Variables in Science Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Lindsy Frazer

Dr. Frazer has taught several college level Science courses and has a master's degree in Human Biology and a PhD in Library and Information Science.

Did you know science has its own language? Variables play a very important role in scientific experiments. In this lesson, learn what variables are, the different types of variables and how they interact.

Think Like a Scientist

Which flavor of ice cream will melt faster: chocolate, vanilla or strawberry? To answer this question, you have to think like a scientist and set up an experiment.

Does all ice cream melt at the same rate?
ice cream

What would the experiment look like? You could place one scoop of each ice cream flavor in a glass bowl and, using a stopwatch, record how long it takes each scoop to melt.

Use a stopwatch to measure how fast each flavor of ice cream melts.
stop watch

This experiment has a few variables, or factors, that can change. Any characteristics or conditions that can exist in different amounts or kinds can be a variable. Characteristics like a person's eye color or hair color come in different kinds, so these could be variables. The temperature outside or in a room is a condition that varies, so it too could be a variable.

It is easy to remember what variables are because the beginning of the word 'variable' sounds like the word vary which means to change!

Types of Variables

There are three main types of variables: independent, dependent and controlled.

Independent Variables

The independent variable is the factor that the experimenter or scientist changes. What was different about the ice cream in our experiment? The flavor. You, the scientist, changed which flavor was put in each bowl.

Independent variables stand alone because they are not influenced, or changed, by anything else in an experiment except for the experimenter.

Dependent Variables

The dependent variable is what is being measured in an experiment. It's called 'dependent' because it depends on the independent variable.

In our experiment, we measured how long it took each scoop of ice cream to melt. In this experiment, the time it takes a scoop to melt is dependent on the flavor of the ice cream.

Dependent variables are influenced, or changed, by independent variables.
variable flow chart

Controlled Variables

In an experiment, the only thing that should be changing is the independent variable. All other variables have to be the same. These other variables that an experimenter makes sure are the same throughout the entire experiment are called controlled variables.

Our experiment was all about different ice cream flavors - our independent variable. We wanted to know how the flavors affected the melting time. So, other than the experimenter changing the flavors, everything else must stay constant.

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