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Delving Deep Into Scientific Method & the Engineering Design Process

Jennifer Silver

This week Sparhawk Middle School hosted the annual STEM Fair, an event where students have the opportunity to showcase their knowledge of the Scientific Method or the Engineering Design Process.  Both processes are similar in that the student chooses a topic of which they want to know more about or develop a product that solves a need. Once this is decided upon, students then begin to research their topic, and devise a proposal of how they will answer their Big Question. Through this process, students develop a hypothesis.

What is a hypothesis? For sixth and seventh graders, a hypothesis is as much an unknown as a mathematical variable. This is a big, new word for some middle-schoolers, who are intimidated by using four and five syllable words such as denominator, nanoparticles, and metatarsals. It is an educated guess based on research, which is a skill, they have just begun to learn. However, each year, our young scientists are able to create a prediction that states how they think their experimentation will turn out. Each experiment is crafted to test their individual hypothesis. It is important during the experimentation, not to change a prediction, or to be frustrated if you can see that the experiment is not going as you originally thought. Some of this year’s projects had hypotheses that did not yield results that students originally predicted. There is great value in learning that an incorrect hypothesis does not mean failure. Rather it allows all of us to reevaluate our research, our results, and the knowledge gained, in order to brainstorm new hypotheses and ideate models to test. Students learn that their hard work and efforts were not a waste of time, but another way of examining their data. Experimental science is all about testing hypotheses, and through testing; incorrect hypotheses often serve as a trigger for new discoveries.

This year’s middle school yielded a variety of high quality projects. Two involved the Engineering Design Process in their creations of product designs; a student water bottle strap carrier, and a skateboard park designed using 3D Sketch Up program. Other students followed the Scientific Method when exploring flower stem absorption, magical hot ice, foaming consistency of shampoos, and changing copper into silver. Three students used measuring distance, speed, angles and pressure as part of their experimentation in the football throw, the effect bearings have on a skateboard’s speed, and the altitude of water bottle rockets. Three students used temperature measurement in their exploration of maple candy, effects of mint candies, and ice melting in various water types. And lastly, a young scientist constructed an air tunnel to effectively test airflow over three spoilers that she built for a model car. It is exciting to see our students designing experiments that could test their hypotheses, such an important part in learning about the world around us.