Scientific Method and Super Mario

The scientific method doesn't exactly whip students into an excited frenzy. However, it's the basis for modern science and it's what differentiates science from pseudoscience. That being said, students more likely than not use the process all the time outside of school without even realizing.

After having students design an experiment to test which brand of toilet paper is the strongest when wet and going over the basics of the scientific method (view the presentation here), I show them this video and ask them to watch for the player's use of the scientific method:

I know that may be copyrighted content1, but it's a great example of the scientific method.

Define a problem: The player wants to get beyond this level to eventually save the lovely Princess Toadstool. This big baby stands in the way. The research question here is pretty obvious: "How can I defeat the baby dino-plant?"

Observation: The player brings knowledge of the game so far into the duel with this large dino-plant boss. For example, the player knows Mario's spin move often hurts the bad guys. Also that shooting bad guys with "stars" and jumping on top of bad guys often hurts them. The player also is observing the dino-plant boss for signs of how to beat it as well as for watching out for how it will try to attack Mario.

Hypothesis & Experiment: The player comes up with multiple hypotheses. Notice the spin move attack and the firing of  "stars" at the boss. Hypothesis: A spin move will hurt the boss. Experiment: Try out a spin move against the boss.

Analyze & Conclude: Did the spin move work? No, it didn't.

ReHypothesize & ReExperiment: The player tries out several hypotheses before hitting on one that showed results. Even then the situations keeps changing so the player has to continually make observations and hypotheses.

This probably isn't the most elegant method for introducing the scientific method, but it does seem to grab their attention2. I think it also helps students realize the scientific method isn't just an Ivory Tower scientific exercise.

It is practical. They've used it.

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  1. Dear Nintendo, Inc.: I'm essentially advertising your game as being science-y and fun. Thanks for not suing me.     (back)
  2. Pretty amazing to think that Mario is much older than they are. He's nearing his 29th birthday (Donkey Kong was released in 1981). My students are turning 14 (most are born in 1995 or so).     (back)
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