Thinking Like a Scientist


Patrick Whelton

School of the Future, Manhattan

Summer Research Program for Science Teachers

August 2010



Subject:  Living Environment (Biology)

Grade Level: 9th or 10th



Materials: For each group of 4 students:



Day 1 - 45 minutes

  1. Have students read and discuss the following scenario:


You are a scientist, and you were working late last night.  You drew a diagram in different colors of ink, and it looked similar to the drawing on the board.  While you were writing and drawing the diagram in your notebook, you nodded off.  When you awoke, you found there was a termite in the middle of diagram.  You watched the termite’s response to the ink on the page, and it made you wonder.  Next, you called in you friend, who is also a scientist.  Together you made a prediction about what the termite was doing.  Questions about the termite and its behavior led you to start experimenting and making careful observations to see if your prediction was correct.

  1. Demonstrate the behavior of the termites to the students.  Show them an example of a termite following the path of the ink (termites typically follow Papermate pens only because it contains a chemical that is similar to a pheromone, but I have seen them follow Bic pens also).  Whatever pattern you draw for students, also draw this on the board for students to copy later.
  2. Have students pick up 1 set of materials for their table.
  3. Tell students to use the colored pens and create a simple line diagram like the one that might have been found in the notebook (see the board).  Have students observe their termite’s behavior and record observations on your looseleaf.
  4. Students should brainstorm and develop at least 3 questions and record them on your looseleaf.

    HINT:  Make a list of all of the variables (in other words, factors) that could be affecting the behavior of the termite.  Then use your list to create a list of questions such as “How does _________ affect the behavior of the termite?”
  5. Talk with your partner and choose 1 question about the termite’s behavior that you think you might be able to answer through experimenting.
  6. Students should make predictions about the answers to their questions on their looseleaf.  Then, they should provide reasoning for their predictions.
  7. Students should now develop and write out a procedure to test their hypothesis in class on the next day.

Day 2 – 45 minutes

  1. Students should gather materials, follow their procedures and run the experiment.  They should record all observations on their looseleaf.
  2. Have students answer the following questions on a separate sheet of paper.

Discussion Questions:

Answer all of the following questions to the best of your ability in COMPLETE SENTENCES.  Explain yourself and be specific.

  1. In order to think as a scientist does, what do you need to do?
  2. Explain the results of your experiment.
  3. Write a paragraph about scientific thinking using all of the following terms:

    explanation    evidence          prediction       logic    questions        observations

  1. Explain whether you agree or disagree with each of the following statements:

    - Scientists observe without making any judgments; scientific observations are objective and bias free.

    - If two scientists run the same experiment and have similar observations, they will develop the same explanation for the results.

New York State Science Standards: 

Standard 1:  - Scientific Inquiry


National Science Standards:

Science Content Standard A: - Science as inquiry