Physics & Physical Science Demos, Labs, & Projects for High School Teachers

Mythbusters & The Scientific Method

Posted on: May 31, 2008

mythbustersThe popular show Mythbusters is a terrific example of the application of the scientific method. Early in the school year I introduce the scientific method. I then hand my class a worksheet that they fill in as they watch one of the episodes I have on DVD.  They have to identify the hypothesis, controls, variables, experimental steps, and conclusion. mythbusters-and-the-scientific-method

Next, the student choose to work as an individual or in a small group (2 or 3) and they work on coming up with a myth they are going to bust. Now, you and I know this is just a mini-science fair project, but they don’t see it that way. My students were just telling me that this was their favorite project of the year. Good thing I didn’t call it a science fair project. Anyway, I let them do whatever they want so long as they are doing good science and they are not doing something dangerous. When there were a few that were dangerous, I discussed the project with their parents to make sure they were aware of what their kids were doing.

I teach in Philadelphia at a Charter School and the students come from all over the city. It is very challenging for many of them to work together outside of school, so I have to allocate class time for them to do their project. I think I give them 4 days over a period of 2 weeks to experiment, work on their poster, etc. I’ve attached the guidelines and worksheet I use for them to document their project. I make sure they have thought through the controls and variables before they begin any experiments. mythbusters-project-guidelines and mythbusters-worksheet

The grading rubric needs a rework, but I included it as a starting point. mythbuster-rubric

I have the students do the project on regular poster board. I do this early in the year and then hang the posters on my wall as they are completed. They like looking at each other’s ideas and projects, and they like picking them apart, explaining how they would do the experiment differently.


31 Responses to "Mythbusters & The Scientific Method"

I’d love to try this with my 7th graders. How do you help the students who can’t think of a myth?

I haven’t had a problem with them coming up with an activity. It doesn’t need to be a “myth,” just an experiment they can perform and document.

Here are some projects from the past: comparing diaper brands for absorbency, which gum holds its flavor longer, do scented candles burn at the same rate as unscented, which detergent is better at removing stains, which white board markers last longer, is generic Capn Crunch as good as the brand at not getting soggy, do frozen paint balls travel farther than room temperature ones, do goldfish turn white if kept in the dark, which paper towel is more absorbent.

The most important thing for you as a teacher is to make sure they can test their hypothesis and that it is safe and reasonable. The hard work for them is in designing a good set of experiments with good controls.

This sounds great! However, I’ve taped several shows and I find that they vary in terms of clarity of the scientific method. I teach younger kids– 5th grade– and the scientific method is an important part of our California standards. I kind of need to hit the nail directly on the head to have them identify the controls, etc. Do you have any episodes to recommend for viewing?


The Mythbusters episode on Pirates includes a segment that investigates the wearing of an eye patch to keep one eye ready for seeing in the dark. I think the episode is on YouTube. Not only is this a great example of the scientific method, it also covers the importance of controlling variables.

If you teach physics/physical science the episode where they test whether a bullet fired from a gun and a bullet dropped from the same height hit the ground at the same time is an excellent scientific method episode. They fail 2-3 times before they get it right and its an awesome demonstration of the concept…even after watching it the kids still don’t believe it.

That episode is actually called Knock Your Socks Off…and is coupled with the other guys trying to prove if you can knock someones socks off with a punch. Its on the collections 6 DVD.

I’m shocked, but I’ve never hear of this episode, so I looked it up on YouTube. Very cool experiment but I can see why the kids don’t doubt it. With all the technology, it’s easy to feel like they are being tricked. The two bullets don’t land at exactly the same time and the kids can’t relate to 40 ms.

We do a similar low-tech experiment where we launch two quarters off a table. Put one just balanced on the edge, the other is flicked so they leave the table at the same time. The flicked one drops straight down, the other takes off. They hit the ground at the same time. The experiment gains credibility because we now vary the height. I have a cart we launch them from, then I stack books on it and repeat it again. Three different heights, same results, and they can repeat it at home.

