What Do Scientists Do?

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SWBAT state the major parts of a scientific investigation.

Big Idea

Scientists Do Many Things!

Teacher Notes

Activity Description

Nothing is more exciting in science than to do an experiment.  Before the children experience the thrill, they need to know what an experiment is all about and the main parts to it.  In lesson 1,  (Discovering Science) they learned that scientists ask questions and then try to answer them.  They have also learned that scientists make careful observations.  In this part, they will be introduced to the scientific method by listening to a book titled Mad Margaret Experiments with the Scientific Method.  In the book, a girl goes through the scientific process to try to solve a friend's problem.  It makes for the perfect link for introducing and discussing the scientific process with the class.

Teacher Notes

In the book, Mad Margaret Experiments with the Scientific Method, the scientific method is portrayed as a 5 step process. However, scientists describe a more complex question-driven process.  Scientists routinely use a variety of approaches, techniques, and processes in their work.  Therefore, in this lesson I still introduce the "steps", but not in a linear form and do not refer to them as steps.


* book titled Mad Margaret Experiments with the Scientific Method by Eric Braun.  (I bought mine at Amazon.com for $8.00).

What Do Scientists Do? Poster Set (I put magnetic tape on the back so they can be displayed)

 * sticky notes to cover some of the words (see advanced prep)

Advanced Prep

In advance I cover the words:

** on page 6--"Our question is:  Why does Jasper sneeze at Donna's House?" I do this because as I am reading and come to that part I want the children to try to come up with their own question.

** on page 14--All of the words after the first sentence since I want them to make their own inferences.



5 minutes

I ask the children, "Have any of you ever done a science investigation?"  I elicit their responses. I ask what they did and how they did it.  Then I ask, "Are you ready to learn about science investigations? I hope so because we are going to read about a girl named Mad Margaret who loves to do investigations.  In the book she helps a friend out and we are going to find out how she did it."

Just getting the kids thinking about investigating is exciting to them.  Now you add a girl about their age doing an investigation, and you've got them hooked!


30 minutes



I gather my students in our reading corner.  I always like to have them come back to the corner when I read a book so they can all see the pictures.  It also promotes a family feel to the classroom. During the reading of the book, I am going to stop at almost every page and highlight the part of the scientific process that the characters in the book are portraying.  It's a fun way to introduce concepts with a little bit of excitement.

I start, "We are going to be reading a book titled Mad Margaret Experiments with the Scientific Method. Let's use of our observation skills," I say as I hold up the book cover. "What do you notice about the cover?" They respond,"The girl has crazy blue hair." "She has cool glasses."  

At this point I figure they need to dive in and make deeper observations.  "Let's read the title again to see what clues we can get from it."  We read the title together, "Mad Margaret Experiments with the Scientific Method."  I model aloud for the children, "Just reading the title helps me to understand what the story could possibly be about.  I am thinking that a girl named Margaret does some scientific experimenting.  Look at the rest of the cover, do you notice any clues about what the story will be about?"  Now the children seem to be looking more closely, "It looks like she must really like science, I can tell because she has science stuff on her table." I ask the child, "Can you point that out." She points out the beaker, test tubes and bunson burner.  Another boy says,"I can tell she likes science from the posters on her wall." I reply,"Great. Can you tell me about the posters?"  He answers, "She has a poster that says team science, another one with a skeleton, one with the solar system, one with rainbows and an old guy."  I giggle and reply that the old man is one of the most famous scientist--Albert Einstein.  

Then I point out the boy who is sneezing.  "I wonder what this boy is doing?  I wonder what that has to do with the story?  Does anyone have any ideas?"  A girl answers, "Maybe she makes a potion to help him stop sneezing."  Another suggests," Maybe he is crying."  "Interesting ideas.  I can't wait to find out.  Does anyone know what the scientific method is?"  The only reply is," It has something to do with science."

At this point, I do not want to tell them what the scientific method is since I want them to make their own discoveries about it for themselves while reading.  We will have a discussion about the method as we are reading.

I read pages 3-5.  As stated earlier, I have the question part of page 6 covered.  I read up to and including the part, "The steps help us figure out a problem.  The first step is to ask a question."  Then I pause and ask the children," What do you think a good question would be?" A boy replies,"Why is Jasper sneezing?"  "Good question.  Does anyone else have one?"  Since the answer is pretty obvious, there are no other responses.  I then uncover and read, "Our question is:  Why does Jasper sneeze at Donna's house?"  I see the boy who gave me the answer earlier giving me the "thumbs up" sign.

