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Scientific Inquiry:. Science is a process of thinking critically, using observations, inferring, comparing, contrasting and looking for cause and effect. There are several skills you must learn when you are setting out to study something in a scientific way.

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scientific inquiry
Scientific Inquiry:

Science is a process of thinking critically, using observations, inferring, comparing, contrasting and looking for cause and effect.

There are several skills you must learn when you are setting out to study something in a scientific way.

skills you will learn during this unit
Skills you will learn during this Unit
  • Observing
  • Analyzing Observations
  • Inferring
  • Types of Variables
  • Predicting
  • Investigating
  • Hypothesizing
  • Organizing Data
  • Interpreting (Analyzing) Data
  • Experiments compared to Surveys
  • Making a Conclusion
  • Communicating your findings

Using your senses to pay close attention. You can observe in two ways.


Looking for the “qualities” of an object or results. Usually made with your senses. “Anecdotal evidence” Not Exact

Quantitative (Measuring):

Finding the amount or specific size of something.

Exact measurements

OBSERVATIONS use your SENSES, you should NOT interpret them. We will get to interpret them later!

ways of analyzing observations
Ways of analyzing observations:

Compare and contrast – look for similarities/differences

Cause and effect – observing an event, inferring a cause


Explanation for observations; must be logical and make sense based on observations. Inferences are made without performing experiments or tests. “A hunch”

. Remember, in an inference you are using your experiences to interpret your observations (your brain is involved here!)

observations and inferences activities
Observations and Inferences Activities
  • Test how well you make observations without the use of sight.
      • Mystery Bags.
  • In the coming days, we will complete a few observations and inferences worksheets
identifying and manipulating variables and constants
Identifying and manipulating variables and constants:

In any experiment, there are many variables.

Independent Variable: are chosen by the experimenter. Sometimes these are called Manipulated variables. THIS IS WHAT YOU CHANGE IN AN EXPERIMENT!!!


Dependent Variables: are the results of the experiment. Sometimes called the responding variable. THIS IS WHAT YOU ARE TRYING TO FIND OUT!!!


Constants: This is what you will keep the same. You need constants so that you can make a fair comparison. These are sometimes considered the controlled variables.

spongebob science
Spongebob Science
  • Learn independent and dependent variables and lots of ways to do science poorly from SpongeBob.
    • Controls and Variables Part 1
    • Controls and Variables Part 2
independent vs dependent variables on a graph
Independent vs Dependent variables on a graph

Look at the graph on the right

  • Which is the independent variable?
  • Which is the dependent variable?

Graphs and graphing advice from

what s wrong with this graph
What’s wrong with this graph?

Find three things wrong with this graph…

quiz review
Quiz review…

In a nutshell:

Science is a process of thinking critically, where we observe, infer, compare, contrast and look for cause and effect relationships between events or objects.

  • What does it mean to observe?
  • What are two ways to observe something in science?
quiz review1
Quiz review…
  • What is the difference between qualitative and quantitative observations?
  • After you observe, it is natural for your brain to make an _______________.
  • What is the definition for inference?
quiz review2
Quiz review…
  • What are two other ways to analyze your observations of objects or events?
quiz review3
Quiz review…
  • What is the dependent variable in an experiment?
  • What words help you identify the dependent variable?
quiz review4
Quiz Review…
  • What is the independent variable?
  • What words help you identify the independent variable?
quiz review5
Quiz Review…
  • What is a constant?
  • What words help you find the constant in an experiment?
good luck on the quiz tomorrow
Good luck on the quiz tomorrow!
  • Know your definitions – you will have to match the word to it’s definition.
  • You’ll have to show that you write three observations and make an inference about a cartoon.
  • Finally, you will be presented with an experiment, and you’ll have to identify the variables, and analyze it.

Forecasting of future events based on past observations and available data

penny predictions
Penny Predictions
  • Classify the variables…
    • Remember DRY stands for Dependent also known as Responding, Y axis
    • Remember MIX stands for Manipulated also known as Independent, X axis

Before you start in your groups…

  • Make a prediction about how many drops of water you can get onto a PENNY.
  • AFTER you test your penny prediction, make a prediction for a NICKLE. Test it.
  • Continue with the dime and quarter.
    • See if your predictions improve as you collect your data.
  • Investigating is finding out the cause of a situation or event.
    • Major events, such as weather changes, or ecological systems are normally to big to study, so we break it down into variables.
  • Usually when we investigate we start with a research question or a hypothesis.

Making a prediction about how one variable (the independent variable) will affect another variable (the dependent variable).

Example: The density of a bouncy ball does not affect the height of it’s first bounce.

galileo s experiment
Galileo’s Experiment
  • This activity will test your ability to write an accurate hypothesis, determine the dependent, independent and controlled variables.
  • You will collect and organize your data as a group and individually make a graph of your data.
  • Once you have graphed your data you will interpret it and write a short lab report that includes your conclusion.

