Introduction to the Scientific Method

The scientific method is a procedure that scientists use to answer a question that they have about the natural world. Once a scientist has identified a question that needs answering, they need to design an experiment that will answer the question. Just like a real scientist, you will design an experiment to study something you are interested in.

Step 1 – Ask the right question

The first step involves learning more about a topic of interest to determine what scientists have already discovered. Research your topic using the Prairie Pollination website-in particular the Resources section-the internet, books and/or journals. What work has already been done in this area? What might you need to know more about in order to solve the problem? Make sure to explore all the different angles. Analyze and clearly identify a problem. Can it be broken down into more than one component or sub-problems? What tentative solutions might there be? List ideas and possible solutions you have discovered in your research. Will any of them work as a possible hypothesis?

Step 2 – State your hypothesis

A hypothesis is an educated prediction about how you think the natural world will respond (or has responded) to a particular treatment or condition. A null hypothesis, which is the opposite outcome of the hypothesis, is also needed. The null hypothesis implies that the treatment or condition will have or has no effect. Make your own hypothesis. Be as clear and concise as possible. Here is a sample hypothesis and null hypothesis:
Hypothesis: Placing bee nesting boxes around crop fields will increase the abundance of crop pollinators.
Null hypothesis: Placing bee nesting boxes around a crop field will have no impact on the abundance of crop pollinators.

Step 3 – Design an experiment to test your hypothesis

During this step you need to determine how to test which of your hypotheses reflects reality. Your study may be experimental, where you apply a treatment (e.g. nest boxes), or observational where you select study sites that have natural environmental differences (e.g. sandy soil vs. clayey soil), or that have been managed differently by other people (e.g. comparing pollinators on an organic vs. a conventional farm). Things to consider when designing your experiment include:

· What the control and treatments/conditions are;
· How to control variables that may influence the results, for example, soil type, crop type, soil moisture, location, etc.;
· What you will measure, for example, seed production, insect diversity, insect abundance, insect visitation to flowers, etc.
· How to ensure your experiment is replicable, for example, you should plan for more than one study plot.

If a scientist receives funding for their research, they will carry out the remaining steps in the scientific process including:

-Conducting the study and collecting data;
-Analyzing the data;
-Determining which hypothesis was correct and why; and
-Writing a paper for peer review and publication in a scientific journal.
The Manitoba Museum
Angela Fey, Diana Bizecki Robson

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