Earth Science Research Project

Department of Geosciences
State University of New York Stony Brook


Victoria Kramer

What is scientific research and how do we as educators incorporate age appropriate scientific research into the long term project requirement of the 1993 New York State Modified Earth Science Curriculum? I asked 5 students in high school grades 9, 10 and 11 the following questions:

What is scientific research?

What is the scientific method?

What is a hypothesis?

Their responses to the questions about the scientific method and a hypothesis were standard verbatim textbook responses such as:

"The scientific method is:
1) a way of conducting an experiment in a very orderly fashion;
2) a certain procedure to follow while conducting an experiment; and
3) the proper way in which to conduct an experiment".

They all unanimously agreed that a hypothesis is an educated guess.

What concerned me the most about the students responses was their interpretation of scientific research which focused strictly on conducting lab experiments, doing lots of tests and all agreeing that it is restricted to lots of boring work. So how do we as educators use the long term research component of the Earth Science program as a way of changing students attitudes about research? Our goal should be to encourage outdoor research projects that are fun and exciting, so that students realize that research is more than just test tubes and Bunsen burners.

While the opinions of the students surveyed are representative for students in this age group, we as educators must help them understand that Ph.D. chemists, biologists or researchers are not the only persons eligible to do true scientific research. We must help the students to understand that scientific research is nothing more than being patient and making OBSERVATIONS. It must be emphasized that keeping detailed notes throughout the course of a research project, whether it be counting bacterial colonies on an agar plate or measuring tidal changes, is crucial to the success and understanding of a project. If proper note taking is maintained, mistakes within the research project will be identified quickly and only add to your understanding and knowledge of the topic being researched. The art of science is being patient and cautiously observing changes in the data being collected.

We must teach the students that the SCIENTIFIC METHOD does not have to be the same for all research, as long as it includes some type of systematic approach to collecting data. This consistency helps researchers identify anomalies within a specific data set, and understand why the anomalies are occurring. The consistent approach inherent in scientific research is there for a reason, which is to find answers to an underlying question(s) (HYPOTHESIS). Once the results of a research project consistently lead to the same conclusion, after repeated attempts, the hypothesis then becomes a working theory.

The long term project component of the 1993 New York State Earth Science Curriculum provides students with an opportunity to do scientific research and think in a systematic fashion. The objective of the long term project is to have the students do their own research, collect their own data, record information, make observations and draw conclusions from the data they’ve collected. It is not intended to have the students wear a white lab coat and work countless hours in a laboratory. Emphasis should be placed on data collection, observations and drawing conclusions based on the information collected. As Earth Science teachers, we should take advantage of our natural surroundings and show students how scientific research can be done outside of the laboratory, in the field and with instruments other than test tubes and Bunsen burners. Having the students conduct research in their natural surroundings may also help students develop a true appreciation for our environment.

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