Each part of the experiment will be graded.

organizing data
Organizing Data
  • Data is information, usually numbers
    • These numbers represent exact measurements-QUANTITATIVE observations.
      • How long is it? How much does it weigh? How fast is it going?
  • Data tables and graphs help you organize this data.
  • When you collect data in a data table, put the Independent (manipulated) variable in the left column, and the Dependent (responding) variable in the right columns
interpreting analyzing data
Interpreting (Analyzing) Data
  • This is the main reason we collect and graph data (remember data are quantitative observations).
  • A graph is valuable tool for interpreting what you have observed, and helps you make sense of what happened during an event.
  • Graphs are also important as visual evidence for decisions that you make.
  • Experiments
    • Answer how one variable affects another.
      • The affect of the independent variable on the dependent variable.
    • Based on a research question that is made into a hypothesis and then tested.
  • Answers questions about variables that cannot be manipulated in a lab.
  • This information is observed directly.
  • Surveys are not necessarily “questionnaires”
    • Surveys may be a count of how many organisms are in a one meter square area of a streambed or soil.
making a conclusion
Making a Conclusion
  • A conclusion is a factual summary of data and may or may not include the experimenters interpretation of the data.
    • All inferences should be stated as an inference based on data.
  • ALL conclusions must be “backed up” by quantifiable data (observations).
  • Some experiments will be “inconclusive” and may require more experimentation.
communicating your findings
Communicating your Findings
  • Poster
    • Same information as an article, however, condensed into an abstract and results.
    • Usually presented at a meeting of scientists with common interests.
    • How a poster presentation may look
  • Article submitted to a scientific journal
    • Some samples
      • Science, Nature, JAMA
    • Specific format
    • Format may vary by journal

I sure wish I’d presented my theory with a poster before I wrote my book.

Title that hints at the underlying issue or question

Format in“sentence case.” This means only the “t” in “title” gets capitalized.

Maintain a good amount of space between your columns. Although you could squeeze them right up against each other, the poster’s aesthetics would suffer. So when your mentor says to do it, just nod your head as if you’re listening, but roll your eyes as soon as she’s not looking.

Your name(s) hereDepartment of Biology, Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania 19081

Make sure the edges of your columns are aligned with adjacent columns. Don’t trust your eyes: select the columns, then “Align” with the proper tool

This is a header. If you make the font size large, and then add bolding…there is no need to also apply underlining or italicization. Adding multiple kinds of styles, needlessly, just marks you as a poster novice.

  • Results
  • The overall layout for this section should be modified from this template to best show off your graphs and other result-related illustrations. You might want a single, large column to accommodate a big map, or perhaps you could arrange 6 figures in a circle in the center of the poster: do whatever it takes to make your results graphically clear. And, for the love of God (or whoever), make your graphs big enough to read from 6’ away.
  • Paragraph format is fine, but sometimes a simple list of “bullet” points can communicate results more effectively:
    • data were so non-normal, they were bizarre
    • 9 out of 12 brainectomized rats survived
    • 1 brainectomized rat escaped, killing 12 undergraduates
    • Control rats completed maze faster, on average, than rats without brains (Fig. 3b) (t = 9.84, df = 21, p = 0.032)


You can, of course, start your conclusions in column #3 if your results section is “data light.”

Conclusions should not be mere reminders of your results. Instead, you want to guide the reader through what you have concluded from the results. What is the broader significance? Would anyone be mildly surprised? Why should anyone care? This section should refer back, explicitly, to the “burning issue” mentioned in the introduction. If you didn’t mention a burning issue in the introduction, go back and fix that -- your poster should have made a good case for why this experiment was worthwhile. A good conclusion will always refer to the literature on the topic -- how does your research add to what is already published on the topic?

Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah.

Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah.


This is a Microsoft Powerpoint template that has column widths and font sizes optimized for printing a 36 x 56” poster—just replace the “tips” and “blah, blah, blah” repeat motifs with actual content, if you have it. Try to keep your total word count under 500 (yea, this suggestion applies to everyone, even you). More tips (18 pages!) can be found at “Advice on designing scientific posters” at my web site ( To see examples of how others have abused this template to fit their presentation needs, perform a Google search for “powerpoint template for scientific posters.”

This paragraph has “justified” margins, but be aware that simple left-justification (other paragraphs) is infinitely better if your font doesn’t “space” nicely when fully justified. Sometimes spacing difficulties can be fixed by manually inserting hyphens into longer words. Powerpoint doesn’t automatically hyphenate, by the way.

Your main text is easier to read if you use a “serif” font such as Palatino or Times (i.e., people have done experiments and found this to be the case). Use a non-serif font for your title and section headings.

