Scientific Thinking

Here's a ruler. Do some science. You have an hour.

Objectives

  • Explain the characteristics that define scientific thinking.

Introduction

For the first lab of the quarter, you'll start off by doing a very small piece of scientific research. The goal is not to make a discovery of lasting importance, but to clarify what makes research scientific. I'm not going to tell you exactly what to do; instead, you'll work with your classmates to figure out how to do something scientific. Later, we'll reconvene with the entire class to see how you did with the science.

The assignment

You'll work in a small group for this one. Your group's challenge is simple: Using only the things you find in the lab room, do some scientific research.

Research subjects

Since this is a biology class, your research project should be biological. The only living organisms you'll have to work with are your fellow students. (On the other hand, you might find a way to use some other biological subject -- but remember, you won't have much time.)

Research tools

You'll have a very small set of scientific instruments you can use:

  • Rulers
  • Meter sticks
  • Scale (could weigh a person)
  • Eye chart
  • A stopwatch, if you have one.

What to do

It's helpful to think of your research project as answering a question. Within your group, start by defining a research question that you think you can answer within an hour using the tools at hand. Define what sort of data (and how much) you'll collect to answer your question, collect the data, analyze your data, and come up with your best answer to your research question. You'll only have about an hour for the whole thing. Ideally, you will be able to make some sort of valid scientific statement at the end.

You'll probably need to gather data from more students than those in your small group. Help each other out by acting as their research subjects while they act as yours.

My advice is to keep it extremely simple. You probably won't be able to determine whether there is a genetic basis for what makes some people better at singing than others (interesting though that might be); for this activity, focus on finding a question that you can answer rather than finding a question that's profound.

Evaluation of your results

You're not going to be graded on your micro-research project. Instead, we'll compare and contrast the research projects of all the groups in terms of what we can learn about the scientific process. At the end of the short research period, I will ask you to present your group's results to the class very briefly. You should address these points:

  • What research question did you address?
  • What data did you get? (Summarize your data.)
  • What is your answer to your research question?
  • Is your answer true?
  • How could this research project be improved?

Stepping back from the individual research projects, we'll see if we can come up with an answer to a larger question: What are the essential characteristics of the scientific process?

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