Scientists Answer Questions by Observing

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SWBAT extend their abilities to observe by attending to attributes of objects

Big Idea

When students look at a car they see a car, but they could notice the color of the car, the size of the wheels, the dents or scratches if they are taught how to notice.

Background Information and Connections

For students to develop their abilities to think and act like scientists, one skill they need is the skill of observation. If students look at a bowl of fruit they may notice an apple, a pear, and a banana, but they could notice the colors, shapes, any bruises, etc. Second graders usually only notice 1 attribute at a time. The purpose of this lesson is to encourage observation skills. 

Students can be taught to observe details, similarities and differences, events and sequence and patterns. Learning to notice these things also supports the crosscutting concepts of patterns, scale, proportion and quantity, structure and function. 

In the next few lessons, students will work with observing details, size and quantity, similarities and differences. 

(More information on observation can be found in the book, Primary Science, Taking the Plunge edited by Wynne Harlen.

This lesson has a math component that can be done as a separate math lesson or as part of the original science lesson.

The students will have gathered many descriptors for the tree they observe by the end of the lesson. These descriptors could be used in a writing lesson for descriptive writing. Students could use their notes to write a description of their tree and then either draw or photograph their tree to put with the writing.

Introduction and First Observation

20 minutes

I begin today by posting the I Can Statement which reads, "I can look at a tree and tell 3 things I see." I ask the students to read the statement with me and I remind them that it is our goal for today.

Next I say to students, "I am a scientist just like you and I have a question. My question is, are all trees the same? To find the answer today we are going to go outside to look at the trees. I want you to pick one tree and record what you see in your science journal. You will need to bring your journal, a clipboard and a pencil. When we get outside I would like you to walk around and look at the trees. When you find one you like, I want you to record what you see in your journal. When you hear the whistle, I want you to bring your journal to the gathering spot so we can share what we saw."

(I am fortunate to have a Nature's Classroom on the school grounds where students can find a tree. If you don't have trees, you might think of a different item such as flower, or bushes that there are several of so students can each find something to observe.)

I ask students to line up with their materials. I call one table at a time to get their materials and line up. We move quietly to the outside classroom where I let students find a tree to look at. While students are looking at the trees, I move from student to student, checking in, looking at their journals and asking them what they see. Observing a Tree

At the end of 10 minutes of work time I blow the whistle and students gather at the outdoor meeting area.

Gathering To Share

20 minutes

I bring students together and say, " I would like each of you to tell us something you saw when you looked at your tree. We will all share one thing and then we may have a second turn after everyone has had a turn."Sharing Our Observations

As each student tells us one thing they saw, I make notes for later in the lesson of the categories they notice such as colors, size, number of branches, number of leaves, patterns of the bark, roughness of the bark etc. (If there are very limited categories, I may extend their thinking by explaining the tree I saw using new categories.) 

After everyone has shared 1 or 2 things they saw I say, "wow, you noticed so many things about your trees that I hadn't thought to look for such as the roughness of the bark, the different shades of gray in the bark, how tall my tree was. I think I want to go back and look again. How about you?Would you like to go back to your tree and look for something else now that you have heard the things  your classmates noticed? "

 "Ok, you may go back to your tree for 5 minutes. See if you can see anything else about your tree. This time I want you to write down the things you see using a red pencil so you can see the ideas you had the first time, and any new ideas the second time. Please come and exchange your pencil for a red pencil and then you may go back to your tree. "

I hand out the new pencils, collect the old ones, and time the group about 5 minutes. At the end of 5 minutes, I blow the whistle and we head back inside to work more with all that we have found out. 

Reflecting on What We Have Seen

10 minutes

When students are settled in their seats I ask them to show with fingers how many things they discovered the second time they looked at their tree. They should be able to tell the new ones because they are written in red. I say, "look around at how many new things people saw when they went back to their tree. I see people with 1,2,3.. fingers up. You all did a great job noticing what made your tree special. Would anyone like to tell us one of the new things they discovered?"

I let children share out about what they noticed about their tree. I gauge how long to let students share by their attention span. When students have all shared, or their attention is waning I thank students and tell them that even if they didn't share everything they found, they will have a chance to share it with a smaller group in a few minutes. 


Using Math to Classify Our Data

30 minutes

(This section could be done during a math block, or on a different day.)

I ask students to think about the types of things people saw. (I have the list from outside that I can use to refresh their memories if need be.) "Can anyone tell me one thing people noticed about their tree?" ( I hope that students will say things like color, size, number of branches, roughness of the bark, etc.). "Right, you noticed the tree was black and someone else saw a gray tree. What were you both noticing?" (color). "Ok, so let's put color as one of our categories. Can anyone think of another category we noticed?" (size) "Yes, size was another category." (I continue this until we have at least 6 or 7 categories and I list each one on the board as students mention it.)

"Ok, now that we have these categories, I would like you to work in groups of 6 to create a graph. Together we will create the outline for the graph and then you will take turns coloring in a square if you used this category. I will show you what I mean as we go along so don't worry if it seems a bit confusing right now. First would you combine tables so we have 3 groups of 6. You can just bring your chairs to the next table." (I show students where to move to and I hand each group one large piece of graph paper and a marker.). 

"Ok would you figure out whose name starts with the letter nearest the beginning of the alphabet." (I give students a couple of minutes to find that person.) "Now would that person take the marker and draw a line near the bottom of the paper one line up." (I wait for students to do this.) "Ok would you hand the marker to the person on your right. Great and now would this person draw a line down the left side of the paper just one line in." (I wait for students to do this.) "Excellent. Now please pass the marker to the next person on the right and would you write these words, one in each square across the bottom of the paper, below the line as I am doing here." (I model how to label the rows.) 

"So now I have my graph ready to fill in, so I say, " look at my paper about my tree. I wrote black and that is color so I color in one square for color. I ask my partners if any of them saw the color of their tree. If they did, they would color in squares too." (I ask 2 students to be my partners and we color in 3 categories all together.) Does everyone understand what to do? Give me a thumbs up if you are ready to work with your group to make the graph." 

Once students are ready, I let them work in their groups to create a graph of all the categories people saw when they looked at their trees. I circulate around the room offering support and listening to the interactions between the groups. 

Final Reflection

15 minutes

"Do you remember the question I asked at the beginning of this lesson?" I wait to see if anyone remembers before saying "I said, I wonder if all trees are the same? Do you think we answered that question? " I let students say yes or no and I ask them why they think so. (I want students to realize that we found this out by observing the trees even though we thought so to begin with.)

Next I post each graph at the front of the room as the groups finish up. I ring the bell and ask everyone to return to his/her own seats. Together we look at the graphs. I ask students to tell me what they notice about what we saw when we looked at the trees. I hope that students will notice how many times each category was used, which one was used the most, which one the least, etc. I let students discuss the graphs and I ask them why they think we might have used one category more than another.

I ask students if they went outside right now do they think they would notice more about a tree than they did the first time we went out. "Do you think you found more ways today to look at a tree and describe it?" (This question is an informal assessment of student learning that there are many ways to look at or observe something.) 

I ask students to return to their seats and write down in their science journals at least 3 ways (hopefully new ways) that they found today to look at a tree. 

I bring out our I Can statement which read, I can look at a tree and tell 3 things I see. I ask students to show me with a thumb vote (up, sideways, or down) if they feel they can look at a tree now and tell what they see.