Mr. Dutton at Shaw High School.

  1. What is your name?Do you have another name you would like to be called in class?
  2. What is your birthday?
  3. Who lives in your house?
  4. Other than you, who is most responsible for your education?How may I contact them when I want to tell them that you are doing a good job?
  5. What are three things that you like about school?
  6. What are three things that you don’t like about school?
  7. What are three ways that teachers help you learn?
  8. What do you do for fun?
  9. What music, movies and TV shows do you like?
  10. What responsibilities do you have outside of school (a job, housework, babysitting, sports team, etc.)?How much time do you spend doing them?
  11. How much experience do you have with computers?
  12. Do you have an e-mail address? If so, what is it?
  13. What is one goal that you have for …… this class?… this year?… your education?
  14. What is something that motivates you to do schoolwork at home?
  15. What is something that prevents you from doing schoolwork at home?
  16. What are at least two questions that you have about the world that you think can be answered in this class?
  17. What are at least two questions that you have about the world that you thinkcannot be answered in this class?
  18. Let’s say that one of your friends gets to be the teacher for the day. You are having a bad day and misbehaving in your friend’s class. What would be an effective way for your friend to deal with you?
  19. Which scientific careers are you interested in? Choose from the following or add your own:Nurse, doctor, physics researcher, electrician, psychiatrist, therapist, sports medicine, civil engineer, criminal scientist, construction engineer, computer specialist/programmer, plant researcher, social worker, auto repair, lab chemist, archaeologist, cancer researcher, farmer
  20. Imagine that you were told that you would be living in a country far away from your family and friends for two years. You will be provided with a job that you like doing, a home, food and enough money to enjoy yourself. What is one thing that you would bring along with you and why?
Where is my Peanut?

The purpose of this activity is designed to increase your skills in observation, recording, fact and opinion.

  1. Get into a group of three or four.
  2. Get the following materials: peanuts in the shell, bowls, rulers, string, balances (if available), paper, pencil
  3. Get one peanut from the bowl. Get to “know” your peanut through observation. Record as many facts about your peanut as possible. Use diagrams, measurements, descriptions of their color and shape. Keep records!
  4. Return your peanut to the bowl and mix the peanuts.
  5. The peanuts will be laid out on the table. Try to locate your own peanut.
  6. Give your notes to any other member in the group and have that student find the peanut.
  7. For each of your observations, mark with an “I” any observation that is in fact an inference!
  8. What are some problems, or errors, you found when doing this activity?
  9. You may eat the peanut now!
Projects: Week One


A & P:

  • http://shawmst.org/thebody/
  • March 21: Do “Organs and Organ Systems”
  • March 23/25: Do “Nervous System Introduction”, “Reaction Time”


  1. Choose from the following plants: Basil, Beans, Bell Peppers, Broccoli, Cabbage, Carrot, Celery, Chili Pepper, Collards, Corn, Lettuce, Marigolds, Mustard, Onion, Oregano, Peas, Potatoes, Pumpkin, Spinach, Squash, Sunflowers, Tomato, Watermelon
  2. You will have about 9 square feet (an area that is 3 feet long and 3 feet wide).  You will need to find out the following information about the plants you want to grow:
  • How much space there should be in between plants
  • How much space there should be in between rows
  • When the plants should be started from seed
  • How long the plants take to grow

I will get you the seeds and the soil.  You will need to determine which and how many of each plant that you want to grow, given the room that you have.  We will start by growing the seeds in the room, then you will help by working the soil outside and doing various chemical tests to see if we need any fertilizer.