Learning About Science Tools

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SWBAT identify tools used by scientists and be able to use them appropriately.

Big Idea

Students become experts on how to properly use the tools commonly used by scientists.

Rationale and Preparation

The Why Behind Teaching This:

Have you ever handed a group of 5th grade students a measuring tape and asked them to measure the distance a car that rolled all the way across the room traveled?  Or handed them a balance and asked them to find the weight or mass of a marker?  If you have, you probably understand the importance of teaching students how to properly use science tools at the very beginning of the year.  This isn't knowledge that many of them enter 5th grade with, but is crucial to completing experiments, investigations, and engineering activities throughout the year.   It really saves time not having to reteach the tools before beginning each activity. Although tools are not a specific standard, knowledge of them is necessary to master standards related to engineering design (3-5-ETS1-3), and structure and properties of matter (5-PS1-2).

Lesson Goal:

The goal of this lesson is for students to demonstrate an understanding of what each tool is used for, and be able to use each tool appropriately. 

Success Criteria:

Students will demonstrate their understanding of the tools used and how they are used by correctly matching the definitions with pictures and name on the foldable at the end of the lesson.  

Preparing for Lesson:

Warm Up:

Guided Practice:

        Tools to measure mass video                       Tools used to measure length video

         Tools used to measure temperature video   Tools used to measure volume video 

         Tools used to observe video

  • Have a set of playing cards with the all Aces, Kings, Queens, Jacks, and Tens taken out to use for grouping students.  



  • None 


Wrap Up:  


Warm Up

5 minutes

I begin the lesson by showing the Scientists At Work PowerPoint.  This shows pictures of scientists in real world situations completing various tasks.  The last slide asks students to consider what all pictures had in common.  I am trying to get students to see that all scientist use tools, many different tools.  To help focus their attention on the tools, I have typed a question or phrase on each slide.  I am not reading these questions, or speaking at all,  while showing the slides.  I leave each slide up for approximately 5 seconds.  After showing all slides, I give students, who are already sitting in groups, 2 minutes to discuss the pictures and write on their whiteboards a list of their ideas about what they all had in common.  I circulate the room to listen to conversations during this process.  After 2 minutes, I ask the groups to hold up their whiteboards to share with the class.  If they do not get to the idea that all pictures show scientists using tools, then I show a couple of the pictures again and ask questions to lead them to see the tools being used. 

Guided Practice

15 minutes

I have stations set up around the room with tools grouped together based on their use.  The stations are: Tools for observing (microscope, hand lens, magnifying box), tools used for measuring length/distance (measuring tape, ruler, meter stick), tools used for measuring capacity/volume (graduated cylinder, beaker, measuring cup, dropper), tools used for measuring thermal energy (thermometer) and tools used for measuring weight/mass and force (balance and spring scale).

My students are already sitting in cooperative groups of 5 students in each group.  After the warm up activity and discussion, I collect whiteboards and pass out playing cards to each group.  To divide them into "expert groups" I pass out 5 cards (one king, one queen, one ace, one jack, and one ten) to each group.  Each student in the group will take one of the cards.  All of the kings (there is one from each table group), become the experts in tools used to measure distance.  All of the queens, become experts in tools used to measure volume.  All of the aces, become experts in tools used to measure thermal energy.  All jacks, become experts in tools used for measuring weight.  All tens, become experts in tools used for observing. 

I tell students to take their science notebooks and a pencil with them, as they will be responsible for taking notes in their station.  Students go to the location in the room where their tools are set up.  I have signs up to help guide them (Tools for Measuring Length Station Sign, Tools for Measuring Temperature Station Sign, Tools for Measuring Volume Station Sign, Tools for Measuring Weight Station Sign, Tools for Observing Station Sign). Along with the tools, each station has a laptop for viewing a video I have created (videos can be found in the preparation section of this lesson), and any materials needed to practice with the tool as described in the video.  The video explains the tool and models how to use it properly. There are 5 key points in each video that are noted for the students as focus points.  The video also gives them a task to complete to practice using the tool.  By video taping short lessons about each tool, I am able to teach six mini-lessons at the same time and circulate to observe and answer questions.  Students watch the video, note the 5 key points in their science journals, and practice using the tools together as a group.  The idea is for them to help each other become experts, and feel comfortable taking the information back to their group to teach the other members how to use their tool. 

Video of expert group taking notes



30 minutes

After 15 minutes, all students return to their seats with their table group.  Laptops in stations are turned off as the videos are no longer the teaching tool, the students will be teaching each other.  I give brief directions and review my expectations: all students should take their science notebooks and a pencil with them, only one student should be speaking at a time, the expert student will provide information (the 5 key points from the video that they recorded with their notebooks and any other information they may have discussed with the expert group) and model how to use the tool, then the other students will have the opportunity to practice with the tool. 

I tell each group which tool to start at, and the expert for that tool teaches the rest of the group how to use it.  They rotate around to each station, spending about 5 minutes in each station.  I use a timer on my computer that is projected on the overhead so they are aware of the amount of time they have remaining.   I circulate to listen to conversations and to observe students practicing with the tools.  My observations serve as a formative assessment and will help me prepare review for the next days lesson.  You could also use a checklist to assess students as they use the tools. 

Video of expert teaching his group   

Wrap Up

10 minutes

The timer on the overhead will sound after the final station, and students will return to their seats.  I have already placed a basket with scissors, glue, and a tool foldable  for each student at each table group.  The foldable has pictures of each tool on it, as well as a sheet of definitions for each tool.  I direct students to fold the foldable so that the pictures are on the inside, and the six blank sections on the front.   I place directions for completing the foldable on the overhead so that they can refer to it as needed.  Students write the name of each tool on the front.  They then cut and paste the correct definition on the blank side, inside the foldable.  They then cut along the 5 horizontal lines on the front to make the flaps. Once that is complete, they glue the foldable in their science notebook to have as a resource the rest of the year.  I prefer having students create a foldable over just copying down definitions because foldables allow students to use them as a study tool throughout the year.  There is no talking or assisting each other with this task.  I am observing and noting which students are requiring my assistance during this activity so that I have a good understanding of which students to focus my attention on during the following days activity with the tools. 

I have included sample pictures of the foldable at various steps.

Sample front of foldable

Sample of completed foldable