WeSee Inquiry Model for Science and Engineering

"There are different traditions in science about what is investigated and how, but they all have in common certain basic beliefs about the value of evidence, logic, and good arguments. Scientific investigations take many different forms, including observing what things are like or what is happening somewhere, collecting specimens for analysis, and doing experiments."[1]

Explorations at WeSee follow either a science inquiry model for answering questions or the engineering design model for evaluating a proposed solution. You'll probably recognize the scientific model as "the scientific method". Remember though, "scientific inquiry is far more flexible than the rigid sequence of steps commonly depicted in textbooks as "the scientific method."" [1], so don't be afraid to adapt the outlines below to fit your exploration.

Science Inquiry Model

Engineering Design Model

Guiding Question

What do you want to know? Raise a scientifically oriented question that can be answered through observations, experimentation, and/or research. The question may connect to scientific ideas, concepts, and quantitative relationships that inform investigations. The ideal question shows evidence of observations and/or prior knowledge to illustrate cause and effect.

Hypothesis/Prediction

What do you expect to observe? Scientists’ explanations about what happens in the world come partly from what they observe and partly from what they think. Preliminary explanations (hypotheses and predictions) are constructed with conceptual knowledge. Think about what may happen during your exploration. Justify your thinking, identify cause and effect relationships and base your predictions on factual evidence more than opinions.

Experimental Procedure

How will you know whether your prediction is correct? Design an investigation that control variables, generate adequate data/observations to provide reasonable explanations, and communicate this design so that it can be reproduced by other scientists. Experimental design reflects what the experimenter will do to answer a question and ensure that a test is fair. Good experimental design will produce the appropriate kinds of evidence to support or refute the hypothesis. Multiple trials or the collection of multiple data points should be incorporated into the design and variables are controlled to ensure that the investigation is valid and reproducible.

Experiment

Conduct your experiment! Follow your experimental procedure and use scientific tools (including measurement tools) appropriately and accurately. As you begin to make observations, you may need to revisit and adjust your procedure to sufficiently answer your question. You'll want to make sure that you document your experiment with pictures and video.

Data/Analysis

What was the result of your investigation? Represent your data using text, charts, tables, graphs. Study your data with a critical eye and look for patterns, relationships and evidence that supports or refutes your hypothesis. Account for a experimental errors (uncontrolled variables or measurement uncertainties) and analyze the significance to the results. Propose an explanation for your results citing evidence from your experiment and, when possible, compare your findings with the work of others.

Conclusion

What new questions have you raised? Why is your result important? Synthesize the results of an investigation by generating new questions related to the results of the investigation, stating a general rule regarding the understandings learned from the investigation, or applying the understandings learned to similar situations. Control your urge to over-generalize your results. Suggest the types of evidence that need to be gathered in order to better understand the focus of the investigation

Problem or Need Statement

What problem are you trying to solve? State a problem that needs to be solved in your own words without bias or suggestion of approach to the solution. This is not a goal statement, so think in terms of the "present". The ideal problem will be one that is common and of general interest to people (e.g. How can I make my car safer in a collision?)
Answer the question "Why are you trying to solve this problem?"

State of the Art

Learn all you can about current solutions to the problem using literature, interviews or observation. There might be no solution out there, or the existing solutions might not be optimal. Identify these deficiencies in any curent solutions to the problem. It is often helpful to implement or test the state of the art to determine how successful it is at solving the problem.

Specifications and Metrics for the Solution

Starting with the weaknesses of the state of the art, identify how you will measure the success of your solution to the problem. What is "successful?" Use quantitative measures (size, weight speed, cost, etc.) and identify the tests you will perform to measure both the state of the art and your solution. Design a procedure for the measurement that will give reproducible adn accurate results for your measurements. Don't forget to quantify some less tangible specifications such as "legal, ethical, and safe."

Brainstorm Alternative Solutions

Consider all of the possible approaches that might provide a solution to your problem. Now is not a time for making decisions or eliminating ideas; use your imagination and be creative. This should be fun. Remember, someone has not been sufficiently creative in the past to come up with the "optimal" solution. It is your turn!

Identify Priority Alternatives/Implementations

Weigh the pros and cons of each solution and rank them according to the likelihood that they will solve the problem and provide a high measure of success (according you your specifications or metrics). Is there a critical factor related to a solution that will suggest whether it will be a success (or not)? Select one or two top alternatives and develop an implementation plan (for example, detail how you will research, build, and test your solution).

Implement Solution and Test

Design it, build it, use it. Follow your implementation plan. If you need to modify the plan, document all changes and double check to make sure you have not changed the intent or the potential success of your solution.
Test your completed solution against the metrics you have established and re-test the state of the art against the same metrics.

Data/Analysis

Compare your solution to the state of the art and to the specifications you developed; use graphs, charts, and tables. Identify where your solution has met the specifications, and where your solution has proven superior to the state of the art. Also identify the areas where your solution might be deficient, or where it is inferior.

Conclusion

Re-state how your current solution addresses the problem you originally identified. Identify the areas where your project might be improved in a second iteration. Identify any new problem statements that might have been raised during your investigation. Explain what the next steps might be for development.

Sample Scientific Exploration Report

(a link will be posted here as soon as a useable report has been generated)

Sample Engineering Exploration Report

(a link will be posted here as soon as a useable report has been generated)
[1] Benchmarks for Scientific Literacy, AAAS, 1993.