General Biology I Assignment on Scientific Method

  1. In your study group, think through these steps, taking notes on your decisions:
    1. Discuss interesting biological phenomena and issues in the world around you that awaken your interest or arouse your curiosity. What interesting observation can you make about some aspect of what you’ve been discussing? What is your observation?
    2. Based on your observations of the world around you, pose a question about some biological phenomenon of interest to the group. What is your question about what you have observed?
  2. As a group, use the scientific method and think like scientists to find the answer to your question:
    1. Develop a hypothesis (one possible, tentative answer to your question) about some specific aspect of your question that could be tested using the scientific method.
    2. If in general your hypothesis is true, then, using deductive reasoning, what specific, measurable results would you expect to observe as a consequence of testing your hypothesis? What is your prediction? (For example: if all organisms have cells, and humans are organisms, then humans would be expected to have cells.)
    3. Develop an experiment to test your hypothesis. What would you do – what steps would you perform to see if you get your predicted results? What equipment and/or supplies would you need? What specific numbers/data would you need to gather, and how would you go about gathering and analyzing the data? What would be your control group? What ONE factor will be varied in your experimental group? How much repetition do you need to have? What sorts of statistics would be needed?
  3. As a group, using a word processing program (available on the school’s computers), write a scientific paper as though you had actually performed your experiment. Make sure you take advantage of the spelling checker that is part of your word processing program, but remember that spell-checkers can only check for incorrect spellings, not incorrect usage (“their “there” and “they’re”)! You will also need to proofread and remember to check for things like subject-verb and verb tense agreement. So that all members of the group gain experience using the computer, it is strongly urged that the job of typing the paper be divided among group members – perhaps a different person could type each section (however, everyone is responsible for the content of each and every section of the paper). Your thoughts, planning, and discussion notes will be incorporated into your paper as you write it. Include the following sections in your paper:
    Discuss the thought processes leading to your hypothesis. Why is this experiment of interest? If you were really a biologist, why would it be important to our knowledge of biology to do this experiment? What would you hope to learn by doing this? Include your hypothesis and your prediction.
    Literature Review
    As you write your paper, you must use a minimum of four resources relating to your topic. At least two (2) of these must be “regular” printed sources such as you would expect to find in a library, while at least one (1) must be an electronic reference from the Internet (see accompanying instructions). In this section, summarize and discuss (not merely regurgitate) what you have read – what you have learned from previous researchers, and how this ties in to your research topic. Back up any statements you make with correctly-cited references to the books and articles you’ve read (which will be listed later in your bibliography).
    Methods and Materials
    This section should be written in paragraph form. This section should not be a list of “Do this, then do this,” – do not write as though you are giving orders to someone else, but rather tell what steps you would do to perform your experiment. This is usually written in the passive voice: use “It was done” rather than “I did it.” Also tell what equipment and materials you would need. Very carefully and specifically think through what steps you need to do to gather the desired data, and describe these steps in this section. For example, do not just say something like “I’m going to see which food this dog likes best.” What foods will be tested? How will they be offered to the dog? What will you count to have actual, numerical data to prove your point – will you weigh the food before and after or will you count the number of times the dog goes to each type of food or what? Also, it really is not enough to observe just one dog’s behavior: suppose that dog has some illness or strange food preference. Repetition is important, and you need at least three (or more) different tests (in this case three or more dogs, all presented with the same foods in the same manner). What is your control group (the one with “normal” conditions)? What is your experimental group? Are you sure that only ONE variable at a time is being altered in your experimental group? For example, if you’re testing the effects of temperature, then you must make sure that light (strength, color, and duration), humidity, time, and any other factors remain identical among all subjects tested.
    A “real” scientific paper includes a Data section that presents the data and a separate Conclusions section that analyzes and discusses the implications of the data. Since you are not really performing an actual experiment, here you should speculate on the results you might expect, but do not draw any conclusions in the Data section. How would you analyze your data: would it be appropriate to average your numbers and present that average, rather than your “raw” data? Would your data be more appropriately presented as a graph instead of text?
    In this section, you should draw conclusions, based on your data, and explain what your results would indicate. Any experiment has a number of possible outcomes, so also discuss what it would mean if results would turn out differently than what you might predict. What possible factors/causes might account for that, and what possible alternate hypotheses might be posed to explain these data?
    List your references in one of the commonly-accepted bibliographic formats.
  4. When the rough drafts are due, if there is time, we may exchange papers in class. In that case, your group will read and evaluate another group’s paper using the evaluation form provided. Papers will be turned in for my comments and suggestions, and then returned to you for revision. As time allows on the date the final copies are due, we may again exchange papers in class so that your group can again evaluate another group’s paper, then papers will be turned in for my evaluation.
  5. Note that if you are enrolled in this college-level course, I expect you to be able to read and write at a college level. So that you are able to communicate your points to others in an intelligible manner, I do expect you to correctly use the grammar, sentence structure, spelling, etc. that you have learned in your high school and college-level composition courses. If the grammar and sentence structure used in your paper is so incorrect that it interferes with your ability to effectively communicate your point, unless you seek the help of someone like the people in the Learning Center (or an English faculty member), your grade will suffer. To encourage students to get the help they need, in the past I have been known to take rough drafts to the Learning Center (so students must make an appointment to see someone there to get them back), rather than returning them directly to students.
  6. It is expected that the “rough draft” will be as close to a finished paper as possible, so that I can give useful advice on what needs to be “fixed” before the final paper is turned in. A list of ideas, hastily scribbled in pencil on a ragged sheet of notebook paper is not a rough draft! If you don’t give me anything with which to work, I cannot give you useful feedback on what needs to be improved, resulting in a low score on your final paper. If you totally change the topic of your paper after I see and give feedback on the rough draft, again, you lose the benefit of useful feedback, resulting in a low score on your final paper.
  7. All participating members of a group will receive the same grade as each other, so make sure the names of all who helped are on the rough draft and final paper when turned in. I am not here to play “policeman” – if you feel that someone didn’t contribute his/her fair share, then it is up to your group to deal with that situation. If you feel a person’s name does not belong on the paper, it is your group’s responsibility to discuss that with the person and resolve the problem yourselves. If your employeer/boss/supervisor asked you, as a group, to work together on a project, I doubt that (s)he would tolerate a) people who refuse to try to work in a group (“lack of babysitter” or “lack of time,” etc. would probably get you fired), b) people who say they’re part of a group, but don’t do their share of the work, c) other group members who “whine” about someone rather than figuring out a creative solution to the problem on their own, or d) groups who don’t get their work done. By signing up for this class, you implicitly agreed to spend the time needed to try to learn the material and complete required class-related activities. If you can’t find time in your schedule to complete the required assignments, you should consider withdrawing from the class and retaking it later when you can schedule the needed time. You are adults.

