Scientific method

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Because the OLPC comes from a lineage of constructionist education projects, we want to place some emphasis on teaching of the scientific method. Too often, our current science education is based upon memorization of scientific facts or on the history of science. We want the OLPC to actively engage children in the doing of science. Since the scientific method is the basis of all scientific research, any science teaching materials for the OLPC need to help the children learn and apply the scientific method.

The Four Steps

  1. Observation and description of a phenomenon or group of phenomena.
  2. Formulation of an hypothesis to explain the phenomena. In physics, the hypothesis often takes the form of a causal mechanism or a mathematical relation.
  3. Use of the hypothesis to predict the existence of other phenomena, or to predict quantitatively the results of new observations. Truth and falsity of the hypothesis must give rise to different predictions.
  4. Performance of experimental tests of the predictions by several independent experimenters in properly performed experiments with proper analysis of the results.

These steps can be carried out in real research, simulated in directed laboratory experiments, or simulated in software. Each has a place in the education process. Real scientists repeat laboratory experiments to confirm the results of others, and carry out elaborate software simulations as part of the analysis and prediction processes.


Wiki software such as Wikidpad is an ideal tool for collecting and organizing observations. Its only lack is dealing with structured data such as measurements. One could possibly fix this by building a simple spreadsheet in Javascript to integrate with Wikidpad. Ideally, the spreadsheet would record the data in Wikidpad's SQLite database in a way that it can easily be retrieved by other applications.

There are many low-cost scientific and medical instruments that can connect to a USB or other computer port, and there is Free/Open Source software for collecting and analyzing data.


This will probably be handled mostly by e-book content. It's mostly a matter of asking kids, What do you think explains these observations?. In a case where there are lots of measurements, one could deal with both Hypothesis and Prediction in a charting application but that is not always appropriate.

Or one could test the prevailing hypotheses of the culture, such as astrology, herbal medicine, and so on. Some will be confirmed and some disproven if you do it right, giving the students and any observers something to think about.


This is an area that can be nicely supported by software because it can involve statistics, trend lines, neural networks, and other mathematical and graphical things. Error analysis is also an important topic. What are the expected errors in measurement? Are there other sources of systematic error? Have you found all the possible sources of error? What is the value of having independent kinds of observation?


The OLPC can run simulation software that can be used directly to do experiments, for instance physical simulation software. The Squeak team and Alan Kay have done a lot of work on this type of thing.

Some of the most important physics experiments, such as those of Gilbert with magnets and Galileo with gravity, require mostly apparatus that children can easily make or find, and procedures that they can follow.

Background Information

Here you can list pointers to other pages or sites that are relevant to the teaching of science by doing.

Curriculum Ideas

There is still a great deal of research being done by amateurs, particularly in biological field observations, agriculture, anthropology, archaeology, and astronomy, where the professionals simply can't get to all the opportunities on their own. There are also several branches of mathematics, such as combinatorial game theory, where amateurs like Omar, Our Most Assiduous Reader can make significant contributions.

There is also huge scope for scientific demonstrations within one's community. In poor communities there can be minimal knowledge of modern medicine or technology. On the other hand, poverty does not mean that they lack intelligence. The Andaman Islands had nearly no loss of life in the tsunami because the tale had been passed down over many generations that you had to run for high ground any time the sea went away. That's science.