a question on
which to base an
about whether or
not your question
The control group from an experiment exploring whether or not salt water could be used for irrigation
asking questions may feel nebulous and
even nerve-racking. But just give it a try.
Go outside and start wondering.
It may help to realize that all of our
scientific advancements began when
someone asked a question. What questions might your children have when you
introduce them to gardening? Prompt
them with questions of your own: How
long will it take these seeds to sprout?
Does lettuce grow better in the sunshine
or in the shade? Will fertilizer help our
tomato plants grow faster?
When choosing a question on which to
base an experiment, think about whether
or not your question is measurable. Mea-
surable questions typically start with the
words what, when, where, how, or why.
A good, measurable gardening question
would be “How much taller will a pea
plant grow when it gets fertilizer?” Con-
versely, a difficult question to study would
be “Does homegrown lettuce taste better
than store-bought lettuce?” Although this
question might make a fun activity for
learning about polling and graphing, it’s
not appropriate for studying the scientific
method because it’s based on opinion and
is not scientifically measurable.
Conduct Background Research
Before you order seed packets for your
experiment, do some background research. What might you need to know
about your topic before you can make
an educated guess (a hypothesis) and
develop an experiment? I might want to
know if pea plants grow well in my local
climate. It would also be wise to research
the different varieties of pea plants, as
well as the best fertilizers for each one.
You can conduct your research in sev-
eral ways. If you want to stay at home,
do your research on the Internet. There
are some fantastic gardening websites
for kids, such as kidsgardening.org and
gardeninglaunchpad.com. If you need to
get out of the house, visit your local library
and look through gardening guides and
magazines to do your basic research. If
you’re lucky enough to live near a univer-
sity extension office, pay them a visit. They
may refer you to local Master Gardeners
who are often eager and willing to educate
young people about gardening.
Construct a Hypothesis
Once you’ve done some research, you
can make an educated guess about how
your experiment will turn out. Teach
your children that an educated guess is
also called a hypothesis; it’s a statement
based on a few observations. Your child’s
hypothesis might be as follows: “The pea
plants that get fertilizer will grow taller
than the pea plants without fertilizer.”
This would be a good educated guess,
based on his prior knowledge and the
background research he’s done.