The students answer the following prompt in their journals: What are you most looking forward to about working on science fair? What are you most concerned about when beginning to work on your science fair project?
The students work on the prompt while I circulate through the room reading through their answers. When the students have had enough time to answer the question, I ask for volunteers to share their thoughts with the class. In general, the students are excited about being able to explore a science topic that is of interest to them and they are excited about sharing what they have learned with their peers and the larger community. The students' primary concern is writing the preliminary research paper that is required before they begin their experimentation.
In this introductory lesson, I first address each of the students' concerns regarding the science fair. I then review the project timeline with the students. Prior to this class period, I sent a parent email to inform parents about the science fair project and I made copies of the timeline and accompanying worksheets available on our school grade portal as well as in classroom.google.com.
After reviewing the timeline, I review the partner permission paper form with the students. Based on past experience with long term partner projects, I have found it works best to have parents give permission for their child to work with a specific student. I set a deadline by which the students must return this form and if both of the students who would like to be partners do not return the form, they do not work together. I also spend time asking students to reflect on their work habits in order to determine whether or not working with a partner would be a good option for them.
I then review the science fair entry form. This form requires a parent signature and helps to ensure that parents are aware of the project their child intends to complete. Toward the end of class I hand out the Topic Selection worksheet and demonstrate how to use the Science Buddies Topic Selection Wizard. I explain to the students that not all of the topics generated by the wizard are experiments and demonstrate this using what I call the Google test. I tell the students that if they could complete a quick Google search and come up with the answer to their experimental question, then they need to modify their question. This emphasis on developing scientific questions addresses NGSS SP1.
The students spend the next few minutes completing the Topic Selection Wizard. I move through the room helping students answer questions on the survey and examining topics. It is especially important to ask students to explain the experiment ideas they are writing on their papers. One way I do this is by asking them to explain their independent and dependent variables. If they are unable to explain them, I suggest they read through the material again.
This time is also significant because I am able to steer students away from general demonstrations or help them determine how to turn the demonstration into more of an experiment. I also have the students turn in their topic selection choices, so I can review their ideas. In this student example, the student circled the idea she most wanted to complete. This video provides an example of the way in which I ask students questions to help them turn demonstrations with straightforward answers that can be searched online, in to investigations.
Near the end of class, I lead a brief review of all of the handouts the students received earlier in the lesson. As I describe each paper, I ask the students to hold up their copy. I also have them write the due date at the top of each page. I answer student questions about the project and then ask for volunteers to share their project ideas with the class.
As the students share their ideas, they are better able to process their own thoughts on the topic. As students listen, they think of ways that they could modify their own project ideas. Students may also ask each other clarifying questions at this time, such as asking a classmate about the type of item being used in the experiment or how they plan to conduct the experiment. This sharing time allows for opportunities for students to stretch and enhance their thinking on the topic.