Scientific method and historical precipitation

Ozeas S. Costa Jr., The Ohio State University - Mansfield
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In this activity, you will use the scientific method and secondary data to build a dataset and answer the following question: Is Ohio getting wetter or drier?

In order to answer this question, you will follow these steps:

1) Make a prediction (hypothesis) – with justification – based on fact sheets available about the question topic;

2) After you have made a prediction, you will collect secondary data online (from the USGS WaterWatch program) and build a database on MS-Excel;

3) You will then explore trends on your data and create graphs/visual representations of these trends using MS-Excel;

4) Finally, you will compile all your conclusions, evaluate the accuracy of your prediction (hypothesis), and create a report of your findings.

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Learning Goals

Content/concepts goals
The goal of the activity is to provide students a hands-on way to explore the steps of the scientific method and answer a real world question. It also provides an opportunity to introduce students to real data available online about historical precipitation in the USA.

Higher order thinking skills goals
The higher order thinking skills for this activity include:

1) Applying acquired knowledge and factual information to answer a question (Is Ohio getting wetter or drier?), and identifying connections and relationships;

2) Analyzing/examining available information, breaking this information into component parts, and determining how the parts relate to one another, identifying motives or causes, and making inferences and finding evidence to support generalizations;

3) Synthesizing the information and building a structure or pattern from diverse elements, including the production of unique conclusions deriving from data analysis.

4) Presenting and defending an opinion by making judgments about the derived information and validity of ideas, based on a set of criteria.

Other skills goals
In this activity, students will also:

1) learn how to find credible water data online;

2) learn how to organize, analyze, and visualize this data using MS-Excel.

3) learn how to present/share scientific data in a report.

Context for Use

Type and level of course
This activity is offered on a freshman-level, introductory physical geology course offered to students from a variety of backgrounds (including non-science majors).

Skills and concepts students should have mastered
This activity is offered at the end of the first week of classes, after students have explored the steps of the scientific method through reading, videos, and an interactive activity online (

How the activity is situated in the course
The activity is used as a stand alone exercise.

Description and Teaching Materials

A step-by-step tutorial for this activity (including links to information sources and thumbnails on how to use the graphing function in MS-Excel) is provided in the attached pdf file.
Tutorial for Practical Activity (Acrobat (PDF) 845kB Apr28 17)

Teaching Notes and Tips

This activity works best if done in group of 2-3 students.


A rubric with an objective set of criteria and ratings is provided to remove subjectivity from grading the report produced by the student.

References and Resources

Prior to this activity, students are require to read pages from their textbook discussing the scientific method, as well as to watch a short video on YouTube (, and to work on the interactive activity available at