How Do You DO Science?

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Students use a science process to ask a question, create and perform an experiment, and evaluate data.

Big Idea

Pop. Pop. POP. Investigate popping toys!

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Lesson Purpose:   The purpose of this lesson is to allow the students to practice asking scientific questions, performing an experiment, and collecting and communicating data.  In this lab we use a toy that I call a "Pop- up" or a "popper".  These are very fun little toys that you can buy cheaply on-line.  

Major Strategy to Watch for:    In all labs, I use sentence starters for the conclusion and I keep my conclusions very simple and short.  To me, this helps the students that aren't great writers still be successful at science thinking and writing.  

Ready. Set. Engage

3 minutes

Learning Goal:  Create a testable question and perform a scientific experiment.

Opening Question:  Think about what you've learned about science so far.  What are you going to need to do in your lab today to ensure that your experiment is "real" science?

The beginning of class is an essential time to harness.  Effectively using this time not only gives you more minutes of teaching but can also solve management issues, create motivation and engagement, and build a class culture of learning. 

In my class, this time is called Ready... Set... Engage.  The students come into the room, get ready (get their stuff), get set (get settled in their seats), and engage in writing the learning goal and answering the opening question on the board.  By the time the bell rings, students should be in their seats and working.  Rather than calling attention to students that are not doing their job, I use ROCK STAR SCIENCE tickets to reward students that are working when the bell rings.  This goes a long way to developing a positive class culture.  


5 minutes

Show the video.  Before watching, remind students that they are going to be planning and executing their own labs today.  Ask them to write down some important steps from the video they want to be sure to do. 

When the video is over, make a quick list on the board of the steps and ideas that people wrote down.  I don't take time at this point to talk about each one, because I feel it is more useful to do that after the students have had the lab experience.  

Focus Lesson: Shared Reading Day 2

10 minutes

Shared reading is a strategy I use to help students unpack different genres of reading.  In this lesson we are looking at the genre, Lab Reports.  Doing the shared reading first will help the students be able to write their own lab reports later.

The purpose of the shared reading is to explore a reading while uncovering the teacher's thinking about how to read it.  Shared reading generally takes place over three days.

Day 1- Noticings

Day 2- Questioning, Determining Importance, Visualizing OR Clarifying

Day 3- Summarizing, Inferencing OR synthesizing

These lessons are meant to be brief 10-15 min and generally have a short focus lesson by the teacher followed by a short time for student exploration.  A more complete description of shared reading here.

The purpose of this focus lesson is to give the students a second look at the Shared Reading from the day before.  Today we will be Determining Importance, specifically looking at the purpose behind each lab part and justifying its importance.  

One of the important things to do in a shared reading is to reread the text aloud to the students each day.  (This does mean the text should not be too long!)  Remember, the goal of shared reading is for students to find reading and writing new lab reports on their own easier and more understandable.  

Before reading the text on day 2, I get out the anchor chart we made in day one and review the noticings.  This helps students connect with the previous day's learning and also encourage them to notice these items and mark their importance again.

Since day 2 is about DETERMINING IMPORTANCE, the goal is for students to focus on the different parts of the text and determine what is important about the reading, what is interesting, and think about why it was written this way.  I do this through a think aloud protocol, where I look at the different parts and model my thinking to a series of questions.  For example I would look at the purpose and think aloud about:

Is the purpose important to the reader?  What is the reason there is a purpose in the lab?  Why is it written the way it is?  What is it trying to communicate?

I have the students discuss the importance of the hypothesis, procedure, data, graph, and conclusion.  For each one we use a thumbs up-thumbs down protocol to rate how important it is.  The most interesting section to discuss tends to be the graph.  Students can see that it is a picture of the data and realize that you might not need to have a graph.  This leads to an interesting conversation about when you might want a graph and what that might look like.  

At the end of the lesson I have students help me with craft an anchor chart that shows some of our common thinking about the answers to these questions. It is important that we continue to collect our thinking, because just as today's lesson builds on yesterday's - tomorrow's will build on today's.

