Intro to the Scientific Method

Intro to the Scientific Method, Lower Division Biology Course

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Intro to the Scientific Method


This exercise is designed for an introductory Biology course. The activity is completed in class to help students practice applying the scientific method. 


Scientific method, Hypotheses, Predictions, Observations

Learning objectives:

After completing this assignment, students will be able to:

  • Identify and create scientific observations, hypotheses, and predictions
  • Apply the steps of the scientific method to real-world problems
  • Explain the order of steps in the scientific method


  • The activity takes ~10 min of student work time, and 5 minutes of discussion 
  • This exercise is intended to be ungraded and performed in class, although it could be used as part of a homework exercise

Materials Needed:

  • Print or provide electronic copies of the exercise (1 per student or group)
  • Student file download

Download: Scientific_method_worksheet.docx


This exercise is designed to be performed immediately after the scientific method has been introduced. It gives students practice at applying the scientific method to a real-world problem. Students may need guidance and reminders to work with their peers if this exercise is given on the first day of class

If students need some assistance getting the discussion going, use the questions below: 

When's the last time you had to trouble-shoot something? Bluetooth won't connect? Computer freezes? What steps did you follow to try to fix the problem?

Remind them that the steps you take to troubleshoot problems in normal life are essentially the steps of the scientific method.

Main Activity

Give students ~10 minutes to complete the worksheet (Student questions and a key for the exercise are included in this guide)

Intro to the Scientific Method

Science is concerned with developing an increasingly accurate understanding of the world around us using observation and reasoning. There is no single way of doing science, but scientific investigations often involve the testing of alternative explanations through carefully designed experiments. Biology—like all science—is an ongoing process, with new ideas appearing and refining our understanding of the natural world.

1.     Match the scientific method steps with the process of solving an everyday problem (lettered items). 

___b_   Observation                                        a. There is something wrong with the electrical outlet.

__e__   Question                                              b. My toaster doesn’t toast my bread.

__a__   Hypothesis                                          c. I plug my coffee maker into the outlet.

_ f_       Prediction                                            d. My coffeemaker works.

__c__   Experiment                                           e. Why doesn’t my toaster work?

__d__   Result                                                   f. If something is wrong with the outlet, my coffeemaker also won’t work when plugged into it.

2.     Based on the results of the experiment, is your hypothesis supported? If it is rejected, propose two alternative hypotheses.

NO, the hypothesis is rejected since the coffeemaker worked.

Some alternative hypotheses: “My toaster is broken” “My toaster isn’t turned on correctly”

3. A hypothesis is a general principle or explanation that is derived from observations. A hypothesis is a tentative explanation – an idea that may or may not be true.

 Suppose you make the following observations:

    a. You look at 10 human liver cells and observe that each one has a nucleus.
    b. You look at 10 onion cells and observe that each one has a nucleus.
    c. You look at 10 nerve cells from a mouse and observe that each one has a nucleus.

 Label each of the following as an: OBSERVATION, VALID HYPOTHESIS, INVALID HYPOTHESIS, or a PREDICTION. Make a note on WHY you decided on that choice.

 1.     All cells have a nucleus.  

Based upon these observations, this is a valid hypothesis.  (Note, this hypothesis would be rejected if you looked at bacteria, which don’t have nuclei. But based on these observations, this hypothesis is currently valid)

2.     All onion cells have a nucleus.  

 Valid hypothesis. You have good evidence of this from your observations.

3. The onion cells I looked at have a nucleus.  

This is an observation.

4. Only onion cells have a nucleus.  

Invalid hypothesis. You already saw nuclei in onion, nerve, and liver cells.

5. If I look at 10 skin cells from my hand, each one will have a nucleus.  

 This is a prediction, not a hypothesis. The hypothesis behind this prediction could be something like “All skin cells have a nucleus”.


Formative assessment:

  • Use one of the questions from the worksheet as a clicker question.
  • Come up with a new example to test understanding of distinguishing observations, predictions and hypotheses, such as: "If you put a mouse and a rat into a maze, the rat will complete the maze faster." Answer: this is a prediction
  • Ask students to come up with a hypothesis from which a prediction could be derived such as,"Rats are better at escaping a maze than mice"

Conclusion and moving forward

This exercise is designed to help see the applicability of the scientific method to real life and gain confidence in applying it to research questions.


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