As the students enter the room, they take out their journals and respond to the prompt:
Is it important to conduct research prior to performing an experiment? Why or why not?
After the students have had a chance to respond, I ask them to share their journals with the class. The general consensus among the students is that performing research prior to conducting an experiment is important in order to avoid a laboratory accident. In this journal, the student noted that it is important to perform research before conducting an experiment, and commented that the results may be inaccurate without proper research. Another student's journal noted that researching the experiment can help you determine whether or not you want to complete the experiment. While both students agreed that research was important, they did not get to the heart of the question I was asking. After some prompting, the students were able to identify that performing research can help guide and inform the way they carry out their experiments.
I then explain to the students that before they begin researching information, we will create a plan for how to conduct and narrow their research. Using the Science Buddies website, I walk through the steps in seeking out appropriate information and drafting a research plan. I provide the students with several examples regarding the types of key words that are important in their experiment. I explain that one way to find key words in their question/topic is to look at the nouns and the verbs. I also generate my own scientific question and ask the students to help me identify key words and key research questions.
For example, I begin by using the Science Buddies example question - Does Milk Decrease the Spiciness of Food? In order for students to begin researching the question, they would need to learn more about why foods taste spicy, so spicy would be a key word. They would also need to know more about the various qualitative and chemical properties of milk, so milk would be another key word.
One question that I present to the students is, "How do pH Levels Impact Plant Growth?". I ask the students to tell me which words they think are the key words and to explain their thoughts. I also take time to explain that since I could use Google to find this answer relatively quickly, the question would need to be modified in some way to better meet the criteria for the project.
Once I have explained the process for completing the background research plan, the students work with their partners to complete the research plan. During this time, I circulate through the room and help the students. Some of the students have difficulty with the question stems and think that they must use a stem in its exact format. I explain to the students that as long as they are using the question word in relation to one of their key words, they are developing adequate questions. This video of a student completing the research plan is an example of how I explain the process to students. This is an example of a completed student research plan.
Working on the research plan helps to meet SP3 (Planning and Carrying Out Investigations), as students begin to develop their own science fair experiments and plan on how to research in preparation for the experiment. The background research plan also requires students to think more carefully about the key words related to their experiment, addressing CCSS RI.8.4 (Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including analogies or allusions to other texts).
It is also during this time that I meet with students who have not yet selected a topic or who have decided to change their topics. At this stage in the process, I am flexible with the students changing their topics. This project requires a large time investment and I want the students to spend that time investigating something that they find relevant and important.
Near the end of the lesson I ask for volunteers to share their research question with the class and to share the key words they came up with. As a class, we then brainstorm to see if we can come up with any additional key words that will be important to the research process. This provides students with an opportunity to receive feedback from their peers. It also provides the students with a chance to hear the topics their classmates are researching and to work collaboratively to provide feedback.