What is a Scientist? (4 Day Discovery)

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SWBAT identify stereotypes in his/her perception of scientists, conduct research and compose an oral presentation about careers in science and how one becomes a scientist.

Big Idea

Kids usually picture scientist as a crazy-haired man wearing a lab coat and mixing test tubes of chemicals until they explode. This 3-4 day lesson will expose students to real world scientists and create interest in working in the field.


15 minutes

I start by passing out the "What do Scientists Do?" paper to each student.*  At the bottom of the page, I ask them to draw picture in the left box, representing what they think a scientist looks like. I give them about 5-7 minutes to draw and color their picture. If they finish early, or their work looks unfinished, I use questioning to assist them in thinking of more to add:

  • "Where do you see this taking place?"
  • "What tools might your scientist use?
  • "What might your scientist be saying?"
  • What types of investigations is your scientist engaged in?

After students have finished their drawings, they take turns sharing their pictures within table groups, describing what they drew.  Then, they are asked to identify how their drawings are similar to each other. I circulate around the room and listen in order to assess current knowledge and misconceptions.

Once they have shared in groups, I ask 1-2 students from each group to share some of the things their drawings had in common with their peers. I record their comments on the whiteboard.  Most students will mention something to do with white lab coats, crazy hair, working in a lab, and mixing chemicals. Many will draw smoke or bubbling tubes of liquid.  Almost every student will draw a man, who is usually older.

After sharing out, I ask the students why they think their drawings were similar and how they think they got that mental image. After discussing this for a moment, I direct their attention as I play the following video clips (they are all short).  I preface each video clip by a quick introduction, such as, "This is a commercial for pretzels."  I don't give any other information other than to state what the video is or where it came from.






After watching these clips, I ask again how students think they developed a mental image of scientists being older men in a white lab coat.  They quickly realize that their images were shaped by the media. I explain to them that scientists come in many forms, and that most do not represent the image of a scientist they they are accustomed to seeing in the media.  With that, I introduce the goal of this lesson -- to learn more about real world scientists and to discover careers in science that may be of interest to each of them.

*The "What do Scientists Do?" paper will be 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 will add to it as we build understanding and study each trait of a scientist.


30 minutes

I explain to the students that we will do some exploration to learn more about what a scientist actually is, as well as what he/she isn't.  I pass out a Notetaking Sheet and explain to the students that we will be reading one article and watching to short videos that discuss the roles of a scientist. Their task will be to take notes on the videos and article, regarding things that are common to all scientists, as well as things that break down the stereotype of scientists. (We have studied stereotyping in language arts, but you may need to discuss this or rephrase this to suit the needs of your class. You may want to speak with your ELA teacher for more information on whether or not your students have learned this, as well as how to approach this concept.)

I have my students start by reading an article entitled, "What do Scientists Do?". (If you would like a printable version, copy/paste the article URL into Print Friendly to remove ads and images, and condense to one page.) As they read, they will take notes as directed.

Once they have completed the short reading, I play the two videos below, pausing every minute or so to allow kids to write notes. Each video is less than five minutes, but the while process takes about ten minutes with the pauses. 



*I use a variety of notetaking sheets during videos or multimedia presentations to help keep my students on task during these types of activities. I find that when I hold my students accountable for recording and processing information, they are less likely to treat an educational video as a brain break.


10 minutes

After viewing the videos, I conduct a Think, Pair, Share, allowing students to share what they learned about the roles and stereotypes of scientists and how their thinking has changed since the beginning of the lesson. I usually write down several of the students' ideas on my own Notetaking Sheet, which I project under the document camera or via the computer. (Classes without this technology can simply write on the board.) This helps students who need extra support with notetaking, as they get a model of what to write in their notes.

Elaborate - Day 1

60 minutes

Students will now get a chance to explore some careers in science and determine which careers may be of interest to them. I pass out the "What Kind of a Scientist are You?" interest inventory. Students work to complete it by placing an X next to the statements that are true about them. They then total each column and see which contains the most X's. (There may be more than one.) The columns with the most X's are the areas of science that they prefer most.

On to the Science Buddies website, to select the area of science that scored the highest on their interest inventory. Students read through some on the careers on the site, selecting three careers that interest them and then conducting further research using sites of their choosing. This step is merely to gain an overall understanding and gauge their interest in each career option, so I do not require them to take notes.  Some students, however, will choose to do so.

Once they have learned more about each career, they choose one of the careers they studied and complete a "Science Career Notes Sheet" to record and organize facts about the career they chose. This research and note taking will be continued over the next two days.

Elaborate - Days 2-3

60 minutes

After completing research on their selected career, students prepare a short presentation to share what they have learned about it.  They will have two additional class periods to prepare a poster, as well as a 1-2 minute oral presentation to share with the class. Students can dress up as the scientist they select in order to help others learn more about that career choice.

*Some of the poster presentations may need to completed at home, or more class time may be necessary in order to allow student to complete this project.

Elaborate - Day 4

60 minutes

It's presentation time!  Students will be selected at random to present their findings about the career they chose. They should display their poster, describe their science career choice to their peers, and explain why thy find it so interesting. While presenting, I have each student jot down at least one question on an index card for the presenter.  After each presentation, I allow the presenter to pick three different classmates, have them share their question, and have the presenter address them.

This activity meets the following Common Core ELA Speaking and Listening Standards:

Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 6 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.

Interpret information presented in diverse media and formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) and explain how it contributes to a topic, text, or issue under study.

Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate. 


10 minutes

In addition to grading the student presentations based on the rubric, I also want to get a sense of how student thinking has changed about scientists. I have my students draw a revised picture of what a scientist is on the same paper they used at the beginning of the lesson, this time in the right side box. On an index card, they will write their name and list things that all scientists have in common, as well as explain how their thinking has changed since the beginning of the lesson. These cards will be collected until the end of the year.

The blank boxes on the same page will stay blank for now. We will fill in those boxes in upcoming lessons throughout the unit.