Planning an Investigation

28 teachers like this lesson
Print Lesson


SWBAT use the Scientific Method to plan and carry out a fair test.

Big Idea

In this lesson, students will following the Scientific Method steps to investigate which will fall to the floor at a faster rate: a piece of paper or the same piece of paper crumpled into a ball.

Lesson Overview

Inquiry Based Instructional Model

To intertwine scientific knowledge and practices and to empower students to learn through exploration, it is essential for scientific inquiry to be embedded in science education. While there are many types of inquiry-based models, one model that I've grown to appreciate and use is called the FERA Learning Cycle, developed by the National Science Resources Center (NSRC):

1. Focus

2. Explore

3. Reflect

4. Apply

A framework for implementation can be found here

I absolutely love how the Center for Inquiry Science at the Institute for Systems Biology explains that this is "not a locked-step method" but "rather a cyclical process," meaning that some lessons may start off at the focus phase while others may begin at the explore phase. 

Finally, an amazing article found at, How Inquiry-Based Learning Works with STEMvery clearly outlines how inquiry based learning "paves the way for effective learning in science" and supports College and Career Readiness, particularly in the area of STEM career choices. 

Unit Explanation

In this unit, students will develop an understanding of gravity while focusing heavily on the 5th Grade Engineering and Design standards. In the first few lessons students will explore the relationships between gravity, weight, and mass. Then, students will apply their understanding of gravity to engineer and design parachutes and roller coasters.  

Summary of Lesson

Today, I will open the lesson by presenting a scenario where two student scientists disagree. Students will then explore the rate at which a piece of paper and a crumpled piece of paper falls to the ground. At the end of the lesson, students will communicate their findings to the class. 

Next Generation Science Standards  

This lesson will address the following NGSS Standard(s):

5-PS2-1. Support an argument that the gravitational force exerted by Earth on objects is directed down.

3-5-ETS1-3. Plan and carry out fair tests in which variables are controlled and failure points are considered to identify aspects of a model or prototype that can be improved.

Scientific & Engineering Practices

For this lesson, students are engaged in Science & Engineering Practice 3. 

Science & Engineering Practice 3: Planning and Carrying out Investigations - Students plan and conduct an investigation on falling objects. They also take into considersation fair testing, controlled variables, and how to make observations.

Crosscutting Concepts

To relate content across disciplinary content, during this lesson I focus on Crosscutting Concept 6. 

Crosscutting Concept 6: Structure and Function - Students will examine the way in which an object (paper) is shaped and how the structure of the paper impacts how it falls to Earth.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

In addition, this lesson also aligns with the Disciplinary Core IdeaPS2.B. Types of Interactions: The gravitational force of Earth acting on an object near Earth’s surface pulls that object toward the planet’s center. (5-PS2-1)

Choosing Science Teams

With science, it is often difficult to find a balance between providing students with as many hands-on experiences as possible, having plenty of science materials, and offering students a collaborative setting to solve problems. Any time groups have four or more students, the opportunities for individual students to speak and take part in the exploration process decreases. With groups of two, I often struggle to find enough science materials to go around. So this year, I chose to place students in teams of three! Picking science teams is always easy as I already have students placed in desk groups based upon behavior, abilities, and communication skills. Each desk group has about six kids, so I simply divide this larger group in half. 

Gathering Supplies & Assigning Roles

To encourage a smooth running classroom, I ask students to decide who is a 1, 2, or 3 in their groups of three students (without talking). In no time, each student has a number in the air. I'll then ask the "threes" to get certain supplies, "ones" to grab their computers, and "twos" to hand out papers (or whatever is needed for the lesson). This management strategy has proven to be effective when cleaning up and returning supplies as well!  


40 minutes

Lesson Introduction & Goal 

I introduce today's learning goal: I can use the Scientific Method to plan and carry out a fair test. I bet you're wondering what a fair test is! We'll discuss this soon! 

Yesterday, you did a beautiful job using the Scientific Method to find an answer to a question! Today, you will be designing a fair investigation to find the answer to similar question. (Here's a link to yesterday's lesson: Recreating Galileo's Leaning Tower of Pisa Investigation.)

Clearing up Misconceptions

Yesterday, I noticed that several students thought that the tennis ball and styrofoam ball hit the floor at the same time because "gravity was pulling equally on both balls." If this was the case, the balls would weigh the same as weight is the measure of the force of gravity on an object. 

