In almost every set of science standards, state, local, or national, students are encouraged to

  • engage in experiential and active learning
  • communicate and collaborate
  • make connections within mathematics, science, other disciplines and the world outside of school
  • use technology to enhance learning
  • use a variety of instructional resources

Both the library and the World Wide Web are valuable resources for follow-up investigation. In addition, the scientists themselves or the communications offices of research institutions or the education departments at aquariums often welcome thoughtful inquiries from young people. Rather than ask a general question such as "Please send me everything you have on whales," students should pose specific questions, such as, "What new research techniques have been invented to help us understand whale sounds?"

Whatever and wherever they are studying, all scientists use the scientific method in their investigations:

  • observing
  • formulating a hypothesis (an educated guess)
  • gathering and recording data to test that hypothesis
  • analyzing
  • drawing a conclusion.

It's not a neat, step-by-step process, because at any point along the way a scientist may retrace a step or branch off in a new direction.

Scientists ask certain questions in order to achieve a basic understanding of a species, an ecosystem, or other aspect of the natural world. This is basic science. Often its purpose is to collect baseline data about an organism or habitat so that should conditions change (often due to human intervention) scientists will know what "normal" conditions would be. Other research projects seek to find a way to apply scientific knowledge to solve a problem, such as how can certain marine animals help us find a cure for cancer. This is applied research. Scientists need to examine both kinds of questions in order to make sense of our world and to figure out strategies for protecting it.