Construct explanations and design solutions
Data are not evidence until used in the process of supporting a claim. As students review their data and begin to process the graphs and computations they’ve created, they will make a claim based on their observations. They will then use their data as evidence to support their claims. They should present scientific reasoning, principles, and theories to show why those data can be considered evidence to support their claim.
In scientific research, the goal is to present a claim as an explanation for the cause of an observed phenomenon. The student should refer back to the goals and predictions for the investigation and use the collected data to support the claim for how a variable relates to another variable. Conclusions will summarize whether or not a science research project’s results support or contradict the original prediction.
For engineering research, the goal is to solve problems. Rather than explanations, the claim will be presented as a deisgn that best fits their design criteria. Throughout the process, engineers use iterations to systematically define the problem, then generate a prototype, test it, gather data, and then improve solutions, performing another iteration. If the student is doing an engineering or computer-science programming project, their claims, evidence, and reasoning should be in connection to whether or not they met their original design criteria as part of their conclusion.
Cause & effect versus correlation
In some experiments it is not possible to demonstrate that a change in the independent variable causes a change in the dependent variable. Instead, the student may only be able to show that the independent variable is related to the dependent variable in a predictable way. This relationship is called a correlation. This is also an interesting thing for students to wonder about and measure.
If their results show that their predictions were false
Professional scientists and engineers commonly find that results do not support their hypothesis, and they use those unexpected results as the first step in constructing a new prediction.
If the results of the student’s research project did not support their hypothesis, they should reflect on their methods to determine why. If they reliably collected enough data in a consistent manner and the pattern they expected was not found, they can brainstorm what other possible explanations or solutions could exist for the phenomenon or problem studied.
The student should also consider the limitations of their project. It is possible that their methods could be improved in the future to avoid limitations that may have contributed to their results. These considerations further science research even when hypotheses are not supported.
Engaging in argument from evidence
Students can take their claims further by connecting them to scientific concepts. By discussing their findings and how they relate to larger concepts, they are engaging in argumentation. The word “argumentation” may have negative connotations in day-to-day life, however, in the scientific community, it has additional meaning. Argumentation is the process by which explanations and solutions are reached within a greater community of scientists and engineers. By engaging in this manner, students begin to understand the culture in which scientists live. Argumentation becomes a conversation, written and verbal, within a community of scientists and engineers, and can result in progress for the benefit of the world.