My siblings and I figured out at a very early age that we could often avoid getting in trouble for doing something by explaining that it was an experiment. Questions like “What are you doing?!” and “What were you thinking?!” and “Why did you do that?” could be answered with, “Well, it was a science experiment…” If Dad were the inquisitor, he would sigh and call, “Hon, come talk to your kid!” When we told Mom something was an experiment, she matter-of-factly asked what we learned. If we could show that we learned from the incident, we still had to clean up or amend whatever went wrong, but did not get in as much trouble. Ah, the perks of growing up with a science mom!
Both of our parents taught us to pay attention and learn from the world around us. Here are the key steps we used for our real-life experiments:
Pay attention to the world and to people, to tiny details and to big pictures. What do you wonder about? What patterns do you notice? What oddities stand out? Ask lots of questions. Write the questions down if you like, so you will not forget them.
2. Research – Ok, so we tended to skip this step a lot, but it is very helpful!
Have others asked the same questions (or something similar)? What do they say about it? Are they reliable sources?
3. Theorize – A good way to get Mom’s attention and curiosity when we were kids, “Hey, Mom, I have this theory…” Yes, we knew what a theory was.
With the information you have, what do you think is true or what do you think will happen?
How can you find out whether the theory is correct? What are the variables? Risks?
Try your plan and gather more information. You will probably end up with additional questions and will may change your theory. That is terrific! Experiments that do not work out the way you expect (sometimes called “failures”) have lots to teach you. Part of experimenting is observing. Since you are already back at the beginning of the list, you may want to go through it again with your new questions and ideas.