Exploring how we “do” science – Part 1

Whether we know it or not, each one of us thinks like a scientist. The scientific process may sound complex, but it is actually simple and starts by simply asking a question.

The words “scientific process” or “scientific method” usually conjure up memories of boring classroom lectures about what smart people do on their weekends. And if the words “scientific process” excited you enough to read this article, they you maybe one of those brainy men or women. But the fact is that while “scientific process” sounds solely academic, the truth is that each one of us uses it every single day – we just don’t realize it. So here is a fun and simple way to break down the scientific process that hopefully all of us can understand – and it may even result in a better association with the phrase.

Today’s article focuses on the first step of the scientific process: simply asking a question.

Some people ask more questions than others, but we each ask questions every day. “Why didn’t that light turn on? Why is there a stain on my shirt? Why did my child just do that?” Think about how many questions you ask each day. This is the foundation and beginning of the scientific process. If we don’t have a question, then there is no need to explore or investigate anything.

Those who work with young children know that they are full of questions and ask them often. As youth grow, they may not vocalize these questions quite as often. As we work with young people, it is important to encourage this sense of curiosity and wonder, helping them feel comfortable to ask those questions of “How?” and “Why?”

You can start by focusing on an area that your child is interested in, something that they want to know the answer to, or something that affects them. Let them come up with the question themselves, and don’t stop the questions from flowing – the more the better! Eventually you will have to narrow your focus, but keep track of those additional questions so you can come back to them. You may be able to uncover information that will help address those questions as you go through the scientific process for the one question you choose to investigate.

The scientific process doesn’t sound cool to some of us, but it is what we do every day and it is a helpful way to structure inquiry and problem solving. It is also helpful for young people to know that every time they ask a question – “Why didn’t that light turn on when I flipped the switch?” – they are starting a process that scientists use every day. Each of us think like scientists, we just may not have realized it.

For a fun, hands-on activity, check out Michigan State University Extension’s 4-H Youth Developments resource “4-H science Blast! In the Class” and download the free lesson “Science Process: Exploring How We Do Science.”

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