Understand and Describe the Problem

5 minutes

Now that the students have examined a lab report two times, they are ready to try their own experiment.  I inform the students that we will be doing an experiment with very specialized equipment.  Then I throw the pop-ups in the room and everyone laughs and scrambles to get some.  The reason I build the suspense like that is not only to have some fun, but also to be able to point out to students that science is all around us and we can experiment using regular objects like toys. 

I tell the students that they have 3 min of play time with the pop ups.  It is important to give them some play time for two reasons; first, they are going to play anyway, and second they need some experience before they will come up with a question.  

After the three min, I have the students get back into their partner groups.  Quickly I ask them to share what they found.  Then I tell them that they need to write a testable question.  I remind the students that they need to be able do perform the experiment and measure the results.  I put a couple of examples on the board and give them three min to brain storm.  

Some examples are:

1.  Does the pop up go to the same height each time?

2.  Does the surface the pop up is on effect the height?

3.  Does the height of the pop up change if the pop up is hot? cold? 

This is always a point of fear for me that the students won't be able to come up with a question. However, invariably, their questions are better than mine, but I do walk around the room and give some hints to groups that are struggling.  

At the end of the three minutes, I put a couple extra questions on the board that I heard from the crowd.  It is important to let the students know that they don't have to choose the best question today...they just need a question.


** I've had some people ask me what is a popper or a pop up, so this video will show you what they look like and how to use them.  I bought mine on Amazon and they were fairly inexpensive.  

In the video, I also discuss two things that are important to getting this lab to go well.

1) Give the students some play time with the "science equipment"

2) Have some generic questions on hand if they can't think of one.

Develop a Plan

5 minutes

I draw the students back together from their brainstorming and tell them that now it is time to plan their experiment.  It is important to draw their attention back to the lab report and point out some of the different sections on the report such as the, title, purpose, hypothesis, and procedure.  

I don't tell them that they have to do those however, because I am interested in seeing how well the information from the shared readings has transferred.  I tell the students they have five minutes to plan and write up that plan.

Carry Out Plan

12 minutes

I stop the students when the five minutes are up.  Most students are done, but some are still be working.  Even though not all students are complete, I continue because I want to create an energetic atmosphere in the classroom where the students are working with purpose.  

At this point, I tell the students they are ready to do the experiment and take data.  I remind them again that science is about evidence, and they will need to make sure they are taking data.  I tell them they have about 10 minutes to perform the experiment and take data and let them go. I circulate the room to help (but not solve) with problems.

These students are testing whether the surface changes the height the popper will go.  The popper is circled in pink.  

This is an important time in the class, because at this point students will realize all sorts of problems with their experiments.  If it is early in the 10 minutes they've been given, they can adjust and correct. If it is later, I remind them that sometimes experiments don't work and they can put that information in their write up.  It is important to emphasize with the students that they are not graded on getting the right answer, but on their process.  This will increase comfort with risk taking.  

Communicate The Answer

7 minutes

Now that the students are done with their experiment, it is time to communicate the answer.  I do a short mini lesson here on Writing to Demonstrate.  (This is the partner to the strategy they learned earlier - Writing to Learn).  These two anchor charts stay on my wall all year so that students can always ground their writing in the purpose.  

I tell the students that in this case, we are going to use a very scripted form of writing.  That is because in lab reports it is the data and precision that are important.  In my lab reports I have the students use a three sentence conclusion.  An anchor chart for this also goes on the wall for easy access. 

In this lab I found.........

I know this because.......

This makes sense because.......


Over the years I have tried different forms of conclusions, longer, more in depth, and I've just found the most success with these three sentences.  In my opinion, it is enough writing to get the evidence and thinking across and not enough that it frightens my reluctant writers.  

 I ask the students to use these three sentence starters to write their conclusions.  Since this is the first conclusion we have written I will read aloud the sentence starter and then give different options of how to finish it.  It is important to tell the students over and over that they need to give actual data, otherwise they will consistently write-"I know this because of the data."  This is an absolute no- no in my class because it shows little thinking and understanding.  


3 minutes

The closure today is simply to read the conclusion to their partner.  I let the students know that tomorrow I will have reviewed their labs and that we are going to be doing peer review and self review as well.