Conceptualizing An Experiment

Learning Objectives

  • Students will design an experiment in order to discover the origin of an important family artifact.
  • Students will analyze the experiment and determine if that experiment is the best available method for discovering the origin of the object.

Tools And Materials

  • You may wish to provide access to computers with word processing software.
  • Optional: Computer with Internet access with a presentation device or available computers for groups of students to view streaming video.
  • Teaching StratedgiesAs an introduction to this activity, have students watch the video clip "Testing Objects and Finding Experts." The clip shows several examples of forensic tests done during History Detectives investigations to prove hypotheses.

Testing Objects And Finding Experts

As an introduction to this activity, have students watch the video clip "Testing Objects and Finding Experts." The clip shows several examples of forensic tests done during History Detectives investigations to prove hypotheses.

Testing Objects and Finding Experts

Wes on how important it is to find the right experts.


  • Each of the students will need their hypotheses concerning the one "interesting item" from the previous lesson.Tell students that they will be designing an experiment, or series of experiments, in order to test the hypotheses that they created in the previous lesson.
  • Inform students that they should attempt to create an experiment that they can really do, but if not possible, they may create an experiment that is more complex than is possible to do in the classroom. However, if they do create an experiment that cannot be done in class, they should still find some test that can be performed that will give them more information about the artifact in question.
  • Remind students that history detectives often have to use non-traditional experiments. Particularly because history detectives must be so careful to not damage the material they are testing, they may have to use unique methods. These include comparing the item to existing known samples, doing research on the web, asking experts to observe the item, and other non-intrusive methods.
  • Have students compare all four possible experiments. Have them select one based on their ability to perform the test. Make sure that whatever test they will be performing will be non-intrusive, will not damage or alter the item.
  • Once students have chosen an experiment, have them write a one-page proposal in which they discuss what the experiment will entail, what they hope the experiment will show, and why they chose this experiment over the other possible experiments.


Standards From MCREL Standards


Standard 2.11: Understands the basis of scientific knowledge

  • Knows that scientific explanations must meet certain criteria to be considered valid (e.g., they must be consistent with experimental and observational evidence about nature, make accurate predictions about systems being studied, be logical, respect the rules of evidence, be open to criticism, report methods and procedures, make a commitment to making knowledge public)


Standard 2.12: Understands the nature of scientific inquiry

  • Understands the use of hypotheses in science (e.g., selecting and narrowing the focus of data, determining additional data to be gathered; guiding the interpretation of data)
  • Designs and conducts scientific investigations (e.g., formulates testable hypotheses; identifies and clarifies the method, controls, and variables; organizes, displays, and analyzes data; revises methods and explanations; presents results; receives critical response from others)
  • Uses technology (e.g., hand tools, measuring instruments, calculators, computers) and mathematics (e.g., measurement, formulas, charts, graphs) to perform accurate scientific investigations and communications
  • Knows that scientists conduct investigations for a variety of reasons (e.g., to discover new aspects of the natural world, to explain recently observed phenomena, to test the conclusions of prior investigations, to test the predictions of current theories)


Standard 2.13: Understands the scientific enterprise

  • Understands that science involves different types of work in many different disciplines (e.g., scientists in different disciplines ask different questions, use different methods of investigation, and accept different types of evidence to support their explanations; many scientific investigations require the contributions of individuals from different disciplines; new disciplines of science, such as geophysics and biochemistry, often emerge at the interface of older disciplines)


Standard 3.1: Understands and knows how to analyze chronological relationships and patterns

  • Knows how to develop picture time lines of their own lives or their family's historyUnderstands patterns of change and continuity in the historical succession of related events


Standard 3.2: Understands the historical perspective

  • Knows how to evaluate the credibility and authenticity of historical sources


Standard 21.1: Understands and applies the basic principles of presenting an argument

  • Understands that when people try to prove a point, they may at times select only the information that supports it and ignore the information that contradicts it
  • Understands that to be convincing, an argument must have both true statements and valid connections among themEvaluates the overall effectiveness of complex arguments


Standard 21.4: Understands and applies basic principles of hypothesis testing and scientific inquiry

  • Presents alternative explanations and conclusions to one's own experiments and those of others
  • Critiques procedures, explanations, and conclusions in one's own experiments and those of others
  • Gathers and analyzes field data using spatial sampling (e.g., place a transparent grid of squares on maps to count whether two characteristics such as corn production and hogs that are hypothesized to be spatially related coexist within the grid cells)


Standard 21.5: Applies basic trouble-shooting and problem-solving techniques

  • Selects the most appropriate strategy or alternative for solving a problem
  • Examines different alternatives for resolving local problems and compares the possible consequences of each alternativeRepresents a problem accurately in terms of resources, constraints, and objectives
  • Provides summation of the effectiveness of problem-solving techniques
  • Reframes problems when alternative solutions are exhaustedEvaluates the feasibility of various solutions to problems; recommends and defends a solution


Standard 21.6: Applies decision-making techniques

  • Secures factual information needed to evaluate alternatives
  • Predicts the consequences of selecting each alternativeMakes decisions based on the data obtained and the criteria identified


Standard 22: Working With OthersContributes to the overall effort of a group

  • Displays effective interpersonal communication skills