This lesson plan gives students hands-on experience with the scientific method. The scientific method lesson plan is appropriate for any science course and can be customized to suit a wide range of educational levels.
The steps of the scientific method
generally are to make observations, formulate a hypothesis, design an experiment to test the hypothesis, conduct the experiment and determine whether or not the hypothesis was accepted or rejected. Although students often can state the steps of the scientific method, they may have difficulty actually performing the steps. This exercise provides an opportunity for students to gain hands-on experience with the scientific method. I've chosen goldfish as the experimental subjects because students find them interesting and engaging. Of course, you can use any subject or topic.
The time required for this exercise is up to you. I recommend using a 3-hour lab period, but the project may be conducting in a hour or spread out over several days, depending on how involved you plan to get.
A tank of goldfish. Optimally, you want a bowl of fish for each lab group.
Scientific Method Lesson
You can work with the entire class, if it is small or feel free to ask students to break up into smaller groups.
- Explain the steps of the scientific method.
- Show the students a bowl of goldfish. Make a few observations about the goldfish. Ask the students to name characteristics of the goldfish and to make observations. They might notice the color of the fish, their size, where they swim in the container, how they interact with other fish, etc.
- Ask the students to list which observations involve something which could be measured or qualified. Explain how scientists need to be able to take data to perform an experiment and that some types of data are easier to record and analyze than others. Help students identify types of data that could be recorded as part of an experiment, as opposed to qualitative data that is harder to measure or data that they simply don't have the tools to measure.
- Have the students pose questions that they wonder about, based on the observations they have made. Make a list of the types of data they might record during an investigation of each topic.
- Ask the the students to formulate a hypothesis for each question. Learning how to pose a hypothesis takes practice, so it's likely the students will learn from brainstorming as a lab group or class. Put up all of the suggestions on a board and help students distinguish between a hypothesis that they can test versus one they cannot test. Ask students if they can improve any of the hypotheses that are submitted.
- Select one hypothesis and work with the class to devise a simple experiment to test the hypothesis. Gather data or create fictional data and explain how to test the hypothesis and draw a conclusion based on the results.
- Ask lab groups to choose a hypothesis and design an experiment to test it.
- If time permits, have the students conduct the experiment, record and analyze the data and prepare a lab report.
- Ask students to present their results to the class. Be sure they state the hypothesis and whether or not it was supported and cite the evidence for this determination.
- Have students critique each other's lab reports, with their grade determined by how well they identify the strong and weak points of the reports.
- Ask students to hand in a hypothesis and proposed experiment for a follow-up project, based on the results of the in-class lesson.