In science, math, and engineering research, all discoveries are made as a result of the investigation of a topic of interest to the researcher.
When researchers come across a "wow, look at that", and quite often it is an unexpected discovery, they then must clarify and carefully state (referred to as the Problem Statement) what it is they believe they have discovered.
Following this they must carefully formulate a study with rigorous protocol and state their hypothesis so that statistical analysis of their data will prove or disprove their discovery within certain statistical limits.
Good science is establishing and following a protocol, collecting data, and analyzing the data. This will usually lead to rejecting or accepting a hypothesis or predicting the outcome of the Problem Statement. To reject a hypothesis is just as good a science experiment as one that proves the hypothesis correct.
The key is accurate data collection, analysis and interpretation. In an engineering project, it is not enough to settle on just one solution to a problem for often a number of constraints inflicted by society must be met. Thus the solution must be optimized to meet these constraints.
Problem Statement versus Hypothesis
A Problem Statement is the student's statement as to why this particular study or research project is
being undertaken, such as Which Battery Lasts the Longest? or What Affect Does Rock and Roll Music Have On My Heart Rate? or What Shapes on Airplane Wings Are Best?
A hypothesis is a predicted outcome of an experiment and is a statement that can be subjected to rigorous statistical analysis. In the examples above, the hypotheses might be "I think Rock and Roll Music will increase my heart rate". You should include an explanation for why you think Rock and Roll Music will …. .
The AAAS publication, BENCHMARKS for Science Literacy, states that - to be taken seriously - a hypothesis should indicate what evidence would be needed to decide whether or not it is true. At this time the SARSEF judges will not expect such explanations from K-8 levels of scientific investigations. At these levels, either a clearly and carefully stated Problem Statement or hypothesis is acceptable.
The question about airplane wings is an engineering problem and does not really fit well into the hypothesis testing. In engineering you try different designs and compare their effectiveness towards an objective, like longer flight time. Whereas in science the objective is discovery and analysis, in engineering the objective is design. Engineering design is built on scientific principles.
The steps in scientific investigations outlined in classic texts usually state that there are six stages to a scientific investigation.
- Problem statement,
- Review published material
- Evaluate options and make a hypothesis,
- Challenge or test the hypothesis through data collection,
- Arrive at a conclusion, and
This is a good guideline, but not always followed in the real world of scientific research.
For most scientists, the stages may be
- Problem statement
- Review of published material
- Establish data collection and analysis procedures
- Analyze data to see if it provides either answers to the problem statement or reveals new information not expected, and then either
- Arrive at conclusions that can be supported by statistical analysis of the data collected
- Publish the results
or, if there has been a new discovery in steps 1-5 redo the experiment with a new protocol, make a hypothesis statement related to the discovery, collect the data, and
6. Subject the new hypothesis to
rigorous statistical analysis to
arrive at conclusions, and
7. Publish the results.
Only after other scientists have duplicated this experiment and found agreement and others have been able to duplicate the results does the "discovery" become accepted in the scientific community.
The steps in an engineering research project include: 1) define the need or problem, 2) develop design criteria, 3) review published material, 4) prepare preliminary designs, 5) build and test a prototype, 6) re-test and redesign as necessary, and 7) publish the results. What does publish mean to SARSEF participants? Your poster/exhibit for SARSEF is the publication of your results.The above concepts may be a bit difficult and too prescriptive, even for K-8 grade students. However, the essence of following a similar but less rigid approach, such as described below in Science as Inquiry, and presenting some documentation of this process in your notebook, may enhance your display and influence the judges.
What does publish mean to SARSEF participants? Your poster/exhibit for SARSEF is the publication of your results. The above concepts may be adapted for K-8 grade students, as the essence of following a similar but less rigid approach, such as described below in Science as Inquiry, and presenting some documentation of this process in your Lab Book, may enhance the display and influence the judges.
Scientific (or Engineering, or Technological) Inquiry according to National Standards
Scientific inquiry refers to the many diverse ways in which scientists study the natural world and propose explanations based on the evidence gathered from their work. Full inquiry involves asking a question (one that can be investigated), completing an investigation, answering the question and presenting the results to others. Students should do science in ways that are within their developmental capabilities. These conceptual and procedural abilities suggest a logical progression but are not necessarily sequential and do not imply a rigid approach to doing science.
The National SCIENCE EDUCATION Standards' chapter on Content Standard A: Science as Inquiry uses three clusters of grade levels to describe abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry:
- Ask a question about objects, organisms, and events in the classroom.
- Plan and conduct a simple investigation.
- Employ simple equipment and tools to gather data and extend the senses.
- Use data to construct a reasonable explanation.
- Communicate investigations and explanations.
- Ask questions that can be answered through scientific investigation.
- Design and conduct a scientific investigation.
- Use appropriate tools and techniques to gather, analyze, and interpret data.
- Use mathematics in all aspects of scientific inquiry.
- Develop descriptions, explanations, predictions, and models using evidence.
- Recognize and analyze alternative explanations and predictions.
- Communicate scientific procedures and explanations.
- Think critically and logically to develop the relationship between evidence and explanation.
- Identify questions and concepts that guide scientific investigations.
- Design and conduct scientific investigations.
- Use technology and mathematics to improve investigations and communications.
- Formulate and revise scientific explanations and models using logic and evidence.
- Recognize and analyze alternative explanations and models.
- Communicate and defend a scientific argument.