The total possible is 100 points. Here is a sample of the grade sheet that will be used to evaluate the project. You are encouraged to use this as a checklist to make sure your paper contains all these things and is correctly organized.

Scientific Paper Gradesheet:

Each of the following areas is worth two points each, for a possible total of 100 points. For each question, an answer of “yes” is worth 2 pt., an answer of “sort-of” is worth 1 pt., and an answer of “no” is worth 0 pt. For questions regarding grammar, 0 to 2 errors in that category will count as a “yes” answer, 3 to 5 errors will count as a “sort-of” answer, and over 5 will count as a “no” answer.

Initial Pages and Overall Organization:
       1.  Did the title accurately reflect the topic/content of the paper/experiment?
       2.  Were the authors’ names included on the title page?
       3.  Was there a Table of Contents?
       4.  Did the Table of Contents have correct page numbers, and were the pages numbered?
       5.  Overall, was the paper well-organized, were the correct sections present, and did each section have a heading?
       6.  Did each section contain only material appropriate to that section (no data in Methods and Materials, etc.)?
       7.  Was the hypothesis clearly stated?
       8.  Was the prediction clearly stated?
       9.  Was the prediction correctly based on and derived from the hypothesis and proposed experiment?
       10.  Was there an explanation of why this research is important – how does it relate to “everyday life” – of what benefit will it be to others?
Literature Review:
       11.  Was there evidence of a “thorough” search – were several, useful sources consulted (as per guidlines stated above)?
       12.  Was the author critically selective in evaluating/filtering the sources – were only legitimate, reliable sources of information used (no Web pages on “My Pet Cat, Joe”)?
       13.  Did the author do a good job of concisely summarizing the reported findings of others in his/her own words?
       14.  Were references cited where needed?
       15.  Was a proper citation format used (CBE, MLA, etc.)?
Methods & Materials:
       16.  Was the procedure clearly thought-out and stated? (in paragraph form, not a list; telling what was done, not giving orders to someone)
       17.  Was there a control group and an experimental group?
       18.  Was there repetition – more than one organism (or “peer group”) per treatment?
       19.  Were the data to be gathered and methods of gathering them explained?
       20.  Were the means of analyzing the data stated?
       21.  Were the needed equipment/supplies mentioned in the narrative?
       22.  Were supporting reasons given to justify the author’s plan?
       23.  Was a speculation included on what data might reasonably be found?
       24.  Was a valid analysis of those data done – for example, averages where needed to show effects of treatment on a test group?
       25.  Were the data presented concisely – no redundancy or duplication?
       26.  When/where feasible, were the data presented as a graph?
       27.  Was the type of graph appropriate to/for the type of data being represented?
       28.  Did the graph have a proper title, and were the axes titled and units given?
       29.  Did the text highlight and comment on significant data points without being redundant or duplicating the data and without drawing conclusions?
       30.  Were conclusions drawn from the experiment that was supposedly done?
       31.  Were these conclusions backed up/supported by quotes of the supposed data that were collected?
       32.  Were the conclusions that were reached reasonable for the supposed data?
       33.  Were speculations on other possible experimental outcomes and the significance thereof included?
       34.  Were more questions and possible experimentation generated and mentioned?
       35.  Were at least four references consulted?
       36.  Were at least two of those to journal articles or books?
       37.  Was at least one of those to a “reliable” Web site?
       38.  Was a correct bibliographic citation format used (CBE, MLA, etc.)?
       39.  Was the paper typed using a computer/word processor and presented in a “business-like,” professional manner (no goofy, irrelevant graphics)?
       40.  Were appropriate abbreviations and symbols used when needed (“m” for meters, “ ° ” for degrees, etc.), and were super- and subscripts used when needed (H2O)?
       41.  Were all units/measurements given in the metric system?
       42.  Was the paper proofread and was a spell-checker used, if needed – was correct spelling used throughout the paper?
       43.  Were complete sentences used?
       44.  Was “-’s” used properly (“its” vs “it’s”, “cats” vs “cat’s” vs “cats’,” etc.)?
       45.  Was there verb tense agreement throughout the paper?
       46.  Was there singular/plural agreement throughout the paper, especially among personal pronouns (“he/she” vs “they”)?
       47.  Were various “sound-alike” words used properly (there, their, they’re, to, too, two, etc.)?
Overall Effort & Thought:
       48.  Was there sufficient evidence of effort expended?
       49.  Was there evidence that the author used insight, thoughtfulness, and critical thinking when writing the paper?
       50.  Was the paper in on time?

Copyright © 1996 by J. Stein Carter. All rights reserved.
This page has been accessed Counter times since 15 Aug 2000.