Chemistry Sets: Teaching the Scientific Method

By Carlyn Main
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The main function of a chemistry set is to teach about scientific principles by letting you observe them first-hand. One of the first things you learn in science classes is that scientific observation is systematic and ordered. This is why science projects must follow specific procedures, also called the scientific method. Chemistry sets provide young scientists with ideas and materials for a range of experiments, but always following the scientific method.

The scientific method is universally used in all different branches of science and it always includes certain steps, which can be applied to any experiment:

  1. Question/Problem: The first step to any scientific inquiry is to ask a question about something. This is what you want to find out by doing your experiment. For example, you might start with a question like “In what temperature does a lima bean plant grow the fastest?”
  2. Background Research: Before beginning the experiment, you must research all the scientific principles involved. During this step, you are gathering the existing knowledge related to the experiment you intend to conduct. Using the above example of a lima bean plant experiment, you might research the plant’s typical growing conditions, water needs and other characteristics.
  3. Hypothesis: A hypothesis is simply an educated guess about what you think will happen in your experiment, based on the research you’ve conducted. In the plant example, you might guess that lima beans will grow the fastest at temperatures of 85 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
  4. Experiment: Next, you conduct the actual experiment. In a science project context, you will need to outline and explain your procedures in detail and follow them exactly. Your experiment must also be designed to isolate the single variable you want to measure. In the lima bean example, you would set up a series of plants to have identical conditions except for the temperature. If you varied other things besides the temperature, you wouldn’t be able to tell which variable caused the change in results. In real scientific tests, the experiment is usually conducted several times and the results must be repeatable to be considered valid or proven.
  5. Analysis: After conducting your experiment, you must look at the data you’ve collected and make a conclusion. The conclusion refers back to your original question. For example, you might conclude that lima bean plants grow the fastest in temperatures from 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Your results do not always prove your hypothesis correct. One of the most exciting things about science is that your guess is not always right and sometimes you will get unexpected results. When that happens, you must use what you’ve learned to try to explain why you got the results you did instead of the results you predicted.

Most chemistry set experiments don’t involve this type of detailed procedure because much of the initial work is already done for you. The experiment manual will include the question, background information and hypothesis, and all that’s left for you to do is conduct the experiment and observe the results. Still, chemistry sets are a great way to introduce young scientists to the process of systematic observation and the idea that conducting a true scientific experiment means being analytical, organized and thorough.

Our chemistry set review highlights a range of sets for young scientists at many different levels.

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