We know the standards have changed. They change, what seems now, almost EVERY year. The newest change we’ve seen happening is the integration of the scientific method into the other disciplines of life science, and of course this makes total sense. BUT, when your kids don’t remember the skills of observation and inference, the steps of the scientific method, independent and dependent variables, controls, or just the general nature of science, well… then you want to revisit them – even if it’s just for the first few days of the semester.

We ALWAYS took a day or two to review – mostly because many kids don’t get the process from the get-go, and what they do understand, they forget once summer fun drains their brains of all that learnin’. One thing we know for certain – understanding scientific process and inquiry are essential to year-long engagement in the science classroom and a few days of brushing up never hurts anyone. Here’s what we’d typically do:

Sponge or bell work: Our lesson always starts with a bell-work question or activity that gets kids thinking about the topic at hand. For example:

  • Present students with a problem and ask them how they would go about solving it. For example: the lamp in your room is no longer working. How would they go about determining what’s wrong with it, how to fix it, etc.? Once they’ve come up with a solution, go back and relate their processes to each step of the scientific method, as well how the variables are identified.
  • Have students work on groups to create a “what is science?” cube. This is a great intro activity to science in general, but also gets kids thinking about the nature of science and scientific principles. After students complete the cube using their prior knowledge, you can go back to the process and nature of science and how their answers relate.
  • If your kids have a better understanding of scientific method, have them place the steps along with an example experiment in order using a card sort.
  • You could also have a few questions projected on the board asking students to read a sample experiment and identify the various components: independent and dependent variables, controls, steps, etc. Ask students to determine the result, as well, as identify how the experiment can be improved upon.

Always remind students to cite evidence of their reasoning and that, while their thoughts and words are what we want them to record, options such as “I don’t know” or “because I think it is” are not acceptable answers.

Let’s Explore: This is truly where you can have lots of fun. Think of a simple task that you and your students can complete within the 4 walls of your classroom. Have groups of students brainstorm directions for how to…

  • Brush your teeth (materials needed: toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, cup, mouthwash, water)
  • Make a sandwich (materials of your choosing)
  • Text a friend (materials needed: phone, fingers)
  • Change a lightbulb (materials needed: lightbulb, lamp)
  • Fold a sheet or other piece of laundry (materials of your choosing)

… then have each group take turns reading their directions to you – verbatim. Do EXACTLY what they say – don’t assume that they meant something else. If time permits, listen to and follow every group’s directions. If not, pick and choose. Trust us… this activity is FUN. Your kids will love this demo, because they are generally not very explicit when it comes to details of directions, and it’ll really drive home how important it is to explain each step thoroughly. Depending on your time constraints, you could also have students explore independently with an inquiry lab like our newspaper lab or bubble gum lab which are easy on the budget and great for reinforcing scientific principles.

Explain it: Once you’ve completed their tasks, talk about the importance of clear directions during experimentation, and how this relates to scientific principles overall – they should ultimately understand that clear directions allow for replication and tweaking of experiments, the true nature of science, and that failure is a natural process of scientific inquiry. Talk to them about what could be changed in the demonstrations or inquiry labs, the types of variables, and what the possible outcomes might look like. Don’t forget to incorporate reading, graphing, calculating and analyzing data into your review, as these activities are also essential components of experimentation. Once they get it (again), you can review the actual steps and do some practice problems. You can find TONS of practice and reinforcement in our Scientific Method Unit, STEAM Labs, and Interactive Notebook Activities.

Did They Get It?: At the end of class, have students create and summarize a quick experiment of their own based on an everyday problem they face themselves. For example, their iPhone battery keeps dying, their socks keep falling down while they are running, or their backpack never closes all the way. Have them write down the steps and then address each step with the appropriate part of their particular scenario. They can turn this in at the end of class, write it in their INB, or share at the beginning of the next class as an entrance ticket or bell work.

Here’s a few extensions for this lesson:

  • This is a great lesson to extend and tie into your science fair project intro!
  • Have students analyze various experiments and determine the independent and dependent variables, controls, and each step of the scientific method within the experiment.
  • If the STEAM Labs and/or Interactive Notebook Activities weren’t utilized during this lesson, they can be used as reinforcement or as an extension.
  • We also have a ton of other ideas for teaching the scientific method here in another blog post: Ten Easy Ways to Teach the Scientific Method.

Need to modify?

  • Groups created during the “Explore” portion can designate a recorder and a reporter that can execute those tasks within the group. This can also be an oral presentation for kids with writing deficits.
  • While not as fun as having students come up with directions on their own, you could provide students with slips of paper, each with a single line of the task directions on them, and have students put them in order, then complete the direction as they have ordered them. To make it more fun, you can make the directions somewhat vague… your choice… J
  • Print the notes slides (4 to a page) for students who have writing or executive functioning deficits.
  • Pre-cut templates or have a fast-cutting class mate trim a few templates for students with fine motor skill deficits.

We’re heading into the characteristics of living things next… stay tuned!

Happy Teaching!

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