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Scientific Inquiry – The Paperclip Lab


Inquiry – the act of asking a question.

Focus question – “How many paperclips fit into a full cup of water without it overflowing?”

Hypothesis – an educated guess, written in the “If…, then…, because…” format.  You need good evidence/research to make a quality hypothesis.

Example:  If I put paperclips into a full cup of water, then I predict (insert #) paperclips will fit, because the cohesion of water will allow for the displacement of the volume of the paperclips above the cup rim before overflowing.

Materials – Dixie Cup, jumbo paperclips, 89.0 mL of water, graduated cylinder, paper towels

Step 1:  Gather materials.
Step 2:  Measure 89.0 mL of water in the graduated cylinder.
Step 3:  Carefully pour the water into the Dixie Cup.
Step 4:  Place paperclips into the cup of water one at a time until any amount of water begins to overflow.
Step 5:  Record the number of paperclips that are in the cup.
Step 6 :  Share data with the class and make a class data table.
Step 7:  Clean up.

Constants – things that stay the same throughout the experiment.  In this experiment, it is important to ask specific questions to research the problem.  For example, what size paperclips?  (Jumbo.)  What size cup?  (89.0 mL Dixie cup.)  How much water?  (89.0 mL.)  How to insert the paperclips? (Vertically.)  What counts as an overflow? (One or more drops of water running down the side or onto the table.)  Answers to these questions will help define the parameters of the experiment and help produce predictable results.

Control -the control is a particular sample that is treated the same as all the rest of the samples except that it is not exposed to the independent variables.  Results from each experiment trial are compared to the control to establish validity.  The control in the paperclip lab is a Dixie cup with 89.0 mL of water and zero paperclips.

Independent Variable – something that is changed in an experiment to produce a response in the dependent variable.  The independent variable is “What I change in the experiment.”  Notice the independent variable begins with the letter “I.”  Example:  putting paperclips in the full cup of water.

Dependent Variable – the object being measured.  For example, “The number of paperclips that actually fit in the full cup of water before it overflows.”

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