Lesson Plans > Module 2 > Lesson 1:

How to Conduct a Scientific Investigation: Methods of Science & Background Research
(Field Trip Preparation)

Prep Time: 10 minutes     Class Time: 1 class period


In preparation for the field trip, the students need to understand how to conduct a scientific investigation. The emphasis of this lesson is on the importance of background research from multiple sources and on the difference between a scientific investigation and a scientific experiment. The students will be working as SCIENTISTS in order to experience what it is like to conduct a scientific investigation.

When students think of scientific investigation, they think mostly of experiments. During this activity, students will explore other forms of scientific investigation and begin to build a broader toolbox of processes that can support or bring about scientific knowledge.

Learning Goals

The student will be able to:

  1. Understand that there are multiple methods of conducting research, and the type of method scientists use depends on their question.
  2. Know that a scientific experiment is a test using observations and controlled variable to discover answers to questions and/or to check a hypothesis. A scientific investigation does not use controls or manipulation of variables; an investigation mainly collects data through observations.
  3. Emphasize the following: Experiments require controls and the manipulation of variables (investigations do not).


Misconceptions to tackle:

  1. Scientists follow the scientific method and scientists can use different methods, but there is no reason why they use a particular method.
  2. Investigations and experiments are the same things, or what scientists say are different, but they cannot explain why.
  3. Scientists don’t build from what is already known, they just ask and answer questions.



This lesson fits into the organized set of nature of science and scientific inquiry Module 1 lessons, which are designed to explicitly cover the tenets of the nature of science, as described in the state and national standards, as well as in the practice of science.


  • Discuss with the students the difference between scientific investigations and scientific experiments; ask them if they know the difference as part of a class discussion. A scientific experiment is a test using observations and controlled variables to discover answers to questions and/or to check a hypothesis. A scientific investigation does not use controls or manipulation of variables; an investigation mainly collects data through observations.
  • Ask students to brainstorm various things a field scientist may study at a state park and why those studies may be important.
  • List all ideas on chart paper. Then, explain to students the difference between an experiment (must involve the identification and control of variables) and data collection (observations) for scientific investigation.
  • Create a T-Chart. Place students in groups of 5 and ask them to take the list of ideas on the chart paper and categorize them on the T-chart, as things studied by science experimentation or things studied by scientific investigation.
  • Ask students to think about whether one method used to derive scientific knowledge may be better suited to particular situation than another.

Set Up the Activity

  • Announce to your students that they will take on the task of gathering observational field data, similar to those collected by District/Park Biologists. Explain that, unfortunately, the odds of a large group of teenagers seeing animals are slim to none and ask them why (due to general noise). Conclude that the animal species that will be studied is the humans at the park.
  • Explain that we will collect the data by observing students on the playground (or another area of the school), utilizing the key displayed below, we will translate that data to represent the long-tailed weasel population in Florida at the state park.

  • Place students into small groups (approx. 5 students/group).
  • Hand out one Student Data Sheet per group.

  • Review with your students the data sheets and explain nonbiased observations.
  • Describe the locations of the observations.
  • Review with your students the need for courtesy, respect for the people who will be part of their data collection.
  • Set a time frame of thirty minutes. 

Back in the Classroom

  • Using the above key, summarize an individual group’s observational data. Total up the individual data sheets and place data in the appropriate box. Utilizing the key, correlate each data category with one that would be collected by a professional biologist. Be sure students understand that you will use the data collected to represent the characteristics of a long-tailed weasel population as though that was the species observed.
  • Have each individual group analyze its data. Discuss what the data could mean. Allow students the opportunity to share their opinions and thoughts during this part of the process. Guide the students through discussing the following: How many total “animals” were in the population you observed? Describe the smallest animals by weight, height and body length. What was the total number of small weasels observed? What are the total numbers of short-tailed, animals? Describe the biggest animals by weight, height, and body length. What was the total number of the longest-tailed weasels observed? Is there a group that falls in the middle? How many different ways can you describe the population from your data?
  • After gathering all groups into one large group, have students share their observations. Display the summarized data set on a large piece of chart paper.
  • Now, in the large group, discuss the students’ data. Compare populations: In which locations were the largest population numbers observed? In which locations were the smallest populations found? What location had the largest number of big weasels (by weight, height, and body length)? What could that mean in terms of the size of the animal? Food supply? Any other factors? How many different ways can you compare the populations?

Extension Activity

  • From the data that was collected, the students may still have questions about the weasel. Have the students set up a hypothetical lab experiment that could serve to answer a question. For example, is weasel body weight related to its diet? Create a hypothesis about that question, and describe an experiment that could be used to test the hypothesis about the weasel. Remember to include the independent variables, the dependent variables, and the control group that they will be utilizing.


Exit Ticket

  • Have students write down the difference between a scientific experiment and a scientific investigation.
  • Have students answer the question, “What type of scientific method do you think you will be doing at the museum field trip?”
  • Have them answer the question, “You are a scientist and you want to do a project on a new interest.  What is the first thing that you do?”

< Back      Lesson 2 >