Scientific Theory Lesson for Kids: Definition & Examples

Instructor: Suzanne Rose

Suzanne has taught all levels PK-graduate school and has a PhD in Instructional Systems Design. She currently teachers literacy courses to preservice and inservice teachers.

Have you ever wondered how scientists come up with theories, like Newton's Theory of Gravity? In this lesson, you'll read about the steps that scientists use to develop a scientific theory.

Why Are Ants on the Sidewalk?

Have you ever noticed something and wondered why it happened? You might notice that sometimes you see ants on the sidewalk and sometimes you don't, and you might wonder why they aren't there all the time, or what makes them show up once in a while.

To figure out why, you need to do a lot of observing, or looking. What do you see when they're there? What is different at the times when they're not there? By doing this, you might notice that every time you see ants, there's a bit of food dropped on the sidewalk. Maybe someone dropped a piece of candy or a crust from a sandwich. When there are no ants, you don't see any food.

Now you wonder whether it's really the food that makes the ants show up, or if seeing food and ants together is just a coincidence. What can you do to see if you are right? You put a bit of fruit on the sidewalk and watch to see whether ants show up.

Developing a Scientific Theory

You've just become a scientist! By testing your idea about the ants, you developed a scientific theory. A scientific theory is an explanation of something that's been observed in nature.

Notice Something in Nature

First, some event or happening must be noticed, such as when you noticed that the ants aren't always around.

Make Observations and Gather Data

Then, information is gathered to try to help explain what has been noticed. That's what you did when you looked very carefully to see what was different when the ants were and were not there. You gathered data, or information, to try to explain what you were seeing.

Make a Hypothesis

The next step is to make a hypothesis, or informed guess, about what might be happening. You looked at the information from your observations and realized that sometimes there was food and other times there wasn't. You thought it might be the food that was causing the ants to be there sometimes and not others. This is what is meant by an informed guess; you're not just guessing out of the blue, you're using information from your observations to help you.

Test Your Theory

The last part of developing a scientific theory is to do some experiments, or tests, to see if your theory is right. Your theory was that the ants were being attracted by food. You did a test when you put the fruit on the sidewalk to see if ants would show up. If you were actually doing this as a scientific experiment, you'd have to do more than one test to make sure you were right.

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