This article is a companion piece to an earlier article about running curiosity-based research projects. This particular piece focuses on experiment-based research rather than “look it up in a book” research.
Developing Experimental Question
An experiment needs a hypothesis. Before developing their hypothesis, students will need a question to answer. Some will already have a burning question in their minds, but most will benefit from some structure and scaffolding. Consider using the tool SCAMPER (see Thinkertoys by Michael Michalko) to develop their question.
SCAMPER stands for :
- Put to other uses
Each verb alters an existing idea in a specific way. Perfect for creating questions that lead to an experiments.
Let’s assume our student picked “bridges” as a topic and then refined it (using Wikipedia as we saw above) to “truss bridges” or “span bridges.” Ask students to change one piece of a bridge using the verbs from SCAMPER (note that you’re setting up an independent variable). They might come up with:
- Substitute: What are the effects of substituting circles for the trusses?
- Adapt: What other disciplines could a truss be adapted to?
- Maximize: What is the maximum length I could build a span bridge?
- Eliminate: What are the effects of eliminating half of the trusses on a bridge?
If a student picked “plants” as a topic and then refined it to “photosynthesis,” they could use SCAMPER to create a question. Again, they should change one thing about photosynthesis:
- Substitute: What are the effects of substituting artificial light for sunlight?
- Eliminate: How long can a plant survive if we eliminate sunlight?
- Rearrange: What are the effects of exposing only one side of a plant to sunlight?
Developing A Hypothesis
Before jumping to develop a hypothesis, make sure students fully understand what a hypothesis even is.
- Definition: A hypothesis is an educated guess that answers the experimenter’s question.
- Essential Characteristics:
- Can be proven true or false with a test.
- Must have one specific detail that we change (independent variable) and one detail that is measured (dependent variable).
- Shouldn’t be obvious (no duh statements)
- Often takes the form of: If, then…
- Often includes words such as: increase, decrease, faster, slower
- If I remove half the trusses of a bridge, the bridge will only support half the weight.
- If I decrease a plant’s sunlight by half, the plant will stop growing.
- If I substitute artificial life for sunlight, the plant’s growth rate will decrease by half.
- If I take away trusses, the bridge won’t be as strong (not specific, obvious statement).
- More sunlight means the plant will be better (not testable).
Time To Experiment
By this point, we’ve armed students with a testable, scientific question. They’re ready to experiment. Naturally, you’ll need to model and scaffold this experience to make it worthwhile. Remind students that they picked one detail to change (amount of sunlight, number of trusses, etc) and one detail to measure (maximum weight, growth rate, etc). They’ll need to set up three tests to start with, changing the independent variable in three different ways. They’ll measure the dependent variable and (eventually) search for a pattern.
Note: Since this is part of curiosity-based research, these experiments should be fueled by curiosity, not procedures and paperwork. Make sure that “the rules of the scientific method” don’t dominate the experience of organic inquiry. This isn’t to say that the scientific method shouldn’t be explicitly taught, but try waiting until after a successful round of experiments. This way, students can inductively learn this scientific principle, comparing it to their own experience.
To conclude, I would always have students explain their findings to their classmates, but that is all written up in this curiosity research page.
Differentiation information in your inbox.
I'll send you one or two emails a month to help you better understand and differentiate for gifted students.Get free resources now!