As the students enter the room, they take out their journals and respond to the prompt:
Describe the most interesting thing that happened while you were conducting your science fair experiment.
While the students write, I circulate through the room reading their responses. When the students finish with their responses, I ask for volunteers to share their journals with the class. The students are very eager to tell their classmates about the various mishaps and experiences they encountered while working on their science fair experiments. As the students share their experiences, I emphasize the importance of including information of this sort in their final paper, if it helps to explain some of their results.
The students enjoy sharing their experiences and they enjoy hearing about the other science fair experiments. I have found that this is a good way to help the students become interested in the experiments conducted by their peers. This discussion also provides an excellent opportunity to discuss a variety of science concepts, especially the importance of controls in an experiment.
I tell the students that the information written in their journals may be helpful to them later in the lesson. I explain that we will be reviewing the data collected during their science fair experiments. I hand out the explaining data guidelines and review each of the components with the students.
Together we construct a data table, to ensure that the students remember how to create data tables. From there we discuss the different types of graphs and the situations in which each type of graph is used. I then review the components of the observation paragraph and the conclusion paragraphs with the students. I emphasize the importance of using data to support their conclusion and as a class we develop examples for the types of data that should be included when drawing conclusions. For example I ask the students to describe data that might be helpful to include in a conclusion of an experiment dealing with plant growth. They say that data about how much the plants grew would be important to include. I then ask if I could just say that plants grown in light grew taller than plants in the dark. The students are able to identify that using exact data and measurements from the experiment help develop a stronger, more precise conclusion. I explain, then, that I am looking for detailed data from the experiment to be included in their conclusion. I also convey the importance of explaining any inconsistencies in their data or the manner in which their experiment was conducted when they complete their observations paragraph.
This is a video that I post on classroom.google.com to remind the students of the requirements.
After ensuring that the students understand what they need to work on, I have the students work independently on completing the items discussed. During this time I work with individual students or student partners to answer any questions they have about the process.
Most of the student questions deal with how to create a data table for their information. Some of the students also have difficulty determining what type of graph they should use to best display their information. Rather than simply telling the students what type of graph, I ask them to describe the data they collected.
Many of the students are able to figure out, just by detailing their information, what type of graph they need to use. If a student still is not sure of what type of graph is needed, I ask them to explain each type of graph to me and whether or not their data fits into the description. I have them stick with it until they arrive at the correct answer.
Having students examine their data for patterns and correlations and create their own data tables and graphs addresses SP4 Analyzing and Interpreting Data as well as the Crosscutting Concept of Patterns - specifically Patterns can be used to identify cause and effect relationships and Graphs, charts, and images can be used to identify patterns in data.
Note: Collecting meaningful data can sometimes be difficult for students during the science fair process. Reviewing students' experimental designs with them on multiple occasions and checking in with them regarding their data can help ensure that students end up with meaningful data. There have been instances where a student will have begun an experiment and then realized that the data was not going to work (sometimes students need help realizing that the data they have collected is not meaningful, but it is important to help them make that determination without simply telling them). Many times this is caught early enough that the experimental design can be modified and the student is still able to collect meaningful data. In the event that I have a student that ends up with data that is not meaningful, I have them write an explanation of what happened, why the data is not reliable, and what should be done differently to produce meaningful data.
I conclude the lesson by asking the students to share their graphs and data tables with the other students in their groups. During this share time, the students need to help each other double check for important elements such as a title and labels. Having the students review their own work and the work of peers helps them to become more accountable for their work and encourages the process of review.