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Beginning Statistical Inquiries into the Scientific Method: Jelly-Side-Down

By Gary Brekke

Type of entry:

  • lesson / class activity

Type of Activity:

  • Hands-on activity
  • inquiry lab
  • group / cooperative learning
  • review / reinforcement

Target audience:

  • Biology
  • Life science
  • Advanced / AP Biology

Background information:

What questions does this activity help students to answer:

This activity describes how scientists use the scientific method to answer questions about the world around them.

Notes for teacher:
Jelly-Side-Down allows students to explore the scientific method in an open-ended fashion. As in "real science," there is no "right way" to solve the problem. Be ready for anything. Look for teachable moments. This activity was designed as a unit introduction for students at an alternative high school where students work independently on course materials. The 4-P approach to the scientific method used in this activity was adapted from the BioQuest 3-P Approach to Science Inquiry developed by the University of Wisconsin, Beloit.

Required of students:
Students will need to be cooperative and open to the idea that not all ideas might work. But even an unworkable idea serves a purpose in science inquiry.

Preparation time needed:
One hour

Class time needed:
One hour minimum

Abstract of Activity:

"Beginning Statistical Inquiries into the Scientific Method" or "Jelly-Side-Down" is the first laboratory experience of the semester and reinforces textbook concepts of what the scientific method is and how it is used by scientists.

In the activity, students describe what happens when a piece of jellied toast is dropped off a table. From these observations, students pose a question concerning which side of the jellied toast will land on the floor. A prediction is formulated that might answer the question. Students then design experiments to probe the prediction. The experiments are completed, data collected and conclusions drawn. Finally, students write a report to persuade others of the validity of their experimental conclusions.

Lesson / Activity:

Materials needed:

  • Several slices of plain white bread for each student or cooperative group in class.
  • Jelly
  • Knife
  • Tape measure
  • Cleaning materials!


  • See attached Activity Guide

Method of Evaluation:
After completing the activity, students will be evaluated with a two part test. Students will orally defend the results of their experiment to the instructor. Students then explain with a written test how the scientific method would be used to find the answer to a new question.

Extension / Reinforcement / Additional Ideas:

This activity can be expanded by changing some of the variables and letting the students redo the experiment. As it is, the bread usually lands jelly-side-down, but if the table height is changed, or if the speed with which the bread is slid off the table changes, so does the side of the bread that lands on the floor. Students can be asked to design an experiment that makes the bread usually land jelly-side-up. The activity can be as simple or complicated as needed to meet student interest level.

This activity is part of a complete alternative school learning packet concerning the scientific method. Completing the activity with the accompanying background material, greatly enhances learning of the scientific method. Activity: Inquiries into the Scientific Method: Jelly-Side-Down

It is a busy Monday morning. Your toast just popped out of the toaster. You butter it. You are putting grape jelly on it. Then it happens. As you are picking up the toast up, it slides off the table and lands jelly side down on the floor! !%!#@#$ Another typical Monday. Why does toast always seem to land jelly side down? Or does it always land jelly side down? How could you find out? Complete the following activity to see how scientists conduct experiments to find out information about the natural world and to find out if your toast really does land jelly side down.

Scientists are interested in explaining how the natural world works. They observe things in the world that they do not understand and they ask questions. Scientists design experiments to find answers to their questions. Scientists provide results of the experiments to other scientists by writing reports, called papers, that are put into science magazines, called journals. Other scientists, and the general public, read the papers and decide if the scientist1s experimental work and conclusions were correctly interpreted. Over the years scientists have come up with a standard procedure, called the scientific method, for designing experiments.

The scientific method is a set of scientific processes that scientists use to solve problems observed in the world around them. Each problem uses a different set of processes, or uses the processes in a different order, to solve the problem. It is the job of a scientist to assemble a plan using the processes to solve a problem. Scientists generally pose problems, predict answers to the problem, probe the problem by experiments and "persuade" (inform) others by writing papers describing the results of the experiment. This 4-P Approach to Problem Solving is described in this activity.

P-1: Posing

As scientists observe the natural world they see things that they do not understand. They pose questions about the observations they make. Posing questions is the first step of the scientific method. Write a question concerning the following observation:

When toast slides off a table it always lands jelly side down.


P-2: Predicting

The questions posed in step one are reworded into what scientists call a hypothesis, which is a statement that is a possible answer to the question. From the hypothesis, a prediction can be formed. A prediction is based on the hypothesis, and states in advance the result that is expected to be obtained from testing the hypothesis. Predictions are usually written as an "if and then" statement. Write a hypothesis for the jellied toast observation. Change your hypothesis concerning the jellied toast into an if / then prediction.

When toast slides off a table it always lands jelly side down.




P-3: Probing

The third step of the scientific method is probing, which involves designing a controlled experiment to test the prediction concerning the hypothesis. Experiments may be simple or contain many parts and processes depending on the nature of the prediction to be analyzed.

Controlled experiments are based on the comparison of a control group with an experimental group. The control group and the experimental group are identical except for the one factor being tested for in the experiment. This factor is called the independent variable. The independent variable is the factor in a experiment that the scientist changes or manipulates. The dependent variable is the factor that changes as a result of what the scientist does to the independent variable. Controlled experiments usually change only one variable at a time so the scientist knows what is being changed and what is being tested. Information, called data, is collected as the experiment is completed. After completing an experiment the scientist analyzes the data. Conclusions about the posed question are then drawn from the analyzed data.

Design a controlled experiment testing your jellied toast hypothesis. Write the outline of this experiment in the space below:

Have the instructor check the above experimental plan.   _______________.

Conduct the experiment.  Record the data below:

P-4: Persuasion (Information)

To persuade (inform) other scientists that their experimental conclusions are correct, scientist write papers explaining the results of their experiment. These papers are published in a science magazines or journals. Other scientists read the papers and make comments on the experiment and the results. If they disagree with the way the experiment was designed or the results they can do the experiment themselves and write their own paper, trying to persuade others that they are correct. In this way scientists check on each others work making sure that all results and conclusions are accurate.

Write the results of your experiment in the form of an experimental paper as outlined in the unit worksheet and be prepared to defend your results orally with the instructor.

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