Busting Myths Using Science in the Classroom

Use the Mythbuster method and other exciting activities to jazz up your scientific method lessons!

By Jennifer Sinsel


Busting Myths Using Science

Busted!  The Mythbusters phenomenon has proven or busted hundreds of urban legends over the years, and many science teachers have transferred the techniques used by the quirky duo of Adam and Jamie to the classroom. Using modern day science to separate fact from fiction seems as though it might require a lot of extensive knowledge or expensive equipment, but many of the investigations conducted on Mythbusters can actually be duplicated in the classroom – what a great way to learn about the scientific method and science process skills!

Using the Mythbusters Technique

Many Mythbusters episodes can be viewed directly from YouTube, or they can be purchased relatively inexpensively online.  Since every scientific investigation starts with a question, I usually choose a myth with which students will be familiar and pose the question on the board.  While watching the episode, students answer the following questions:

  • What question are the Mythbusters trying to answer?
  • Before watching the episode, write a hypothesis that answers the question.
  • What procedure do the Mythbusters use to answer their question?
  • Describe their results. Is their data qualitative or quantitative?  Give an example.
  • What is their conclusion?  List at least one possible source of error in their investigation!  (A source of error involves an issue that may have affected the outcome of the experiment. For example, the watering system malfunctioned in the Mythbusters’ plant investigation, which might have affected their data).

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A favorite question comes from the “Talking to Plants” episode: Does talking to plants help them grow?  During this episode, the Mythbusters grew pea plants in a number of different environments: with music (both heavy metal and classical), with talking (both angry words and kind words), and with no sound.  Surprisingly, they determined that the plants that “listened” to heavy metal music produced the greatest number of seeds! 

Students can partially duplicate this investigation by setting up their own “talking to plants” experiment. This often works best if you can partner with another classroom that receives similar light. In one classroom, students will ignore the plants (start with seedlings and begin the experiment when each of the plants has sprouted). In the other, students will take turns talking or playing music to the plants for one to two hours per day. All other variables (light, temperature, water, soil, etc.) should remain the same.  After several weeks, students can count the number of seeds produced by the plants, as well as the mass of the plants that have grown.  Do their results agree with the Mythbusters

Opportunities for integrating other subject areas with an activity such as this are numerous. In language arts, students can write letters to Jamie and Adam sharing their results and asking follow up questions. Some students may even have ideas for future episodes related to the topic they investigated! In math, students can graph the changes in height or number of seeds produced over time. They can also calculate averages, practice measuring skills, or create their own word problems related to the investigation. A technology component could be added using Powerpoint, Hyperstudio, or Photo Story and students could show their presentations to other classes. For more exciting ways to teach the scientific method, try one of the following lesson plans.

The Scientific Method:

Paper Airplanes and Scientific Methods

Students learn about the scientific method by analyzing paper airplane design. Using this lesson, students do research, create a hypothesis, collect and record data, and analyze their data.

Precipitating Bubbles

In this lessons students use the scientific method to solve everyday problems. They perform an experiment in which they blow into a solution of calcium hydroxide to test for carbon dioxide, and analyze the results.

The Scientific Search for the Loch Ness Monster

Students gain an understanding of the real world implications of the use of the scientific method. They design experiments to debunk certain myths.

Elementary Science Guide

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Jennifer Sinsel