Design Your Own Experiment (Day 1)

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Students will be able to plan and carry out their own investigations.

Big Idea

Students need opportunities to explore science and develop their own experiments.


5 minutes

In order to motivate and engage my students, I begin the lesson by presenting a the Mythbusters Rubens' Tube clip and tell them that they will be designing and conducting their own experiments using what they have learned over the last few days.

The process they use should be the one that they created in the "One Scientific Method?... Not" lesson. Students are also expected to make use of the vocabulary and skills learned in the "Questions, Hypothesis, Variables, Oh My" lesson. 

Guided Inquiry

20 minutes

I tell the students that they will be able to choose what they want to investigate (Practice 3 Planning and Carrying Out Investigations). There are some constraints:

  1. Nothing flammable can be used.
  2. Materials should be readily available.
  3. They must be able to complete their investigation within one class period.

As a class, we come up with some ideas for the groups to study. Some examples of possibilities include:

  • Does bread always land butter side down?
  • Are double stuffed Oreos really double stuffed?
  • Which color of M&Ms melts faster?
  • Are Bounty paper towels more absorbent than generic paper towels?
  • Which is the best way of keeping a peeled apple from turning brown? 
  • Will apples sold as organic brown faster than their "non-organic" counterparts?
  • Which will fizz out more after 10 shakes, cold soda or room temperature soda?
  • Will the type of paper an airplane is made out of affect how long it stays in flight?
  • Does adding salt to ice and water slow down, speed up, or not change the rate the ice melts in the water?
  • What type of ball will bounce the highest?


As the questions are being generated, I write them on the board and then, by show of hands, we decide which seven will be the questions they can choose from. I want each group to have a different question (and I have seven tables in my class) so that we have some variety during the presentations.

I create the table groups by picking random names (Popsicle sticks) and having the students write their name under the question they want to explore. Once a question has five students signed on, it is closed and the remaining students must choose a different question. This gives the students some choice on what they will be doing, while offering opportunities to not work with the same people all the time.

Once the choices are set, I have the students move to their "new" tables and pass out the experimental design planning sheet. I tell the students that since I will be providing all materials they must be very explicit on their lists ("If it is not on there they will not have it"), and that their methods should be clear enough so that other people may follow them. 

Watch as the students decide on their controlled variables and attempt to explain to each other what they think might happen (the interactions spark some thinking about a minute in).

Constructive Feedback

20 minutes

Once students have finished the first draft of their plan, I model how to give constructive feedback using an I Like-I Wish-I Wonder format. I then ask the students to trade experiment plans with other teams, and pass out the I like-I wish-I wonder half sheets. As students are completing the half-sheets and talking to each other, I walk around the room looking for good examples of constructive feedback that can be shared with the class, as well as similar areas of need in the development of the experimental plans.

Listen carefully as a team discusses the testability of a question (NGSS Practice 3 - Plan and carry out investigations)

The table next to them has a different discussion. This one focuses on the importance of clarity while developing an investigation.

I devote a lot of time to this portion of the lesson. Students need to be able to look at their plans with a critical eye, and be able to identify areas that need improvement (Practice 3). They also need to be able to "engage in discussions with scientific peers" (Practice 8 Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information). By using the I Like-I Wish-I Wonder format, I am allowing the students to practice finding each other's strengths and areas where they need improvement in a non-threatening way. I also use this format during presentations and evaluation of final projects.


5 minutes

As I close today's lesson, I tell students that they will refine their plans the next day based on the feedback they received from their peers.

Usually teams need more than one iteration of the I like-I wish-I wonder feedback before they are ready to conduct their experiments; however, I make sure I collect the materials list from each team in order to be ready for the next day. I also comment on their designs using the I like-I wish-I wonder format taught during this lesson.