During the previous lesson, students developed testable questions centered on a randomly chosen object. They worked to identify the different variables within their question but had not yet been introduced to the vocabulary "independent variable" and "dependent variable", though some students should be familiar with these words from previous grades.
Students sit down and copy the following words into their science journal and work with their table partners to develop their "best guess" definitions.
These are the words that are important for students to know in order to be able to design strong lab investigations. I want students to use their knowledge of other words to help them to guess about the meanings of these words. I walk them through one or two words so they know what I want them to do.
I ask students to create a 3 column chart (word list) in their journals and to copy the words in the left column being sure to leave space between words, 3-5 lines should be fine. (I do have students use a ruler because the sooner they learn that neatness matters the better.)
I ask students what other word they hear when I say "variable" or what other word does "variable" sound like. I guide them until someone comes up with the word "vary" and I write it on the board so students do not confuse it with the word "very". I next ask students to tell me what it means for something to vary. If students are unsure I will give them an example sentence such as, "I like to vary the shoes I wear so I don't get sore feet." This usually gives students the information needed to identify that vary means change. From there, I have students guess what variable might mean and students usually come up with an answer such as "the things that change in an experiment". I have students write this definition in the center column of their chart.
Students work on the rest of the words as I walk around giving clues or asking questions. I don't tell students if they are right or wrong at this time, as I want them to come up with their own ideas, again reinforcing the idea that they do not always need to be correct but they always need to try.
My experience has shown me that, for some reason, students have a difficult time retaining the meaning of independent, dependent, and controlled variables. I use the PowerPoint variables practice to introduce students to a more formal definition of independent/dependent variables and to give them some practice at identifying those variables from a description of an experiment.
As a class, we work through the PowerPoint. Sometimes I have students copy down notes during class but since this presentation will be posted on our class website so they can access it as needed so I choose not to so students can be fully engaged in the practice. I do provide students with a copy of SKELETON NOTES: Variables so they all can take part in the practice questions in a low risk manner.
This is when students are introduced to a song that I wrote to help them remember the vocabulary words we covered in the warm-up.
I ask students how many of them can remember the words from a song they haven't heard in years (most students will raise their hand). I ask students how many have ever had a song stuck in their head, particularly a song that they don't particularly enjoy (again most students raise their hand). I explain to students how the brain likes rhythms, patterns, and rhymes and how I like to use that to help students remember information. We make use of songs, limericks, silly rhymes and chants often during the year.
I give each student a copy of Variables and Stuff Song (you can almost hear some of their stomach's drop!) I tell students how I love to sing and that if I had any talent at all I would have been a pop-star. Unfortunately for them, they are about to witness my lack of talent but I more than make up for that with enthusiasm! At this point I sing the song for them so they know how it should sound but also to let them know that it is ok to be silly. This song is written to the tune of Taylor Swift's song "You Belong With Me", one of my all time stick in my head songs. I want students to be as comfortable as possible so I am not afraid to let my voice crack, I just sing with gusto.
Once I have performed the song once, I explain to students that while this is silly and might make them a little uncomfortable, it really does help most students remember the meanings to the words. I ask students to just trust me and give it a try because the louder you sing the more fun it is! I have students all clump together in the center of the room and we sing this once or twice together. Sometimes I have contests between classes in which we will practice the song everyday for a few days and then I will record audio from each class and have the teacher pick the winners. It depends on how competitive or shy the students are and what motivates them to step out of their comfort zone.
Because the songs work best with repeat exposure, I have students work in small groups of their choice (between 4-6 people). I tell the students that they are to create a podcast, either video or audio, of their group performing the song.
Students can use their smart phones to record or they can check out a microphone from me and record using a computer. I tell students they are free to be as creative as they want, such as using a program that will allow them to manipulate their voices. I want them to own this project as much as possible but whatever they choose to do, their voices must be understandable. I give students two days of class time to complete this project. Students are encouraged to make use of study hall and after school if necessary. The goal of this time is for students to repeatedly sing the song causing them to "accidentally" memorize at least the chorus of the song. I like to sing part of the song over the next few days and see how many students can say the next line, it is a fun way to show students that they are learning the content.
Students revisit the word list they created during the warm up. Now that they have had more exposure and practice with these words, students will revise their "best guess" definitions making them more accurate and easy to remember. I instruct the students to write these definitions in their own words so they are easier to remember.