Ask questions and identify problems
As students explore a question or topic further, they may ask additional questions or identify related problems. These could be something they notice and wonder about the world around them, regarding texts they’ve read, data sets, observations of models shown in class, or springing off of results from their investigations. Whether pursuing a science or engineering project, students should explore these leads to generate ideas for a primary research question or problem.
Successful scientists and engineers build upon each others’ work. Students should employ multiple sources to obtain information used to evaluate the merit and validity of claims, methods, and designs. Familiarizing themselves with what research exists will help them develop their research question and design prototypes.
Students may also network with other people with more experience than them: mentors, parents and teachers. Have them ask, “What science concepts should I study to better understand my topic?” and “What area of science covers my project?”
The ability to understand and interpret scientific and technical texts is an important aspect of science and engineering. Through conducting background research, students are developing the important skills of viewing scientific or technological reports (whether found in the press, the Internet, or in a town meeting) and recognizing important ideas, identifying sources of error, distinguishing observations from inferences, arguments from explanations, and claims from evidence.
Determine a primary research question or problem
Finally, students should determine a testable research question or problem as their primary focus and brainstorm how they might discover the answer or present solutions to the problem.
While honing in on their primary question or problem, they be sure should their topic:
- Is interesting enough to research and work on for weeks
- Is possible and affordable
- Has at least three sources of reliable research on the subject so that student researchers build on the experience of others
- Can be tested by designing an empirical method of collecting data that can be used as evidence
- If there will be an engineering component to the project, can the problem be clearly defined and criteria identified for a successful solution