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Stages of Experimental Inquiry. Carl J. Wenning, Coordinator Physics Teacher Education Illinois State University. Five Stages of Experimental Inquiry. Observation & Identification Experimentation: Observational Testing Application Generalization Verification Communication.

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Stages of Experimental Inquiry

Carl J. Wenning, Coordinator

Physics Teacher Education

Illinois State University

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Five Stages of Experimental Inquiry

  • Observation & Identification

  • Experimentation:

    • Observational

    • Testing

    • Application

  • Generalization

  • Verification

  • Communication

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1. Observation & Identification

  • Systematic observations lead to different types of questions to be resolved:

    • Why?

    • How?

    • What if?

  • A well-formulated research question is derived from current knowledge

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2a. Experimentation

  • Plan the experiment

  • Gather evidence from observations

  • Create an evidence-based relationship, test and explanation, or find an application

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2b. Experiment Types

  • Observational (experiment to investigate a new phenomenon.)

  • Testing (experiment to test a hypothesis or model.)

  • Application (experiment to solve a practical problem or determine a physical quantity in two independent ways.)

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2b1. Observational Experiment

  • “You have a sealed hollow metal sphere with an unknown gas inside. You also have a thermometer, a pressure gauge, a hot plate, some ice and a container holding water. Design and conduct an experiment to determine if there is a relationship between pressure and temperature of the unknown gas when its volume is kept constant.” (PAER Group, Rutgers U.)

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2b2. Testing Experiment

  • “Design and conduct an experiment to test the following rule: an object always moves in the direction of the net force exerted on it. You have a dynamics cart, dynamics track, a spring scale, masking tape, a bowling ball, a mallet, a small ball and cushion to use. You may also use any other common equipment available in the lab. Feel free to use your lab partner as an object!” (PAER Group, Rutgers University)

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2b3. Application Experiment

  • “Design and conduct at least two independent experiments to determine the coefficient of static friction between your shoe and the sample of carpet/linoleum provided. Equipment: spring scale, ruler, protractor, carpet or wood surface, tape.” (PAER Group, Rutgers University)

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3. Generalization

  • Depends upon type of experiment

    • Observational - typically a relationship is derived from a graph; a hypothesis or model might be generated for further experimentation

    • Testing - typically evidence is determined to support or disconfirm a model or hypothesis; data never “proves” a model or hypothesis

    • Application - either it works or it doesn’t

  • Be careful not to overextend generalization

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4. Verification

  • Depends on type of experiment

    • Observational - Use new formulation to make predictions for verification

    • Testing - Use hypothesis or model to deduce predictions for verification

    • Application - Either it works or it doesn’t

  • Consider statistical probability

  • Consider other explanations if hypothesis or model is basis of prediction

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5. Communication

  • Recall that science is a social compact, and that there are accepted avenues and processes for communicating results

  • Recall that evidence only supports of disconfirms, never “proves”

  • Your credibility is on line

  • Remember to limit your generalizations

  • Communication provides evidence as well as procedures so that others can replicate your findings

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Generic Experimental Design

  • Identify the system to be studied

  • Identify and distinguish system variables

  • Identify general procedures to follow

  • Identify the model if possible

  • Choose range of the independent variable

  • Collect and interpret data

  • Consider overall precision of experiment

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  • For types of experiments including additional procedures, visit PAER Group at Rutgers University:


  • ISU Student Lab Handbook: