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The Scientific Method in the October Sky Essay

The movie “October Sky” is often used as part of lectures and discussions in science classes primarily because it demonstrates the most fundamental process involved in the world of scientific inquiries – the scientific method. Contrary to popular misconceptions, the movie shows more than the struggle for a dream amidst social obstacles and family conflicts. Rather, it narrates the true story of Homer Hickam, Jr. the son of a coal miner who yielded a number of science fairs because of his rockets.

Basically, his quest to create an efficient rocket and his monumental success demonstrate the legendary scientific method. (Henkel, 2000) To a great extent, it can be concluded that the movie uses the scientific method as a pattern for its plot. As proof of this claim, this paper aims to demonstrate how exactly is the scientific method used and demonstrated in the activities of the movie’s characters. The researcher will then try to match significant events in the film which best coincides with the steps involved in a formal scientific inquiry.

The Scientific Process in “October Sky” Defining the Problem The problem in the story does not necessarily reflect the conflict faced by the characters. The deviation of Homer’s desires to his father’s plans and the constraints set by the local authorities regarding the tests conducted can be considered as major conflicts in the story. However, the real scientific problem here starts when Homer becomes inspired with the Soviet satellite Sputnik and decides to create a rocket of his own.

To complete his goal, Homer forms a team – the math genius Quentin, and two other friends Roy Lee and Odell. The four then set out on a mission to create their own version of rockets and with the help of a local science teacher, Miss Riley, and some other people in town, their new passion will eventually take them a long way. Gathering Information The second step in a scientific method is the part wherein the researchers gather pertinent information which is vital for finding a solution to a certain problem.

In the movie ‘October Sky’, this step is actually not clearly defined as the process of information gathering appears two-fold – one before the actual identification – or rather, acceptance of the problem – and one after the acknowledgement of the problem at hand. Nonetheless, the act of data collection clearly exists. In general, one can observe that most of the data that the team used in constructing their first rocket was based on the stored knowledge on mathematics and physics of seeming head researchers, Quentin and Homer.

One can also note that another form of information gathering in the movie was when Homer read a book on rocket launching, apart from the November issue of Life Magazine. In his researches, he was able to determine the internal mechanisms of rockets. Forming a Hypothesis Using the information gathered by the four boys, they begin their mission to invent and launch a rocket. They devise a plan for the invention and this best illustrates the construction of a hypothesis for the identified problem.

They combine the data that they collected about the flight of rockets and then, using formulas for physics and mathematics, they tried to launch rockets several times. Trial, Testing, and Arriving at a Hypothesis The movie also demonstrated that unsuccessful trials demand more research and experimentation; not immediate abandonment of a project. It can be noted that the first seemingly successful rocket launch of Homer and his friends were also – to a certain extent – a bit disastrous. They assumed that since air bubbles in the launcher’s propellant causes the rockets to blow up, they ought to use pure alcohol.

After creating a more efficient propellant, the boys were able to launch a rocket successfully. However, wrong calculations led to trouble as they ended up under the scrutiny of local authorities. Since their launched rocket goes missing, they were not able to defend themselves from the accusation that their experiment caused a nearby fire. The group then decides to stop their operations. (Henkel, 2000) Fortunately, Miss Riley gives Homer a rocket science book and this sparks inspiration. Through the book, Homer learns how to compute trajectories for rocket launchings.

He also learns that the lost rocket could not have possibly caused the fire that authorities were blaming upon them. Furthermore, his new calculations based on his newly formulated hypothesis allow him to locate the missing rocket from a stream bed. Also in this part of the scientific process exhibited in the movie, it can be noted that the Quentin showed an important activity in experimentation – that is to keep detailed records of trials so researchers can keep track of their successes and failures (Goll and Wilkinson, 2008).

Conclusions One can observe that the entire plot of the story follows the scientific method. As soon as the characters realize one of the main conflicts in the story (how to create and launch a rocket), the scientific inquiry commences. The next scenes then follow the typical step-by-step procedure in solving a scientific problem – the characters gather information and formulate hypothesis. Through their failures, they demonstrate the trials and experimentations required in science-based methods.

Furthermore, their success mimic the last scientific step – finding a solution to the problem and having the ability to continuously research and improve the discovered methods. References Goll, James and Wilkinson, Lindsay (2008). Teaching Chemistry Using October Sky. Madison, WI: Division of Physical Sciences, Edgewood College Henkel, Guido (2000). October Sky. Retrieved May 12, 2009 from http://www. dvdreview. com/html/october_sky. html


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