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What is a hypothesis?

Every time you read about doing an experiment or starting a science fair project, it always says you need a hypothesis.  How do you write a hypothesis?  What is it?  How do you come up with a good hypothesis?

Continue reading "What is a hypothesis?"

 

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What is a hypothesis?

A guess?

No.  A hypothesis is sometimes described as an educated guess.  That's not the same thing as a guess and not really a good description of a hypothesis either.  Let's try working through an example.

If you put an ice cube on a plate and place it on the table, what will happen?  A very young child might guess that it will still be there in a couple of hours.  Most people would agree with the hypothesis that:

An ice cube will melt in less than 30 minutes.

You could put sit and watch the ice cube melt and think you've proved a hypothesis.  But you will have missed some important steps.

For a good science fair project you need to do quite a bit of research before any experimenting.  Start by finding some information about how and why water melts.  You could read a book, do a bit of Google searching, or even ask an expert.  For our example, you could learn about how temperature and air pressure can change the state of water.  Don't forget that elevation above sea level changes air pressure too.

Now, using all your research, try to restate that hypothesis.

An ice cube will melt in less than 30 minutes in a room at sea level with a temperature of 20C or 68F.

But wait a minute.  What is the ice made from?  What if the ice cube was made from salt water, or you sprinkled salt on a regular ice cube?  Time for some more research.  Would adding salt make a difference?  Turns out it does.  Would other chemicals change the melting time?

Using this new information, let's try that hypothesis again.

An ice cube made with tap water will melt in less than 30 minutes in a room at sea level with a temperature of 20C or 68F.

Does that seem like an educated guess?  No, it sounds like you are stating the obvious.

At this point, it is obvious only because of your research.  You haven't actually done the experiment.  Now it's time to run the experiment to support the hypothesis.

A hypothesis isn't an educated guess.  It is a tentative explanation for an observation, phenomenon, or scientific problem that can be tested by further investigation.

Once you do the experiment and find out if it supports the hypothesis, it becomes part of scientific theory.



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