Inferences: The skill of scientific metacognition

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SWBAT actively make inferences from pictures.

Big Idea

Looking at the world and seeing the patterns all around can help to understand questions that guide learning about that world.


10 minutes

This lesson is the last in a series of lessons taught directly to the process skills of science.  I believe it is important to explicitly teach these skills to primary aged children.  The process skills will be embedded in many lessons they will encounter in their schooling years, however, in the lower elementary grades, they should be taught directly to the children.  

Setting the stage really needs a hook to draw the children in.  I use a video clip from the Watch, Grow, website.  It is a great resource for teachers with so many great resources and they are all free.  

"Boys and girls, I want you to watch this quick little video clip with me.  It has one of my favorite characters from PBS on it.  His name is Sid the Science Kid.  I am sure you can tell why I really like him.  This clip is really short, but it is packed with some great stuff for us to talk about today. Watch it now and then we will talk some more." 


"Well, what did you think of that?"  Typical responses are "that was fun", or "it was great, I like that show."  "I really liked it too.  You know, Sid was doing something that was a great lead in to what we are going to talk about today.  Does anyone remember what he was doing in that clip?" 

"He was observing something."  

"Yes, he was, it was roly-poly bug.  Sometimes, scientists like to call them isopods or arthropods.  They are really insects, but they would definitely fit in the bug category. What was really cool about what Sid did though, was he knew he wanted to make sure the creature he was looking at was a roly-poly.  He had to do something in order to make sure he was right.  Turn to your shoulder buddy quickly and discuss what you remember him doing." 

This is a quick opportunity for the children to have a bit of dialogue and move a bit.  This is always a good thing to do to keep the children engaged and focused.  

When I ring my bell, all eyes are back on me and we are ready to keep going.  "Did you have some good conversations about what Sid did? Can you show me with your thumb up or down on your chest if you discussed Sid observing an isopod with a magnifying glass?" 

This is an example of student holding hand.

I survey the room to see how many of the children are prepared to move on.  I see that most are feeling comfortable with this; so I keep going.  

"Well, you know we have been working for a few days now on learning some really important science skills that are going to help us to be great scientists this year.  This is going to be another chance for us to practice a new skill.  It is a cool one, it's called inferencing. You might remember we talked about this word in reading too.  It's really kind of amazing to me how so many of our reading and writing words keep coming up in science too.  

This lesson does not align to any specific performance expectation, but does align nicely to the Science and Engineering Practice 4: Analyzing and Interpreting Data.  In order for students to make an analysis of data, they must be able to look at that data and make observations from what they see.  

Not only does it offer a perfect practice point for this, but it also offers practice is looking at the cross cutting concept of patterns in nature.  Again, another point of reference to teach children is the ability to look at any object in the natural world and look for any patterns within its make up, or actions that have patterns.  Those patterns lead to inferences that will ultimately lead to greater understanding and explanation of student ideas and concepts. 


15 minutes

In this phase of the lesson, I want the children to be able to investigate a little with real photographs of insects.  Having live insects in the classroom for a lesson on inferences is difficult.  With live insects you cannot always ensure they will perform on cue.  I find that having photographs will always offer the exact environment I am looking for to set this lesson up. 

I have my lap top up and ready with the Inference Power Point.  I really like to use power points to teach my lessons, they make it very convenient for me to keep all the necessary materials (pictures, black line masters, assessments all in one place).  But the best feature of using Power Point in teaching, is the ability to add photographs and pictures, along with other graphic organizers, text and any clarifying attributes I can to enhance the learning for my ELL students while I am teaching. 

I always show the first slide with the title. It is great for those higher level students who like to see what is coming. I move on to slide 2 which shows a picture of an isopod rolled up in a ball. The slide has three questions numbered.  I ask each question in sequential order.  I want the children to be able to practice asking and answering for themselves the same questions Sid did in the opening video clip.  I also like that the picture is the same creature that Sid was observing, it gives the children a connection to the video. Which will trigger the conversation we had in the engaging section about making observations.  

Slide 3 and 4 continue through the same practice as slide 2.  Continuing to look at the pictures. Answering questions about what they observe and being to prove with evidence they observe to back up their claim in the photograph.  

This is not an interactive inquiry lesson with other students, but more of an interactive lesson with in the child's own thinking.  Activating their own meta cognition.  This is a word that is used frequently in reading, but rarely in science.  However, it has the same connotation in science.  Students need to activate their own background knowledge, coupled with their skills of observation to make good inferences.  

That is what this lesson allows for. 


15 minutes

During this phase of the lesson, I continue with more explanation of what an inference is for students in science.  The Power Point again offers that visual for the students to continue working on this process skill.  

Slides 5 - 7 explain the gist of what an inference is in kid friendly language.  

After explaining this concept to the children, I ask them to turn to a shoulder buddy (the student sitting next to them; shoulder to shoulder) and have some dialogue about what an inference is to them.  

I want the children to practice explaining it to another partner.  If they are able to articulate this easily, I know they are on their way to understanding how to do this independently. 


10 minutes

I want to see if the students are able to observe a photograph, make observations, take what they know and make an inference.  I use a strategy called, PVF (Paired Visual Fluency), it is a Fast FACT strategy that comes from Page Keely's book, Science Formative Assessment. It is one of my most favorite books to use.  It is full of suggestions and ideas of different ways to gather information about your students and their thinking without always needing a paper and pencil.  

I print two copies of the PVF photographs and laminate them. I cut them apart and put them in envelopes or ziploc bags. Whichever, I have an abundance of during the school year.  I put two different pictures in each container.  One for each child.  I pass these to the partner teams to use during the evaluation. 

Laminated pictures allow me to use them several years in a row before having to replace them. Creating them in Power Point, allows me to save the document in my computer hard drive making it easily accessible when I need to retrieve the photographs again

This strategy asks a pair of students to sit face to face.  One has a picture or object that they are going to talk about for an extended period of time.  While they are talking the other student is only listening.  They are not allowed to talk, just listen.  The teacher sets a timer, for Second Grade students, I believe that three minutes is an ample amount of time. Any more, and they become restless and run the risk of getting off task.  

During the talking time, the student who is doing all the thinking and sharing of ideas, wonderings, thoughts, questions, and musings, will have a picture to look at. The picture is what guides the students thinking.  I pass out the PVF photographs to the partner teams and ask them to choose the photograph each partner would like to speak to.  

I explain that I will set the timer for three minutes, the partners must decide who will explain their inferences first and who will explain second.  This builds independence in the students allowing them to choose for themselves.  

When the timer is set, the children begin sharing all their observations.  I am walking around the room listening to conversations and gathering all the information I can about the sharing the children are doing.  When the timer is completed, the same process is gone through and I continue to walk and gather my own data of the understanding.   

When all the children have had a chance to speak to their partner, all is quiet and eyes are on me.  I ask for any volunteers who are willing to share what they learned from their partner. Not only is this lesson a lesson in metacognition and inferences, it is a good lesson in practicing listening skills. 

This strategy can be a bit distracting for any students who have a hard time remaining focused when there is too much noise or for ELL students who are struggling with language. Accommodations can made to help those students.  The more the strategy is used, the easier it becomes with time and practice of the language.