How do scientists ask questions?

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SWBAT ask questions about mealworms.

Big Idea

Students drive the learning by formulating questions!

Instructional Notes

In the previous lesson, students observed mealworms and recorded their observations.  This morning, I got out stereoscopes and let students take an even closer look!

In the previous lesson, students also measured the mealworms with square tiles.  In today's lesson, we warm-up by reviewing their work from the previous day.  There are some trends I noticed, such as tiny drawings and differences in measurements, and I want students to help reflect on them.  This will help students come to a greater understanding of Science Practice #8, how scientists record and why.  It also helps us grapple with data when the data is different.  Is it okay that we got different measurements?  What might cause the differences?  Is there any way to make our data the same?  This addresses Science Practice #4 about analyzing data and mathematics in science.

In reflection and discussion with a colleague, I added the exploration portion of this lesson to more explicitly teach how to ask a question.  See my reflection video for more of the background about why this lesson is inserted here.  This lesson's exploration walks students through the process of asking and recording questions.  Yesterday, my students were filled with questions about mealworms, and it's important that we validate their questions by recording them and trying to find answers to them.  This makes the research process coming in the subsequent lesson more meaningful, as students aren't just learning new information-- instead, they are seeking answers to their *own questions.*  


10 minutes

To begin today, I pulled out a few samples of student work from the previous lesson.  I begin with a few students who drew very tiny illustrations of the mealworms.  These were a problem because the drawings were too small to make into a diagram.  And, students couldn't draw details since they were so small!  I first validated why the drawings were so small, and then presented the problem:

See here how Kolton drew a large mealworm.  Then, he measured the mealworm and saw it was the same length as a square tile.  So, he erased the big drawing and drew another one-- this one the *actual size* of a mealworm.  I really like how Kolton drew the actual size, but I'm worried because his drawing is so small that it doesn't have details.  How can we solve this problem?

I think it's important for students to be a part of the solutions, and honestly, they often have better ideas than mine!  By the end of this conversation, we decided as a class that we can draw two illustrations-- one at actual size, and one zoomed in to show details.  This type of discussion helps create a classroom culture were students know their thinking is important and respected.

Next, I read off the measurements students made.  There were multiple students who chose each measurement: shorter than, the same length as, and longer than a square inch tile.  Here's a video of why students think we got different data.  I was pleasantly surprised when one student said the data might be different because the mealworms move around.  This was exactly the problem I saw another student grappling with the day before!  

Next, I asked students what we could do to get the same data.  This leads to what would eventually become the concept of controlling variables in experiments!

Finally, I modeled to students how to glue this paper into their Science Journals.  I give all students marbled composition notebooks to use as science journals.  We fold the paper in half and glue one side to the page, so that the paper can open like a mini-book.  Check out how one student asked for more time when gluing, in order to make the task harder!  This student wanted to immediately own the new illustration strategy we just discussed!


15 minutes

During today's exploration, I walk students through the process of formulating and recording questions.  It is very early in the school year, so we have not yet had lessons on questioning or question words.

To begin, I connect to the Science Practices in order to set our purpose.

 Friends, we have learned all about what scientists do, and one of the most important things they do is ask questions.  Today, I was going to teach you all about mealworms, but then I thought to myself, "I wonder what questions students have about mealworms!"  I thought that if you wrote down your questions, I can be sure to teach you want to know.  This way, tomorrow we will be reading to find answers to our questions.

Next, I introduce question words with a poster and we watch a video clip that introduces questioning words!

Next, I facilitate a conversation by asking students what questions they have about mealworms.  The purpose of doing this as a shared activity is two-fold.  First, for ELL or students with difficulty formulating verbal responses, they can hear the correct phrasing of questions.  Secondly, I can rephrase any comment not beginning with a question word.  For example, if a friend says, "I saw the mealworm and it has legs and maybe antennae," I can respond, "So you are wondering What body parts does a mealworm have?"  I just about fainted when one friend asked, "How do mealworms survive?"  I thought he must have studies the NGSS standards!!!

After a number of students share, I explain that we will be writing our questions in our science notebooks.  I ask students how many questions they think they will write.

Show me on your fingers how many questions you will write about mealworms.

I have been training students to challenge themselves by rewarding them and making a big deal about how they have made work harder in all subject areas.  So, many students show five, or even ten fingers!  I tell them that I expect at least one, but if they want to make it harder (and most do), then they should write more.

While students write their questions, I pull a small group on the rug.  I will work with this group of beginning writers.  They dictate their questions, I write them on sticky notes and stick them into their notebooks, and then they copy my words.  This support gives them the same success as their peers while supporting their needs.


5 minutes

To close this lesson, I come right back to the science practices.  I refer students to the What does a scientist do? Anchor Chart and ask, "Friends, how were we scientists today?  What did we do that scientists do?"  Possible answers include:

  • Use tools (stereoscopes to observe, in the morning)
  • Ask questions

I also tell them that when we asked questions about our measurements, we were analyzing data.  Analyzing data means checking our numbers and asking questions about them.  We add "analyze data/numbers" to the anchor chart.

Finally, I tell them that in tomorrow's lesson, we will work together to find answers to *their* questions.  I emphasize the word *their* because the science practices call for students to be the ones asking the questions.  Also, it is more motivating for them to answer their own questions than to answer someone else's!