In the Heat of the Summer: Recommendations for the D.A.

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Students will be able to write an evidence-based argument in the context of a forensics unit.

Big Idea

A major task in the work of the scientist is reporting results from experimentation. Scaffolding, critiquing, and re-teaching are key teacher moves to support student growth in writing.


Since time immemorial scientists have recorded the results of their labors and shared their work with others; my class humbly follows in that rich tradition.

Over the past week students have participated in lessons that serve to provide evidence in solving a mystery. These lessons each had a specific test students had to conduct so that they could compare evidence found at crime scene with evidence found in the possession of a suspect. Past lessons in this series include lessons on density, boiling point, ink chromatography, and aspirin tests. The student hand-out for these lessons is called In the Heat of the Summer.

This lesson today supports the NGSS Practice Engaging in argument from evidence by giving students instruction and practice in doing just that. The final product for this unit is a report to the District Attorney about whether or not there is enough evidence to prosecute a suspect for attempted murder.

Students in my class work using laptop computers, an indispensable tool in revising writing.


Do Now/Activator

10 minutes

Do Now: Students are instructed to take out the rough drafts of paragraphs they have written about the tests they have conducted. This requires logging onto computers and accessing files for most students, although some students have chosen to hand write their work and then type it later. Because this is a time-consuming task, I have students do it right at the start of class. Then while computers are booting up, I ask students to read the Lab Report Guidance Resource and look over the Peer Review Sheet. These tasks will help students to begin thinking about the day's lesson before I have even begun teaching.

The Lab Report Guidance Resource is designed to help students clarify the directions for the report and is based on conversations I have had with students about their work, and on observations I have made from their early drafts. The Peer Review Sheet is a tool students can use to offer each other peer editing advice.



15 minutes

Mini-lesson: First I review the Lab Report Guidance Resource. I made this sheet in response to conversations I had with students in the last lesson. The left-hand column is simply cut and paste from the In the Heat of the Summer packet. I cut and pasted the directions for each part of the lab report. The right-hand column attempts to provide more clarity to these directions.

In order to set expectations for how I want students to critically examine another student's work, and to model how I will be grading their work, I then do a think aloud using a density sample student work sample. Here are the density sample paragraph think aloud notes for this part of the mini-lesson. I post the paragraph using a document projector and I write and say my praise, questions, and suggestions as I review the paragraph with the criteria. This takes a little bit of time (about the minutes) but student feedback is that the exercise is very clarifying. I then post my work and the student work on a bulletin board for student reference.

Finally, I am concerned that I have not seen any writing about the ideas of precision and accuracy. To help stimulate student thinking about the quality of their data, I offer the comments as shown in this precision vs accuracy video.


25 minutes

In this part of the lesson students will conduct a peer review in order to help each other produce higher quality work. While the student peer review sheets  are nowhere near as detailed as I would like, students do provide some useful feedback to one another. As important as giving peer feedback, this process also allows them to look at each other's work which helps some students see the different ways that the report can be written. I think that next time I will assign partners so that students do not naturally gravitate to whom they are most comfortable. In this way, I may be able to increase the quality of the feedback. I may also use the feedback form that the student fills out as a teaching tool, by projecting both to find useful and not useful feedback.

While students are offering critique I use this time to circulate and answer student questions and spot check student paragraphs looking to see how well the paragraphs are following the format I prescribed.

This is an important part of the lesson. No two students think or process information in quite the same way; having time to interact with students and meet them where they are is a perfect form of differentiation. some students just need time to focus on their work, while the others have a wide variety of questions. For example: 

How do you make the 3 small in the units for density?

What was the procedure called for the test we did?

What are the range of values for the different tests?

Walking around allows me to be a coach and meet the diverse needs of students.


10 minutes

I end this lesson by checking in with students about how they feel about the peer review process. Based on this video, it is clear that students feel like they got something out of getting and receiving feedback from peers.

More importantly, in looking at student work, it is clear that when students spend time looking at each other's work, and when the teacher has a clear expectation for revision, then students will strive to create high quality work. In comparing this this student's second draft with the same student's final draft, I see a number of areas of growth. The writing is clearer, for example, and the report is complete in the final draft. In the second draft there is little effort to evaluate the evidence, but there is a strong attempt in the final draft.

This year, I started this project from scratch. I had no exemplars to show students. Next year, I will use this student's work as a starting point. I will ask students to critique the work, with a specific eye on what they would improve based on what the directions ask for. My hope is that next year student reports will demonstrate a better understanding and description of the underlying tests that comprised this unit. With that said, for a first run, I am pleased with the level of engagement this unit generated, and I am pleased with the amount of writing and science that occurred in my classroom.