If you can orient your label horizontally, do it – viewers with fused neck musculature are more likely to read it.

Rats with brains navigated mazes faster


Time (s)

The first sentence of the first paragraph does not need to be indented.

Control (brain intact)

Maze difficulty index

Figure 4. Avoid keys that force readers to labor through complicated graphs: just label all the lines (as above) and then delete the silly key provided by your charting software altogether. The above figure would also be greatly improved if I had the ability to draw mini rats with and without brains. I would then put these really cute little illustrations next to the lines they represent.

Be sure to separate figures from other figures by generous use of white space. When figures are too cramped, viewers get confused about which figures to read first and which legend goes with which figure.

Figures are preferred but tables are sometimes unavoidable. A table looks best when it is first composed within Microsoft Word, then “Inserted” as an “Object.” If you can add small drawings or icons to your tables, do so!




Figure 1. Photograph or drawing of organism, chemical structure, or whatever. Don’t use graphics from the web (they usually look terrible when printed).

Remember: no period after journal name. Ever (unless you use abbreviation).

Literature cited

Bender, D.J., E.M Bayne, and R.M. Brigham. 1996. Lunar condition influences coyote (Canis latrans) howling. American Midland Naturalist 136:413-417.

Brooks, L.D. 1988. The evolution of recombination rates. Pages 87-105 in The Evolution of Sex, edited by R.E. Michod and B.R. Levin. Sinauer, Sunderland, MA.

Scott, E.C. 2005. Evolution vs. Creationism: an Introduction. University of California Press, Berkeley.

Society for the Study of Evolution. 2005. Statement on teaching evolution. < >. Accessed 2005 Aug 9.

Figure 3. Make sure legends have enough detail to explain to the viewer what the results are, but don’t go on and on. Note that for posters it is good to put some “Materials and methods” information within the figure legends or onto the figures themselves—it allows the M&m section to be shorter, and gives viewer a sense of the experiment(s) even if they have skipped directly to figures. Don’t be tempted to reduce font size in figure legends, axes labels, etc.—your viewers are probably most interested in reading your figures and legends!

Materials and methods

Be brief, and opt for photographs or drawings whenever possible to illustrate organism, protocol, or experimental design. Viewers don’t actually want to read about the gruesome details, however fascinating you might find them.

Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah.

Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah.

Often you will have some more text-based results between your figures. This text should explicitly guide the reader through the figures.

Blah, blah, blah (Figs. 3a,b). Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah.

Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah (Fig. 3c). Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah (data not shown).

Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah (God, personal communication).


We thank I. Güor for laboratory assistance, Mary Juana for seeds, Herb Isside for greenhouse care, and M.I. Menter for questionable statistical advice. Funding for this project was provided by the Swarthmore College Department of Biology, a Merck summer stipend, and my mom. [Note that people’s titles are omitted.]

Abutting these last sections can save you a little space, and subtly indicates to viewers that the contents are not as important to read.

Put a figure here that explores a statistical result

This is the gene of interest!

For further information

Please contact More information on this and related projects can be obtained at www.swarthmore… (give the URL for general laboratory web site). A link to an online, PDF-version of the poster is nice, too. If you just must include a pretentious logo, hide it down here rather than up near where it would compete with your title.

Figure 5. You can use connector lines and arrows to visually guide viewers through your results. Adding emphasis this way is much, much better than making the point with words in the text section. These lines can help viewers read your poster even when you’re not present.

Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. However, blah, blah, blah.

Figure 2. Illustration of important piece of equipment, or perhaps a flow chart summarizing experimental design. Scanned, hand-drawn illustrations are usually preferable to computer-generated ones. Just bribe (cookies, whatever) an artist to help you out.

Hi. If you’ve found this poster helpful, please consider sending me a postcard from wherever you are presenting your poster. It makes me feel like a have friends. Colin Purrington, Dept of Biology, Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, PA 19081, USA.

so what are you going to investigate
So WHAT are you going to Investigate?
  • ON YOUR OWN develop a research question * You may visit the library to research possible investigations
  • Guidelines
    • You should be able to complete your investigation in 40 minutes or less
    • Special arrangements may be made for longer experiments, but remember your results are expected within 5 days of starting.
    • Materials must be available in the school unless you make special arrangements to bring in particular materials.
poster presentations
Poster Presentations
  • Introduce yourself and your group members
  • Make sure everyone can see your poster as you talk about your investigation
  • Point to important visuals as you talk
  • Ask if anyone has any questions
  • Thank them for their interest
  • Poster presentation photos and poster creation advice from

  • Graphs and graphing advice from
  • SpongeBob science from

  • Thanks to Melanie Walters, although this has changed a lot, I used her lesson plans to develop this power point.
  • Thanks to Jack Wilson for the Galileo’s experiment idea.
  • Thanks to Amy Hope for putting up with my bugging her all year!