Scientists Work Systematically

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SWBAT recognize that science uses a process as a means of learning about the natural world, identify and rehearse the major steps of the process by which scientists learn about the world.

Big Idea

The process that scientists use to learn about the natural world is known as the scientific method. This process ensures that scientific breakthroughs are accurate and unbiased before they are shared with the public.


10 minutes

I introduce today's learning topic by explaining to the students that we are going to talk today about what scientists do and how they work. To get their attention and to gain their interest in the subject, I read 11 Experiments That Failed.

Next, students do a Hands up, Stand up, Pair Up activity for three rounds, to answer - as best a they can - the following questions:

  • "What is Science?"

*I want to guide them to idea that science is the study of the natural world and the way humans find out how the world works. After a few groups share their ideas and I follow up with guiding questions, such as "Why do scientists do experiments? Why do we 'do' science? Why do we learn about it in school?", they usually come to a pretty clear understanding.)

  • "If you are a scientist and you are trying to learn about the world around you, how do you know where to start?"

*Some students will mention looking it up on the Internet or in a book, some will talk about doing experiments, and some won't quit know where to start. That's okay, as they will start to develop this understanding throughout the lesson.

  • "If you are a scientist, and you are trying to figure out something brand new, how do you know when you've got the right answer?"

*This question is a lot harder to answer. Many will not know how their answer is correct, and others will mention looking online or something similar. Obviously, this is not correct, since there won't be any information to compare it to. Again the students will start to develop this understanding throughout the lesson and should be able to address this question with greater understanding at the end.

I prepare the students for the next part of the lesson by telling them that we will conduct an experiment, as a scientist, and talk about not only what we discover, but how we discover it. But before we start, we have some very important background information to cover first.  I show the three diaper commercials (on the slideshow below) and I get a lot of very confused looks! (To move through the 3 slides, use the Slide # drop down box on the lower left hand side.)


30 minutes

I place the students in preselected groups of four and pass out the "Diaper Dilemma" Lab. Each group member is be assigned one of the following roles to fulfill, in addition to conducting the experiment itself:

  • Materials Manager - gathering and returning lab materials for the group
  • Observer / Reporter - paying careful attention to detail and reporting observation, results, and data
  • Time Manager - keeping everyone on task in order to complete the experiment on time
  • Clean Up Crew - cleaning and organizing the area after the experiment is done

I have created groups ahead of time based on who I believe will work together without causing a disturbance to the class. I try to pair more capable students with those who need extra academic support. Later in the year, as students are more self aware and can select more appropriate partners, I tend to let them select at least one partner, if not more. 

I usually assign student roles at random, such as "the person with the longest hair", or "the person with the smallest shoe size". However, I will secretly assign certain roles to specific students if it involves a skill they need to refine or if it meets a specific student need or accommodation.I also try not to assign the same roles to students more than twice in a row.

I have students read through the lab, highlighting directions they want to pay special attention to. We discuss each section of the lab, and I allow students to ask questions about the procedures before we begin. I also point out ant specific steps they have not highlighted that they may want to focus on. While this takes a little extra time, I have found that by doing this, students are less likely to skip over details that may affect their results.

After letting the Time Managers know what time they have to be cleaned up, I put the students to work.

*On a side note, I make sure to mix 2-3 gallons of water with yellow food coloring to use in the lab. It is much easier to see the liquid in the graduated cylinders and in diapers when it contains color, and it resembles urine, which freaks the kids out with a combination of disgust and delight!



15 minutes

Once we have completed the lab, I create a table on the board with 4 columns (1 for each diaper type) and 1 row for every collaborative group. Next, I have the reporter for each group share their results and conclusions, copying them on the board in the corresponding row and column. We discuss the results and try to determine why groups got the results they did, and why they may have agreed or disagreed in their conclusions. Then, we identify any outliers and critique their procedures to identify any inaccuracies. Next, we find the average of each group's data (minus any outliers) and decide whether or not it is a fair representation of all of the results.

After analyzing the date, I project the Scientific Method Study Jams on the board for the class. While watching the video, I direct the students to take notes on the Scientific Method Foldable.  After watching the short video, we review the steps as a class. I project my Foldable under the document camera so that students with incomplete notes can use mine as a guide.  We glue this into our science journals.


15 minutes

Next, I have the students discuss, in their lab groups, which steps of the scientific method they addressed in today's lab. They should be able to identify every step of the method in the activities we have completed. I monitor the room, providing support as needed. I may ask questions such as:

  • "What step were we addressing when we..."
  • "How did we (name step) when we were examining the diapers?"
  • "What did we do next? Was that the same step, or something different?"

After the discussion is complete, the students love to sing the Scientific Method Karaoke Song, as a fun addition to the lesson!

**You may also use the prompt below as a possible extension to the activity:

You have been hired to write an article for Parent’s magazine that compares and contrasts popular brands of diapers for new parents. Discuss the tests you ran, what you found out, and give your opinion on the better of the four diapers (and how you arrived at this conclusion). The article should be informative and written with the target audience in mind. Your information should be accurate and incorporate all of your observations, data, and calculations in an organized manner.


15 minutes

Once the students have written and discussed the steps of the scientific method, it is time to see what has stuck with them!  I start with the most basic assessment, which is done as a class. This will not only help me to gauge the overall effectiveness of the lesson and allow me to see if students have gained a basic understanding of the scientific method, but it will also provide reinforcement for those who may still be a little unsure, as they will get the benefit of hearing their classmates' responses. I project the Scientific Method Quiz on the board and have my students hold up a card with the letter of the correct response (A, B, C, D).  Students hold their cards in front of their bellies so that no one else can see their responses but me. After all students have responded, we discuss each question and determine the correct answer as a class.

Now that I have been able to determine that my students have acquired basic knowledge about the scientific method, I want to see if they are able to reflect on and apply their learning to the scientific process. To do this, I implement the same Hands up, Stand up, Pair Up activity that I did at the beginning of the lesson, asking the same following questions:

  • "What is Science?"

*By this point, students have developed a clearer picture about science and its purpose, which is to learn and develop an understanding of the world around us, particularly the natural world.

  • "If you are a scientist and you are trying to learn about the world around you, how do you know where to start?"

*Students should know that the process of scientific understanding starts with making observations and using those observations to develop questions that can be tested.

  • "If you are a scientist, and you are trying to figure out something brand new, how do you know when you've got the right answer?"

*This is where the greatest AHA! occurs. As I mentioned earlier, most kids will not be able to answer this in the beginning. However, they should now be able to explain that scientists gain deeper understanding and are able to validate their results by communicating their findings to other scientists for further testing. Of course, they won't state it quite in these terms, but they should be able to identify the need to share their findings with other scientists.

I also have the students complete the "What do Scientists Do*?" paper in their science journals. This allows them to summarize their learning and provide a place to refer to later if they need additional prompting or support.

*The "What do Scientists Do?" paper is used throughout the unit. It is best to have students keep it in their science journal or another place where they can return to it throughout each lesson in the unit. We add to it as we build understanding and study each trait of a scientist.