Expedition 3: Planning and Carrying Out Investigations

Catching up, looking ahead, and more scientific practices

In last week’s video, Lynn described collecting and evaluating information to direct her focus on the problem of global sea level rise, and its connection to the stability of Antarctic ice shelves. Another step in Lynn’s process was to define problems and design solutions to keep the team safe as they work in the field.

This week, we put the pieces together to plan an investigation. Lynn has developed her three research questions and decided what information she will need to gather to help her answer them. The next step is making plans to identify the best locations and methods to gather those data. Lynn will discuss how she will be planning and carrying out investigations.

Like we have mentioned before, these are all practices of scientists and engineers. You might notice that some of these practices will show up more than once and rarely by themselves. This is because the practices are so connected to one another that it is difficult to imagine using only one without one or more others at the same time.

If you’ve ever been on a camping trip, you know how much planning and preparation are involved. You might have experienced a time when you brought too much, or even worse, forgot something important. These mistakes can impact your goals for the trip by affecting how you will meet them, and if they can still be met.

Setting Goals

Lynn must clearly define her goals, or criteria, for the trip. “Criterion” (singular) is a term often used in engineering to define a measure for success. Lynn will be successful if she meets criteria such as:

  • staying safe and healthy while in the field,
  • reaching her destinations,
  • collecting enough data,
  • keeping detailed notes, and
  • using the data to answer her research questions.

How will we increase our chance for success?

The task doesn’t end there. Now that Lynn’s criteria for success are defined, she needs to figure out how to meet them most efficiently.

As observers, we have the luxury of imagining the best ways of accomplishing these goals. However, using jetpacks to get from place to place on the ice shelf, or using x-ray vision to locate crevassing may not be the most realistic options when it comes to Lynn’s available resources.

Things like time, money, people, equipment, and weather conditions are referred to as constraints in engineering. “Constraints” limit us to doing what we can with what we have. Unfortunately for Lynn, the life of a field researcher is typically not one of luxury. Operating with limited resources means that careful planning is required, as the room for mistakes is much smaller when you are so far from home on a slab of ice with no cell phone service. Since Lynn must endure harsh weather conditions and will have limited access to local resources, the constraints are significant. An expedition like Lynn’s is something that must truly be “engineered.”

Putting the pieces together

To meet the criteria while considering the constraints, Lynn must revisit her research question: “Is the Ross Ice Shelf speeding up or changing its flow pattern?” As Lynn explains in the video, answering this question involves lots of smaller, but important questions that the team must answer to be well-prepared.

Long before heading out to the field site, answers must be carefully considered to questions such as:

  • What are we trying to find out?
  • What do we think our results might be?
  • What information will we need to use as evidence that can be used to evaluate our predictions?
  • Where will these data come from?
  • How much data do we need?
  • Where do we need to go?
  • What do we need to bring?
  • Should I pack my bathing suit, or my snowsuit?
  • What will we eat?
  • How will we cook?
  • How many days will we need? and
  • How do we get the samples back home safely?

You, the scientist

In the process of planning and carrying out her investigation, Lynn must use additional science and engineering practices. Lynn will have to think and act like an engineer by defining problems and creating solutions to answer questions she has as a scientist. You may notice that in your science experiences both in and out of school, you too are using multiple practices when planning and carrying out investigations.

What do you think?

Here are some questions to discuss with your class, or to investigate on your own!

  • What are your experiences with planning a trip and the gear that you would need?
  • What kind of information did you need ahead of time to know what to pack?
  • Why is a field notebook so important? What do you think Lynn is writing in her notebook? What kinds of equipment should scientists bring with them on remote expeditions?
  • If Lynn doesn’t find data that supports her hypothesis, did she fail? Is the information that we get still important? What would you pack with you on a trip like this?
  • Do we plan and carry out investigations like scientists in our daily lives? In what ways have you thought like a scientist lately? An engineer?
  • What are other ways that engineering is incorporated into Lynn’s expedition?

Have more questions?

Join the next live chat on Thursday, November 9 at 1:00 PM (EDT) by searching the hashtag: #umainefar. Subscribe to 4-H Follow a Researcher® calendar: iCal HTML