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Scientific Method Example

As we have seen in the previous lesson, at the core of biology and other sciences lies a problem-solving approach called the scientific method. In general, the scientific method has five basic steps, plus one feedback step:
  1. Make an observation.
  2. Ask a question.
  3. Form a hypothesis, or testable explanation.
  4. Make a prediction based on the hypothesis.
  5. Test the prediction.
  6. Iterate: use the results to make new hypotheses or predictions.
Let’s take a look at an example to explain these steps.

Scientific method example: Failure to toast

Let’s build some intuition for the scientific method by applying its steps to a practical problem from everyday life.

1. Make an observation.

Let’s suppose that you get two slices of bread, put them into the toaster, and press the button. However, your bread does not toast (see image below).

toast-failure-1

Image Attribution: Khan Academy (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

2. Ask a question.

Why didn’t my bread get toasted? (See image below.)

toast-failure-2

Image Attribution: Khan Academy (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

3. Propose a hypothesis.

Recall that a hypothesis is a potential answer to the question, one that can somehow be tested. For example, our hypothesis in this case could be that the toast didn’t toast because the electrical outlet is broken (see image below).

toast-failure-3

Image Attribution: Khan Academy (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

4. Make predictions.

A prediction is an outcome we’d expect to see if the hypothesis is correct. In this case, we might predict that if the electrical outlet is broken, then plugging the toaster into a different outlet should fix the problem (see image below).

toast-failure-4

Image Attribution: Khan Academy (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

5. Test the predictions.

To test the hypothesis, we need to make an observation or perform an experiment associated with the prediction. For instance, in this case, we would plug the toaster into a different outlet and see if it toasts (see image below).

toast-failure-5

Image Attribution: Khan Academy (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

  • If the toaster does toast, then the hypothesis is supported—likely correct.
  • If the toaster doesn’t toast, then the hypothesis is not supported—likely wrong.

6. Iterate.

The last step of the scientific method is to reflect on our results and use them to guide our next steps (see image below).

toast-failure-6

Image Attribution: Khan Academy (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

  • If the hypothesis was supported, we might do additional tests to confirm it, or revise it to be more specific. For instance, we might investigate why the outlet is broken.
  • If the hypothesis was not supported, we would come up with a new hypothesis. For instance, the next hypothesis might be that there’s a broken wire in the toaster.
In most cases, the scientific method is an iterative process. In other words, it’s a cycle rather than a straight line. The result of one go-round becomes feedback that improves the next round of question asking.

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