I continue to read page 7, highlighting the white box at the top.  Then I display the first poster card--Scientists Ask Questions .  I ask them to repeat after me,"Scientists ask questions."  They repeat.  "In order to find an answer, you must first ask a good, solid question.  It is usually the first step."

I read page 8 and 9 aloud.  Again I stop to highlight the white box at the top of page 9.  What is the another part of the process?"  They answer,"To gather information." I place the poster Scientists Gather Information on the board.  "Yes! We've been doing a lot of information gathering by observing.  What can we find out by observing?"

I read page 10-13 aloud.  I stop to highlight the white box at the top of page 13.  "Next they formed a hypothesis.  Does anyone recall what it means to form a hypothesis?" "It's when you make a guess about what might happen." "Very good.  A hypothesis is when we make a guess about what we think might be the answer to our question."  I place the Scientists Form Hypotheses poster.

Then I read the first sentence on page 14, "Do you have a guess about what's making Jasper sneeze?" Let's review what we know: Jasper didn't sneeze when they were outside.  What can we inference from that?"  "He is allergic to something inside."  "Great!" I commend her.

"Let's read on" I read all of page 14.  "How did Margaret rule out loud music?" A student answers, "It said they weren't listening to music or playing guitar when he sneezed, so they knew it wasn't the music or guitar."  I ask,"So what do you think it might be?"  A girl answers, "It could be the air coming in the windows." Another answers, "I think it is still the cat."  "Great thinking, let's read on to see what Mad Margaret thinks it is."  I read page 15, and again highlight the white box at the top of the page.  "What did mad Margaret do next?"  They all shout,"She tested the hypothesis!" I place the Scientists Test Their Hypotheses on the board.

I continue to the story by reading page 16.  I question,"What happened in the story that showed the hypothesis was wrong or not correct?"  The children answer,"Jasper sneezed again!" I ask,"What do you think they should do now that their hypothesis is wrong?" A child asserts,"I think they should try something else." I hear several children chiming in with the same response.   I tell the children that we will keep reading to see what Mad Margaret does when her hypothesis is wrong."  I then read page 17 and 18.  Then I ask,"What did they do?"  A child remarks,"They thought of a new hypothesis."  

I finish the book.  On page 22, for the last time, I highlight the white box at the top of page 22.  I inform the children, "The last step that scientists do after an investigation is to share the results." I place the Scientists Share Their Results poster on the board.  "Why do you think this is important?"  A child burst out, "So everyone knows!"  Another child added, "Yea, you want everyone to know what you've discovered."  I affirmed their answers by saying, "You are right. We can all learn from what other people have already learned from their investigations.  If you make a good discovery or an important observation, you should share your findings with others."

 "In the book, Mad Margaret did some other things she didn't note, even though she did them.  For example, she never really told us how she set up her experiment.  I noticed that she decided to try to find out what Jasper was allergic to by getting rid of one of the things she thought it was.  For instance, she closed the windows when she thought the air might be the problem.  Then when she thought it was the cat she went to rooms that didn't have a cat in it." I hold up the card that says Scientists Design Their Investigations.

Another thing that Mad Margaret did was she analyzed her results.  After waiting for a long time in the brother's room without Jasper sneezing, she figured out that Jasper didn't sneeze in a room without cats so that must mean that he is allergic to cats.  She is analyzing her results."  I hold up the card Scientists Analyze.

This whole process of guiding them through the reading of the book and then pointing out how it relates to scientists help scaffold them to get to the science standards goals.  Later in the year they will have to be able to recall this information and complete more of it on their own, but for now this helps to get them started.







5 minutes

"In the book we have just read, Mad Margaret followed steps to try to solve her friend's problem.  Even though this is a fiction book, Margaret followed some of the same steps that scientists follow.  Scientists use these same steps, may they don't always follow them in the same order.  The exact steps they will use depends on what they are trying to find out or what type of investigation it is," I explain.  "Sometimes after scientists find out information, they decide to change what they are doing or how they are doing it and they might do one of the steps over.

To review, I ask questions about the scientific method.  I purposely mix the cards up, so they can see that scientists don't always follow the steps in the same order.  I just make sure that the step about sharing their results is one of the ending cards.  Since most investigations do start with questions, I put that card in the front.  

We go through each of the cards, stating examples from the book.  I check to see that they have a sufficient knowledge of the steps before I continue on.  Then for fun, we recite what a scientist does by holding up cards and the class chants.