Doin' Science: Microwaved Water (Day 1 of 2)

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Students will be able to 1) understand the steps and process of the scientific method, 2) apply the process of the scientific method to various real-life phenomena and construct a valid conclusion (argument) based on evidence, and 3) evaluate the quality of an experiment, especially on the basis of reliability and validity.

Big Idea

Science, when used appropriately, can dispel myths that are not properly supported with solid evidence and sound reasoning. In this way, science can free an ever increasing technological society from ignorance and misunderstanding.

Learner Goals

Note: I recommend that you first check out this resource in order to get the most out of this lesson!

In high school I took several drafting classes and, for a while, I had hoped to become an architect. With respect to planning instruction and teaching, I feel that I can still live out the detailed approach to building something intricate and complex even though the product is a lesson rather than a certain "built environment".

The lesson-planning document that I uploaded to this section is a comprehensive overview of how I approach lesson planning. This template includes the "Big Three" aspects of the NGSS standards: Disciplinary Core Ideas, Crosscutting Concepts, and Science Practices. Of course, there are many other worthy learning goals, skills, instructional strategies, and assessments that can be integrated into a class session. I don't feel compelled to check every box but, rather, use it as a guide to consider various options and tailor the lesson in light of these.

With regard to this particular lesson I want to introduce a simple reason why science is relevant to all people regardless of their occupation or inclination to the sciences (be it real or perceived). I am confident that all teachers at some point or other have fielded the question, "Why do I have to learn this?". Therefore it is incumbent upon me and you (and your colleague down the hall) to anticipate this and be ready for a defense of our chosen and beloved discipline! With this in mind, I have chosen to take on various myths and misconceptions surrounding the common microwave. This two part lesson introduces various ideas (some real and some myth) and together with my class, we investigate the claims and the evidence (of varying quality and quantity) used to back them up. We then look at a science fair experiment that attempted to use a controlled experiment to quantitatively and objectively answer the question, "Does microwaved water harm living organisms?" This then becomes a case study in the good, bad, and ugly of the scientific method. This twin lesson package lays the groundwork for what the process of science strives to be and what it hopes to avoid.

I hope you get some value from my work! Please find the more intricate details of this lesson plan there.

Anticipatory Set ("Hook")

10 minutes

Pose question: “How might science relate to everyday life?” In other words, does it really matter to normal people?

Student response: THINK:  On one's own, consider the prompt. PAIR: Turn to a table partner and take turns discussing the possible responses to the prompt. SHARE: As a class, discuss various student's answers to the prompt.
Introduce Quote: “Every time I nuke leftovers in the microwave, my roommate freaks out and leaves the room. She says it not only leaks radiation but destroys the nutrients in food and makes it carcinogenic. That can’t be true can it?” by Lucas Shaw
Student response: THINK: On one's own, consider the prompt. PAIR: Turn to a table partner and take turns discussing the possible responses to the prompt. SHARE: As a class, discuss various student's answers to the prompt.

Instructional Input/Student Activities

35 minutes
Microwave Myths: Fact vs. Fiction article

1. How can Lucas’ question be settled? Allow students to offer different strategies for doing so. As this is done, prompt the class to consider the pros and cons to each proposed strategy. For example, if Ana suggests feeding microwaved food to rats, ask her (or other students) to think more deeply about that process. How will that answer Lucas’ question? What supplies will be needed? How many rats would be enough? What exactly would she (Ana) be looking for? The more the students wrestle with the process of investigating the more stake they have in learning how best to do so as opposed to the teacher simply giving them the answer.

2. Background Context (Microwave Myths: Fact vs. Fiction): Distribute the Anticipatory Guide for this article that features ten quotes taken from the article. Students are to determine whether she agrees or disagrees with each statement by appropriately marking the chart. Alternatively, project the Anticipatory Guide on the board and have students list their responses on a sheet of paper.

3. Read the Microwave Myths article aloud as a class. I use a "popcorn" style process wherein one student reads a section (typically a paragraph) then he chooses the next reader in succession until the article has been fully read. You may choose to periodically stop to assess understanding of key vocabulary and content understanding. Having pre-read this on my own I noted a number of potentially challenging vocabulary such as “dioxin” and “flavonoids”. Therefore I might clarify the meaning of the term to students;  this amounts to best practice to anticipate problem areas and make provision for scaffolding over and above them. As students read, they will encounter the quotes listed in the Anticipatory Guide (chronologically from beginning to end of article). As they read the response from the author, direct students to progressively mark the correct column (Agree v. Disagree) using a different colored pen or symbol to differentiate the “pre” and “post” marks.

Closure: What did we learn? Where do we go from here?

10 minutes

1.  Once the article has been read, direct students to select three (of the original ten) quotes that they had marked incorrectly and, in turn, write a reflection on what bases they made the original conclusion and explain the evidence that the author used (statistical data, testimony of an expert, reasoning, etc.) to make the conclusion he did. Provide time for students to complete the writing task that can be answered on the Anticipatory Guide (front or back as necessary). Make an effort to emphasize how critical the link between evidence and conclusion is in science.

Lesson Extension & Follow-Up Activities



*It is relevant to note here that in my teaching context, all students are issued district laptops and therefore have no barrier of access to technology. As a result, my general practice is to assign the "vodcast" (video podcast AKA video lecture) (and quiz) for homework on Day #1 that, according to this sequence, occurs on Day #2. In my context we will then discuss the lecture concepts and quiz answers the next day in class.

Click here for Part 2...