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The Nature of Science

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Physics

What is science? In this activity, youth learn about the different ways of studying the world around us. They will use the scientific method to design and test an alka seltzer rocket.

What You Need

Introduction

Rocket Design Challenge

  • Alka Seltzer tablets
  • Clear glass of water
  • Film cannister with lid (one per youth or group)
  • Paper towels
  • Safety glasses (one per youth)
  • A designated testing area (like an open field, gymnasium or empty hallway)
  • The Nature of Science - Worksheet

Presentation:

Safety Notes

Youth launching their rockets will need to wear safety glasses. A designated testing area is needed so that no one gets hit. Make sure you use lots of paper towels to keep the floor dry to avoid slipping.

What To Do

Introduction

  • Ask the group the following questions to get them thinking about science and where it comes from:
    • How do you know things about the world around you, about how things work?
    • Where does the science you learn in school come from?

All of these are really great ways of learning about the world around us! Today we’re going to talk about one way of knowing, called “Science” and what we call the “nature of science”. If you’ve ever observed something you found interesting, there are lots of different ways of learning more about it. One way might be to ask someone who might know more, right? Another way is to design scientific experiments so we can look at something up close to learn more. Whether we look at the big picture, or something very small and specific - it all starts with a question!

  • Where does science start?

Science always starts with a question!

Being curious and wanting to know more is what makes someone a good scientist.

  • Ask the group about a question about their community or the world they have thought about before.

Your question can be trying to solve something or just something you have always been interested about.

Demonstration - The Mystery Cube

  • Place the cube in the middle of the room or carry it around the group. Make sure that they cannot see the bottom side of the cube.
  • Tell them that they cannot touch the cube. Have them say aloud what they observe or what they see (box has 6 sides; 5 visible sides; numbers are black; numbers 1, 3, 4, 5, and 6 visible; sides with even numbers are blue; sides with odd numbers are green).

Looking at something and recording what you see are “observations.”

  • Have them come up with a question.
  • An example question may be: “what colour is the bottom of the cube and what number is on the bottom of a cube?
  • Allow youth to make a prediction about what is on the bottom of the cube based on what they have observed.
  • Finish up by showing them what is on the bottom.

Ask the group if their predictions were right? If so, how did they figure out what was on the bottom of the cube?

By making observations and drawing conclusions (like the even sides are blue, and that one number was missing, etc.) you were able to predict/figure out what the bottom looked like without actually seeing it! And guess what you just did? A science project! A pretty quick one, but you followed a process to figure something out. There are lots of different types of science projects that you can do!

  • Go through the different types of science projects:
    • Research - collect information about a topic and present your findings.
    • Investigation - re-testing an experiment that already has been done.
    • Collection - displays a collection to illustrate your understanding of a topic.
    • Experiment - using the scientific method to make and test a hypothesis.

Demonstration - Investigation (optional)

We are going to do a quick example of an investigation. We already know from past experiments that PTC tastes differently to different people. Here we have some PTC strips and it allows us to test to see if people are supertasters vs. non-tasters. By re-testing everyone in this room, we can learn more about how many people are supertasters and about ourselves!

  • Make a chart on the classroom board to record results.
  • Hand out PTC strips to each youth.
  • Have them place them on their tongues and watch their reactions. If the strip tastes bitter, they are a supertaster!
  • Record the results. Discuss what they learned from the re-test, along with what new questions they may now have. 

What is the Scientific Method?

In Western Science, we use the term “the scientific method” to describe how we make and test something.

You start with a question. And follow with what you already know about that subject to make a hypothesis.

  • Ask the group to define a hypothesis.

A hypothesis is an “educated guess.” It isn’t something just made up. It is based on what we know to start with. 

  • Bring up the "invisible bear hypothesis". Ask the group "is this a good or bad hypothesis?".

This is a bad hypothesis because it isn't based on anything and cannot be tested!

After you hypothesize you find a way to test it.

You make observations during your test. Based on your observations, you determine whether the results support or does not support your hypothesis. 

Sometimes people are nervous about asking questions or being wrong. That’s what great about science – sometimes getting results you didn’t expect is even more exciting than seeing what you thought would happen because you get to learn something new! Surprising results aren’t that rare – experiments not working just how scientists thought they should gave us play-doh, silly putty, bubblegum wrappers and post-it notes!

Exercise: Experiential Design

Note: Ask the educator what the class is currently studying this term. If there is time, modify this example to fit current classroom topics.

  • Ask the group "what do plants need to grow?".

For this experiment, I want to know "how does sunlight affect a plant's growth?". Based on what I already know about plants, my hypothesis is "the more sun a plant gets, the faster in which it can grow". 

  • Ask youth "what are some ideas of how we can test this?".
  • Let youth share ideas (e.g., plant one in the sun, one in the shade, cover one plant with a tarp, one without, etc...).

There are many variables we can change…. Introduce the term ‘variable’. We want to make sure our test is testing what we think it is testing (i.e., sunlight’s effect on the plants).

  • Explain experimental design and the importance of a fair test.

So to test my hypothesis...

I grow one plant under sunlight and put the other in a dark box. But I think that the plant in the sunlight might be drier because the sun can be warm so give it twice as much water.

  • Ask the group "is this a fair test?".
  • Wait for an answer.
  • How do I make it fair?

That's right! To make the test fair, I should give both plants the same amount of water.

The thing you change, either water or sunlight, is called a variable.

  • Ask the group to think of more variables they can change in this experiment.

Activity: Rocket Design Challenge

We are going to use what you learned about the scientific method to try a rocket design challenge.

  • What do you know about rockets?
  • Show the group what happens when you put an alka setlzer tablet in a clear glass of water. Ask them what is happening.
  • Ask "what would happen if we put a lid on the container?".

This is what we will use as the fuel for our rocket. The body of our rockets will be this canister.

  • Have the youth work in groups to come up with a question they want to test and their hypothesis. Have them record it on the worksheet. Examples of questions can include:
    • How do I make a rocket go the furthest?
    • How do I make a rocket go the highest?
    • How do I make a rocket go the fastest?
  • Once the groups have established their question and hypothesis, hand out the materials and allow them to start testing their rocket. They get to fly their rocket 3 times, one as a control (with no modifications) and two trials with modifications. All youth, educators and volunteers need to wear goggles when in the rocket testing area.
  • After they are done testing, have them complete their worksheet.
  • Discuss their findings as a group.

Discovery

In this workshop, youth use the scientific method to design and test a rocket. In groups, they come up with a question they would like to answer, develop a hypothesis and design an experiment to test their hypothesis. For example, if students would like to find out how they can make their rocket go faster, they may add more alka seltzer to their rocket. Or, if they would like their rocket to go higher, they may change the angle that they launch it at. They record their results in a worksheet and determine whether their results supported their hypothesis or not.

This is just one way of exploring science! 

Science, technology, engineering and math are important parts of everyday life. STEM allows us to solve problems, understand historical information, predict our future, better our health and understand the natural world. 

What is Happening?

In this workshop, youth use the scientific method to design and test a rocket. In groups, they come up with a question they would like to answer, develop a hypothesis and design an experiment to test their hypothesis. For example, if students would like to find out how they can make their rocket go faster, they may add more alka seltzer to their rocket. Or, if they would like their rocket to go higher, they may change the angle that they launch it at. They record their results in a worksheet and determine whether their results supported their hypothesis or not.

This is just one way of exploring science! 

Why Does It Matter?

Science, technology, engineering and math are important parts of everyday life. STEM allows us to solve problems, understand historical information, predict our future, better our health and understand the natural world.