Sharkweek! Using a Popular Television Series to Develop Science Inquiry Skills and Vocabulary

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Objective

Students will be able to link the vocabulary of science inquiry to real world examples of science research.

Big Idea

What does science inquiry look like in real life? Students will analyze a Mythbusters experiment linking color to shark food preferences and then create their own experiment using our science inquiry vocabulary

Notes for the Teacher

For this activity, we will be using a Mythbusters Shark Week! experiment studying sharks and color choices in order to investigate the process of scientific inquiry.  I have used "Seeing Red" 4 minute clip, found as video number three on the Mythbusters Sharkweek! webpage.  However, you could use any Mythbusters clip you like, shark related or not!

  • Note:  The kids LOVE this activity and you can expect a high level of focused energy and engagement.  That is the primary reason for using this popular television show to prompt our science inquiry conversation and connect science they can see to new vocabulary.  


The document we use for observation and analysis is not specific to either of the clips referenced above, so feel free to personalize this activity to meet the needs and interests of your class by substituting any clip you like.  :)  I like this clip because the team performs an experiment and then has to redesign their experimental methods as they realize other variables influenced their initial data set.  This allows for a great discussion about what variables are and how scientists control for them so that their independent variable is the only factor in play as they analyze their results.

The Classroom Flow: Introduction

10 minutes

1.  Start out by asking students if they know about this show called "Mythbusters."  Before you even finish the sentence (you can be dramatic by making a big display about not being clear on the name of the show), students will be shouting 'Yes!" and discussing how much they like it.  

2.  At that point, keep the introduction very short, saying that we will be viewing a short clip together to start the class.  Giving very little content introduction/connections at this point increases the engagement and excitement of getting to watch a 'cool' show in class. 

3. After the clip is over, ask students to talk briefly with their lab group about what they saw.  

  • The goal here is to have them share out their ideas and excitement and get them primed to see the video again with a specific goal in mind.  To that end, any kind of discussion prompt will work: 
    • What was the most interesting/surprising thing you noticed?  
    • What are you curious to know more about? 

 

  • Ask each lab group to elect a spokesperson to briefly share with the class their major takeaways.

The Classroom Flow: Video Take 2

20 minutes

1. After the initial viewing and share out of perspectives, tell students that they will be watching this clip again, but this time, the focus will be on what they are seeing in relation to previous discussions about scientific inquiry (data, independent and dependent variables, controls).  

2.  After the class watches the video a second time, pass out the discussion guide.  

3. Students work with their lab groups to discuss and complete the guide.

4.  Share out/review the guide together as a large group using the spokesperson routine to answer clarifying questions and reinforce key terms.

The Classroom Flow: The Students' Turn to Create!

20 minutes

1.  Ask students to turn to the second page of the discussion guide which gives them the opportunity to create their own scientific inquiry scenario, connecting it to our key terms.  

2.  Students will work at their lab tables in their lab groups (3-4 students per group) to complete the activity.  See attached sample of student work for more information.

  • Note:  From the work sample, you can see the student has correctly summarized the experiment we watched and identified the scientific method/terminology we have discussed.  On the second page, the student has created her own experiment to test out her hypothesis that one side of a penny is thicker than the other.  I can see from her work that she has been able to connect the experimental design process we viewed and discussed to her own thoughts about a personal experimentation.

 

3.  Use the spokesperson routine to share out creative group experiments and link to the vocabulary of scientific inquiry.  

  • Note: In the past, I have had students work in pairs or as lab groups (4 students per group), and I have also assigned this piece as an individual homework assignment as well.  I find that my preference is for students to work at their lab tables in groups of 4.  This way, I can ask each of the eight groups to present their work to the class as a closing/wrap-up activity and if I have time to devote to this for a second day, I can ask them to create a graphic display of their new experiment to share with the class. 

Extensions

This year, I ran across this great podcast on National Public Radio about a recent study linking hours of sleep with cold infections.  After our Mythbusters lesson, I asked students to listen to or read through the story using the NPR web link and to identify the steps of the scientific method.  We were able to review the idea of independent and dependent variable, discuss the details of an experimental design, the differences between data and conclusion statements, and dig a little deeper into the idea of causality vs. correlation.  I feel this additional step the day after our initial introduction really helped support student understanding of the scientific method.