The episode I use for this every year is from season 1. The show starts with the exploding toilet myth, the second show in there is “Running in the Rain.” I like the rain myth because they really do a good job on the controls. They wear latex body suites to avoid the sweat, they build their own rain system and measure its output in several places, they travel a fixed course and time the event to eliminate speed as a variable. The white overalls they wear are the identical weight. There may be a few other controls, that’s what comes to mind at the moment.

Is this the episode where they test that if you are in a convertible with the roof, driving fast will keep you drier than stopping and putting the roof up?

No, it is similar, but the one you are talking about is not from the first season. I believe it is called “Running in the Rain.”

Hi- I love your site; my son loves Mythbusters. Do you know of summer camps for high school students that use this fun, involved method to explore science (particularly physics)?

I’m glad you like the site. You didn’t mention where you live, but I would recommend looking at the local community colleges and universities to see what kind of programs they offer. I’m in the suburbs of Philadelphia and Buck County Community College has lots of great week-long summer programs for kids of all ages.

As for the method, to be honest, they are using the Scientific Method, which is taught in every school in the world, except probably for Texas, where they believe in magic.

Well, when you live in Texas, it IS magic.

However, some of us Texas middle school science teachers do still teach the scientific method. I’ve used Mythbusters in my curriculum for that very thing.

Another cool activity we did was an extension of density testing in the lab, a smaller version of David Letterman’s Will It Float? (Done outside in a large clear Sam’s cat food)pail, without the benefit of the Grinder Girls, of course.)The kids had a blast, as it happened both my principal and the district’s superintendent came by, and loved it as well!

You are brave to admit teaching real science in Texas and then posting your name, I hope it is an alias. They still burn witches in Texas, be careful.

I’m being funny, but I can’t imagine how frustrating it must be to teach in a place where magic is science and science is blasphemy. Keep up the good work and wear an asbestos lab coat.

I plan to use your ideas up here in Ontario this very week!

Hey, report back, let me know how it goes.

It went very well.

I had mythbusters model some experiments and had the kids do the write-ups. I suggested they draw pictures, charts, graphs and text for their observations and i think they found this most difficult to do from the video. Otherwise, very engaging and a great wayo to review the Scientific Method in Intermnediate.

[…] fair in my classroom in about a week.  Only I don’t call it that.  I call it my “Mythbusters Project.”  To be honest, I don’t care if it’s a stupid idea they are testing.  I want […]

really same hear i hate science/health fair projects it makes me crazy

O my god i cant find anything for my science fair project and this is the website that my teacher told me to go on and its not giving me wat i need and its making me frustrated.:(

Thanks so much for posting this. I am a new teacher, and thought that using the Mythbusters to teach the Scientific Method would work really well. I did a google search and landed here. Thanks so much for having done some of the work for me! (Also, thank you to the person above who suggested “Running in the Rain” as the ep to use – I am going to Borders tonight to get the DVD.)

Stephanie, that guy named Scott is the guy that writes all of this drivel, namely, me. I’m glad the blog is helping you get started. You can email directly if you need help. I offer this to any new teacher, I know finding a mentor to get through my first year made all the difference in the world to me.

i would like to do a mythbuster about makeup for my upcoming project, have an sugestions?

I’m a little out of my league on makeup. Maybe you could experiment with removing the makeup using different methods or you might find some way to compare a few brands to test their claims.

I every time spent my half an hour to read this blog’s articles all the time along with a mug of coffee.

Great worksheet! Thanks for posting it. Nevertheless, I did notice that you misspelled suit…

Apparently I did. Nice catch.

My junior high kids enjoy Myth Busters too. Great idea for the scientific method. I will try your lesson this year with my 8th graders. Appreciate your efforts to commit and share in your blog, Scott!

I personally was initially searching for strategies for my very own blog and discovered your article, “Mythbusters &
The Scientific Method Physics & Physical Science Demos, Labs, & Projects for High School Teachers”,
do you care in the event that I really apply several of ur tips?
Many thanks ,Dianna

Please use any of it you see fit. Report back if you come us with improvements. If you are posting to your blog, please cite my site.

On Tue, Feb 5, 2013 at 9:29 AM, Physics & Physical Science Demos, Labs,

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