September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

Breaking Myths with Mythbusters Project

Posted: Tuesday, November 4th, 2014

by Padma Haldar

The Mythbusters project is the first project of the year for our physics class and is part of the “Nature of Science” unit. The students are all juniors and seniors and they know the scientific procedure by heart by now, so as we review we focus on the “real” nature of science doing activities. We read articles and discuss how science can be open-ended; we also explore how it may be influenced by the prejudices, experiences and biases of scientists. (As an aside, the checks lab by Evolution & the Nature of Science Institutes  at Indiana University is an excellent activity that drives home these points precisely.)

We start the project by watching one of the Mythbusters episodes. Then working in groups of two, students are asked to think about a myth they would like to prove or bust. Students are encouraged to find their own myths. I usually guide them into thinking about a sport they participate in, or an instrument they play, or a hobby they may have; they then think of a question they have related to that activity. The requirements are that it must be:

  • testable
  • safe
  • able to be completed within three weeks of time
  • useful in some way (science should be useful!)

I’ve had wide ranging myths presented by the students. Here are a few examples –

  • From softball: do expensive bats really perform better than cheaper ones?
  • From cross-country running: does pushing the pedestrian button change the wait time at traffic lights?
  • From everyday experiences: do doorknobs in school contain more germs than the ones at home?
  • Social questions such as, do women react differently to men in situations related to finances, health, safety?

Once students pick their myth they start to design the experiment they will conduct by

  • predicting an outcome for their experiment, backing it up with a logical reason
  • listing the independent, dependent and controlled variables for their experiment
  • including a detailed step-by-step procedure for the experiment
  • thinking about what kind of data they will collect and how long will it take them to complete data collection
  • thinking about how they will analyze, organize and present their data.

They turn in an outline of their experimental design, which gives me a chance to communicate any concerns I have for any aspect of their experiment. Once the teacher and students are happy with the outline they can begin their experiment.

The project ends with a science fair style presentation where each group sets up a poster and they take turns presenting their project. Peer assessment is built in as each group member takes turns going around the class to assess other projects while the second member stays at their table to present. I encourage students to either do a demo as they present or to engage their audience through a hands-on experience during their presentation. In addition to the poster presentation students are also required to turn in a report of their experiment following the classical steps of scientific procedure.

The creativity, enthusiasm and often deep insights shown by students are evidence that this project is a fun way of learning the “Nature of Science” and applying it to their lives.

Padma Haldar is a physics teacher at Warren High School in the Downey Unified School District and was the 2007 recipient of CSTA’s Future Science Teacher Award. She was invited to contribute by CSTA High School Director Jeff Orlinsky

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.

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CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

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Jill Grace is a Regional Director for the K-12 Alliance and is President of CSTA.

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Written by Peter AHearn

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