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Bursting with project ideas.

Finding an idea for a science experiment can be easy. Just chew on these four questions.

Some people think the best part about doing a science project is that you get to pick the topic. You design experiments that will help you answer questions about something you already care about--something like TV or food or sports, or even makeup.

For example, did you ever wonder why peanut butter always sticks to the roof of your mouth? Or whether watching TV is bad for you?

Believe it or not, you can turn such idle musings into experiment ideas. Just follow our Four-Question Strategy. It's sure to help you come up with a research question you can chew on--especially if you're into chewing gum, like the students at Buckeye High School in Medina, Ohio. To show you how the strategy works, we'll use some of the experiment ideas they came up with after reading an article on bubble gum (see SW 9/4/92, p. 16).

Start with the first question:

1 What materials could I use to experiment with chewing gum?

List your answers:

* gum * saliva * water * heat

* your mouth

Try to pick materials that are inexpensive and easy to get. You may be able to borrow things from your teachers, parents, or friends.

Next question:

2 What does gum do? (How does it act or what happens to it?)

Brainstorm for answers and keep a list. For example: Gum is chewed, blown into bubbles; it stretches, tastes good, loses its flavor, sticks to stuff...

Think of as many ideas as you can. Deciding which ideas are best is not part of brainstorming; that comes later.

Now brainstorm some answers to the next question:

3 How can I change each of the materials (from Question 1) to affect what happens to gum?

* Gum--test different flavors, brands, sugar content, different-size pieces

* Saliva--vary the amount or concentration

* Water--add to saliva, mix different amounts with gum

* Heat--vary the temperature

* Mouth--increase or decrease the chewing time or intensity

What you now have are lists of potential independent variables--things that you can change, or vary, in your experiment. The longer the lists, the more choices you'll have.

Now, the final question:

4 How can I measure or describe what happens to gum?

* Measure the size of bubbles blown

* Describe the flavor and texture of the gum

* Measure how far a chewed piece stretches

* Time how long the flavor lasts

Now you have a list of ways to measure the effect of an independent variable on a dependent variable, the variable that responds to the changes you make on purpose in an experiment.

To turn all this brainstorming into an experiment you can do, just pick one independent variable from Question 3 (say, sugar content) and one dependent variable from Question 4 (say, how long the flavor lasts). Voila! You have an experiment idea complete with a research question: Does gum's sugar content affect how long the flavor lasts? (See p. 14 for tips on the next step: setting up your Procedure.)

Of course, you may come up with more than one good idea. So share with your classmates, like the kids at Buckeye High did. They turned the experiments they did on gum into a whole book on the topic, entitled Sticky Situations. And they had lots of fun chewing--er, doing--it.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Special Issue: Doing Science; generating ideas for science experiments
Author:Cothron, Julia H.
Publication:Science World
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Sep 17, 1993
Previous Article:How to launch an experiment.
Next Article:Ready, aim, splat!

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