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Learning Objectives

The student will be able to:

1. demonstrate the ability to make detailed observations and formulate questions based on those observations.

2. use the scientific method to conduct a scientific investigation which includes the formultation of a hypothesis, an experiment with the collection of data, the interpretation of results attained and the presentation of a conclusion.

3. understand that scientific investigations sometimes result in unexpected findings that lead to new questions and more investigations.

  Laboratory Description
During this two-part lab, students will practice the skills important in the study of science. Students will sharpen their observation skills, learning to note important details and ask questions as they observe. They will practice the steps of the scientific method as they develop experiments on paper, allowing them the freedom to develop creative, complex experiments without limits such as money, equipment or time.

The framework used during this process will give students the tools necessary to ask questions and design future experiments.

Students will learn about the factors involved in the scientific method as they perform experiments in class. Finally, students will work in teams to observe an animal, ask questions, conduct and design an experiment, then report the results.

The Scientific Process
Science is not an already existing set of facts to memorize, but an ongoing process of discovery that everyone can contribute to. The following steps of the scientific method can be used as guidelines during the experimental process.

Practice Makes Perfect

We use the scientific method to answer questions and make choices every day. Will my indoor plant grow larger if I move it to a sunnier window? This simple question is an experiment, without a written plan or results. If you ask a question and make a measurable change, an experiment is in progress. Follow these suggestions to turn ordinary observations and questions into experiments!

Begin with a period of observation. Carefully note details about the behavior and characteristics of the subject. These will help raise questions and provide useful information as you design and carry out your experiment. Do any research necessary to learn more about your subject.

Ask questions as you observe. For example, “Do roly-poly bugs like to be in the light or dark?”

1. Observe everyday objects.
Practice your observation skills. Carefully describe your favorite objects or new encounters in a journal. Be sure to include as many details as possible and include a drawing. Ask questions about the things you see.

2. Make an experimental plan.
Choose one of your favorite questions and plan an experiment using the format you received in class. List the materials you’ll need and the steps necessary in making the experiment work.

3. Try your own experiment!
When possible, carry out the experiment you plan. Form your own conclusion and list any other questions raised during the experiment.
Choose the question that interests you most. Predict what you think the answer to your question will be. I think that the roly-polies will choose light over dark.

The hypothesis must be measurable. Roly-polies are afraid of the dark would not be measurable. In the first statement, we will count the number of roly-polies on the lighted side of the container after a set amount of time.

It is important that there be only one difference between the control and the experimental setup. If more than one variable is changed it is difficult to determine which change caused the response. When testing whether the roly-polies prefer light over dark, it is important that everything else is the same – substrate, dampness, temperature and food sources.

The variable that is purposefully changed is the independent variable. In the case of our roly-polies, the independent variable is light. We will add a light to one end of a container.

The variable that responds in the experiment is called the dependent variable. We will count the number of roly-polies that move to the lighted end.

Think about how your independent variable will affect your dependent variable. Fill in the blanks below when stating your hypothesis:

If the ( independent variable ) is ( describe how you changed it ), then the ( dependent variable ) will ( describe the effect ).

If a light is provided, then a greater number of roly-polies will move to the lighted side (choose light over dark).

Make a detailed list that includes the materials needed to carry out your experiment and a step-by-step procedure in a numbered list similar to a recipe. What will you measure or count? If you have not planned to measure or count something, you must change your design (an experiment must be measurable).

What will you use as a control? A control is a part of the experiment that is used as a standard of comparison. In an experiment, it is used to detect “hidden variables” that are varying when they should not. In the roly-poly experiment, we would set up the control and experimental groups exactly the same, then add a light to the experimental group.

How many trials will you run? Replicates show that the results reflect the truth and are not simply a coincidence. Small changes in environmental conditions can make a difference in your results. Despite your best efforts, your sand may be wetter or drier than the previous trial. Behavior of individuals may vary and impact the results. The more times an experiment is repeated, the higher the confidence that the experiment’s results are reliable. By repeating the trials and averaging the results, chance errors can be balanced out. Decide on the number of replicates before beginning the experiment – if not, it is easy to repeat until the results reflect the original hypothesis!


Carry out your experiment! Give the roly-polies a choice between light and dark. Do this several times.

Further explorations
Do you need some ideas for experiments to try? The following resources are available for use in the Environmental Learning Lab.

Creepy Crawlies and the Scientific Method by Sally Stenhouse, 1993. Fulcrum Publishing. Learn how to use a full spectrum of insects and other crawling creatures to teach the five steps of the scientific method.

Classroom Creature Culture. A collection of articles from NSTA’s journals. Ever wonder how to care for the frogs, insects and other animals brought into your home? This book has instructions for collecting, caring for and investigating simple plants and animals in your home.

Environmental Science High School Science Fair Experiments by Steven Dashefsky, 1994. TAB Books. Everything you need to create your own science project. Covers a wide variety of topics including soil, aquatic ecosystems, energy and deforestation.

Operation Watershed. Can you solve the web of environmental problems that are polluting the watershed surrounding a small community? This mission is designed to enhance critical thinking and decision-making skills.

Science Sleuths. Try out four different mysteries, each with six levels of difficulty. Each mystery is designed to test the research and analytical skills of students.


State the results using detailed notes taken during the experiment, including any measurements recorded. How can you show your results in a graph? State exactly how the roly-polies reacted and which side it chose. If multiple bugs were used, how many chose light? dark?

State whether your prediction was confirmed or not and try to explain your results. Scientists do not say their hypothesis was right or wrong when reporting their conclusions. Each experiment provides evidence that a hypothesis is supported or not supported. Many experiments must be conducted before results are accepted as fact. Were any other questions raised by your experiment?

Don’t worry if your conclusion proves your hypothesis false. Science involves trial and error – trying, failing and trying again. Science does not provide all the answers. Thomas Edison tried thousands of experiments as he attempted to make the incandescent light bulb work. When asked if was discouraged with his results, he replied, “Results! Why, I have gotten a lot of results. I know several thousand things that won’t work.”
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