I want to address this misconception today, so I invite students to the front carpet to watch the following video clip. Excitement fills the air as my students love videos! I have found that video clips often help my visual and audio learners build scientific knowledge: 

Bowling Ball vs. Golf Ball Poster

Prior to the lesson, I project and trace this Bowling Ball vs. Golf Ball Poster on a large piece of paper: Bowling Ball vs Golf Ball Poster. To heighten student engagement, I cover important words up using Mystery Cards. As a review of the video, we begin by discussing the weight of the bowling ball, then the weight of the golf ball, and finally, the fact that the bowling ball takes more force to move. Students guess the mystery words under each card as we review.

When discussing the impact of air resistance on falling objects, I introduce and explain an Air Resistance Vocabulary Poster.

Google Document

Prior to this lesson, I created and shared a Google Document, . I want to provide students with an easy template for setting up a new investigation using The Scientific Method. During yesterday's lesson, we designed an investigation together. Today, I want students to work with their science teams to design an investigation without as much help from me. Each student will complete their own investigation template. 


I want to inspire interest in today's lesson and capitalize on student curiosity, so I pose an authentic Scenario: Wes and Jen want to know which will fall to the floor at a faster rate, a piece of paper or the same piece of paper crumpled into a ball. They need your help designing an investigation that will help them determine an answer. Be sure to use the Scientific Process! 

To encourage student investment, I ask students to turn and talk: Who do you agree with... Wes or Jen? Why do you agree with this person? We then discuss their thinking as a class. 

Fair Test

We review the meaning of fair test: A fair test is when you make sure that you change one factor at a time while keeping all other conditions the same. We also review the meaning of controlled variables: quantities or conditions that a scientist wants to keep the same for each trial. This is an important point to review beforehand as students will need to identify controlled variables in their investigation later on. 


40 minutes

Getting Ready

I explain: First, I'd like for you to develop an investigation question that would help solve this disagreement between Wes and Jen. Then, you'll move on to researching the topic. Here's a great resources that further explains what happens when objects fall toward the ground. I pass out a copy of Effect of the Air on Falling Objects found on page 3 of the following link. Notice that there's room for you to take research notes in your Google Investigation document! 

To support students at various reading levels, I ask each team of three students to continue reading this text together. This way, a higher reader will help scaffold the text for a lower reader by pronouncing the more challenging words. 

By having students share a document, they work together to determine which details are the most important and share the typing responsibility. This process also helps students develop a deeper meaning of gravity. 

After you have completed your research, continue using the Scientific Process by writing a hypothesis, determining controlled variables, and planning your investigation. When you are ready, you can do the investigation, collect your data, and write a conclusion. Here in about 40 minutes, I'll ask you to communicate your findings! 

Monitoring Student Understanding

Once students begin working, I conference with every group. My goal is to support students by asking guiding questions (listed below). I also want to encourage students to engage in Science & Engineering Practice 7: Engaging in Argument from Evidence

  1. What patterns have you noticed? 
  2. Why do you suppose ____? 
  3. What have you found so far? 
  4. Has your thinking changed? 
  5. What evidence do you have? 
  6. How did you decide _____?
  7. Has your thinking changed? 
  8. What conclusion can you draw about ____?

Procedure Reminder

While conferencing with students, I notice that some are missing two key components in their procedures. I write the following reminders on the board: Make sure you mention both of these in your procedure! 

  • Record observations in the data table. 
  • Repeat these steps three times. 

I then ask students to let me check over their investigation procedure before beginning their investigation: Procedure Conference.

Other Student Conferences

During this conference, More Mass?, I encourage students to develop a more precise investigative question. I also support the students as they decide if the mass of a crumpled ball is different from a piece of paper. 

Here, Students Investigating, a team of students begin their investigation. I try to push them to think deeper about what is really happening! 

One of my favorite parts of today's investigation was when students began investigating beyond the parameters of the original investigation: Extending the Investigation. I interrupt the other groups and celebrate them, hoping that others would take the initiative to extend their learning as well. Later on, I found this group, Inspired Students, answering their own investigative questions as well! I loved it! 


Student Work

Here's an example of student work during this time: Student Example of Investigation.

Reflect & Apply

10 minutes

Sharing Findings

Now that students have built meaning and understanding by observing, questioning, and exploring, it is important to provide students with the opportunity to communicate their findings with others. For this reason, I ask students to read their conclusions out loud and to share their observations with the class. 

As teams share, other students in the class share if they got similar results, if they agree/disagree, and if they have questions for the team.