Without any directions, I distribute a set of poppers to each student group. The importance of this materials exploration time is discussed here. I make sure that each set of poppers contains 5 different sized poppers (Mine range from ½ inch in diameter to 3 inches in diameter) and that each popper is a different color. I provide students with 5-10 minutes of class time in which they can explore the materials. During this time, I visit each group and make note of the things students are discussing with peers and the ways in which they are manipulating the poppers. This opportunity to hear the students' discussions is crucial to the subsequent sections of the lesson. I use the content of the students' discussions to shape my instruction during our class discussion time. By doing so, I show students that I value their contributions and make the learning relevant to the students' interests. To ensure that each student has a chance to activate their own prior knowledge on the topics, I make sure to provide enough time so that every student has a chance to play with each of the poppers.
After the materials exploration time, I ask students to place all their materials out of reach in the center of their table and distribute the Poppers Graphic Organizer. This is a classroom management must because as long as students have access to the poppers, it will be very tempting for them to continue to play with the materials.
I ask students to complete the left side of the organizer first. The students are tasked with writing down what they notice about the poppers. Common observations are centered on size, color, and material. I then ask students to complete the right side of the organizer where they list questions they have about the poppers. Students frequently wonder about whether color, size, or the material they are placed on will effect how high the poppers will travel. Students will use these questions in a future lab, so I ensure that students have plenty of time to craft several questions and to talk about their thinking with a peer partner.
I begin our class discussion by asking students to share out the questions they have about the poppers and record the student's responses on chart paper or on the interactive whiteboard. I then introduce the term 'testable question' and ask student groups to discuss what they think might make a question testable. The goal is to have student groups generate the idea that a testable question needs to be a question that can be easily answered with the materials at hand and that the question should only have only variable (parameter that is changed). In order to help students arrive at this conclusion, I visit each group during their group discussion time to provide challenges to misconceptions being voiced by students and to ask probing questions to elicit student responses. After the student discussion time, I have groups share out their ideas about what makes a question testable and come to a consensus on a definition of testable question.
For the next step in the discussion, I refer back to the students' previously shared questions from their graphic organizers. I choose 3 – 4 questions to review with the students; making sure that there is at least one testable question (Does the size of the popper affect how high it will travel?), one question best answered by research (Is the material the popper is made of recyclable?), and one question with multiple variables in the set (Do different colored poppers travel higher when I put them on different surfaces?). I ask students to determine whether a question is testable or not using their definition. I continue with the process of identifying examples and non-examples of testable questions until I feel that most students will be successful in engaging in the process independently.
I ask students to revisit the questions that they wrote on the right side of their graphic organizers and to use a highlighter to identify questions that are testable. I also ask students to modify questions that they wrote so that their list of testable questions includes at least 3 examples. In the next lesson, I guide students through the process of creating a lab in which they can test their chosen question.
The Poppers Graphic Organizer serves as a formative assessment. After the lesson, I review student work to ascertain whether the students were able to correctly identify the testable questions. I then reteach / provide feedback as needed.