There's a method to the madness

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Students will appreciate the aspects of the scientific method that make it a useful problem solving process in any situation, and not just pertaining to a science experiment.

Big Idea

The scientific method is a useful problem solving method for any situation.


5 minutes

I display the question, "What qualities make a good detective?" on the LCD projector for students to view as they enter the classroom.  I use this question as a lead into the new content because a crime scene presents a problem that requires investigation to solve, very much like a scientific problem does.  This helps students recognize how the problem solving process for either is somewhat the same.  To help them make the connection, I ask students to think about the qualities they have seen displayed on their favorite detective television shows like the ability to note details, etc..  I will refer back to these same traits when I introduce the content.  I give ample opportunity for students to participate in the discussion, allowing at least 4-5 students to share their responses.


10 minutes

After the warm-up and identification of qualities that make a good detective, I present a crime scenario entitled, “Who did It?”  This short case study is a lfollow-up to the warm-up question to further ensure that students are able to activate prior knowledge about how to solve problems.    I guide students through the “crime” and read each slide aloud to the class.  I allow students to respond at the end of the powerpoint by writing their own responses to six questions. This is an effective activity for introducing the concepts related to the scientific method. 

 I try not to make assumptions about prior knowledge and experiences that my students possess.  Engaging my students in this type of activity before I teach new content helps them makes teaching the content that follows easier for students to comprehend.

After students have written their individual responses, I provide time (5 minutes) for academic discourse about the crime and the possible suspects.  Academic discourse is based on a defined process for how to engage in classroom discussion. I use discourse prompts  to help my students engage in academic discourse in my classroom. The discourse prompts  are taped to each table  in my classroom and students are taught how to engage in discussion with their peers using the prompts.  

I use the discourse prompts because they help students practice defending their opinions using supporting evidence.  It also allows them to practice the art of agreement or disagreement in a productive manner.  Initially, I have to teach and model how to engage in academic discourse.   I reinforce the practice by redirecting students to the prompts when appropriate. Over time, students become comfortable having academic discussions using discourse prompts and the prompts aren't needed.



Introduce New Material

15 minutes

I go directly into the new material from the "hook."  I might say something like, "So now that we have an understanding of the process of solving crimes, let's consider how we solve scientific problems." I introduce the Scientific Method.  Right at the start of new content, I identify the student learning objectives (learning target) associated with the content.  I think this is important because it allows students to know what they should know and/or be able to do by the end of the lesson.  This is important because learning objectives drive the assessments associated with the content. More importantly,  giving students the objectives allows them to self-assess their ability to demonstrate the knowledge or skill that is outlined at the start of the lesson. 

Each lesson also begins with an introduction of relevant vocabulary. Literacy development is a major component of science instruction in my classroom and I use a tiered word wall for vocabulary instruction. This visual aid reinforces new vocabulary as the words associated  with the lesson are displayed until the end of the lesson. I often direct students to the word wall during assignments and discussions. Seeing the words and saying the words associated with a particular lesson helps build vocabulary recognition. 

I identify tier 1 words as terms that are common and generally known.  Tier 2 words are terms that have multiple meanings in different contexts.  Tier 3 words are terms that are specific to the content being taught.  Terms that contain Latin and Greek word stems are added to student’s vocabulary maps that they maintain over the school term.

This component of instruction is instructor led, although I do accept questions from students as I present the content. Students should be actively listening as evidenced by students taking notes during the introduction of new material.  To support this expectation I create, copy and distribute guided notes.  Distributing guided notes helps students quickly get the relevant information on paper.  The notes are 3-hole punched so that students can easily add them to their 3-ring binders that are required for my class.


Guided Practice

10 minutes

Mid-way through the presentation of new material after presenting the information about dependent and independent variables, I stop and allow students to briefly practice identifying the dependent and independent variables. The guided practice is embedded in the ppt.  I demonstrate for students how they can identify both variables by asking themselves two questions, “What changed on purpose?” (the cause or independent variable) and “What was measured?” (the effect or dependent variable).  I model identification by doing a “think aloud” with a second statement.  “Think aloud” is an activity where I share my thoughts and reasoning aloud as I work through the identification process.  I make sure to ask myself the same two questions: “What changed?” and “What was measured?” so that students will observe how these questions can help them correctly identify the independent and dependent variables on their own.  This understanding of variables allows them to then better understand the concept of control group and experimental group that follows.


Independent Practice

10 minutes

After completing the ppt, I give students an opportunity to demonstrate the learning objectives using a scenario that requires them to identify the parts of the scientific method, the variables, control group, experimental group and constant(s). I chose this activity because it covers all aspects of the lesson and learning objective and it acts as a formative assessment for me.  I also like the aspect of the task that requires students to provide written explanation for their answer to one of the questions.   I allow  at least 15 minutes for completion of this task and I walk around the room, making myself available to assist if needed or offer assistance to those who appear to need help.  Allow 5-10 minutes for the review of the correct responses. Call on different students to share their responses.  Use the opportunity to model and engage in academic discourse.  


Lesson Close

5 minutes

I use a review to quickly assess students’ grasp of the concepts taught.  This is another formative assessment for me as a teacher.  As I walk around the room, I am listen and watch for signs of students' understanding or confusion.  I typically recycle old copy paper that I have cut into 4x6 pieces for this type of lesson close.  I instruct students to answer the questions independently on the paper I distribute.  I grade the responses after I collect the papers.  Based on the scores, I know if I will have to re-teach the information or not.  This type of lesson close also gives students insight into whether or not they understood what was taught.  This lesson close can also be conducted by randomly selecting students to respond in the whole group setting.  


5 minutes

Students will use their notes taken in class to write 20 inquiry based questions ( “what, why, when, how, or where”) questions and answers. I require students to rewrite the notes into inquiry questions and answers as a standard homework assignment after a study guide is completed.  This activity ensures that they are reading over the notes and writing the information as an active study practice.  It also serves as a method of formative assessment.