Perfect Procedures

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SWBAT plan and compose step-by-step procedures to follow during scientific investigation.

Big Idea

Students often want to jump into experiments without a clear plan of action. Help them plan an experiment worth investigating!


5 minutes

I play A Month of Mold as students enter class, which is intended to remind them of the experiment we will soon perform in class.


After allowing them to watch, I review the experiment that I envision for our class to perform, (originally mentioned in the previous lesson on forming hypotheses). I explain my reasoning again, telling them that this might be helpful information to know, since many kids have recently gotten sick and I want to do all I can in class to keep everyone healthy. 

I remind them of the initial question and hypothesis we developed in yesterday's lesson by projecting our ideas that we typed in yesterday's Google Doc, and briefly explain the steps that will be involved, but not getting so detailed as to take away from what I hope my students will add. I explain to them that I found this experiment online, but I wasn't convinced that these results are really accurate. (At this point, I don't tell them why; I leave that as a mystery. We will revisit that later.)


30 minutes

Now that the students have a vision of what this experiment will look like, I ask them to start thinking about all of the materials they think they would need in order to conduct this experiment. I give them a few minutes of think time, then call on random students to respond. As each lists a supply or material, I type them into our Google Doc, but do not provide any guidance or feedback. (See my reflection for an explanation of this process!)

Once we have compiled a list of materials and supplies, I have them work either alone or in pairs to write a series of instructions for how they envision this experiment to be performed. I don't give them a lot of guidelines on writing their procedures. I would rather they learn this through discovery!

This is a great lesson to share with all of the teachers at school as a way to introduce and implement the process of conducting a science fair experiment.  Teachers, especially those new to teaching or to facilitating science fair projects, will appreciate the guidance and the simple idea that they can use in their classroom to guide their students through the process of scientific investigation. It is very easy to implement in any type of classroom and does not require a lab or  specialized scientific equipment. It also piques the interest of almost any age and/or grade level, as it is visual and requires little background knowledge to implement. It also provides an opportunity for students across classes or even grade levels to communicate and analyze data collaboratively, which is the nature of science! At the time I did this with my 6th grade classes, the 4th and 5th grade science teachers did the same experiment. We would frequently hear the students talking at lunch or recess about the processes and results they got in their classes. Another bonus: we didn't stake our claim several ideas that could have been used by individual students!


10 minutes

I make sure to monitor the room as students write, taking note of a 1-2 students or groups that may not have the most detailed instructions. I also gather the materials that are required to perform the experiment. While I may not have everything, I have brought in most of them, since I already have an idea of what we might need to conduct this investigation.

After the students have had ample time to write out their procedures, I call on "random" students to share their instructions, step by step. (While the students believe it is random, I have purposely chosen the students I noted as not being specific or accurate.) As they read each step, I follow their directions exactly, not allowing any interruptions or call-outs from others. If the students try to change their instructions by saying things such as, "No, wait, that's not what I meant...", I just ask them to read each step exactly as they wrote them. Pretty quickly, the students will see where their instructions are either inaccurate or lacking. This won't only happen with the ones who are reading aloud; all students will begin to review their procedures, realizing changes they need to make. 

I begin to facilitate a discussion about what types of revisions need to be made.   We discuss how important it is to be very specific, to include quantities, measurements, etc. and to re-read every step to make sure that they are accurate.   I want the students to realize that the purpose of writing procedures is not for themselves, necessarily, but so that someone else can re-create the experiment. If another person is not able to exactly re-create this experiment without confusion or question, than our procedures have failed.



10 minutes

I pass out the Science Fair Procedures handout and have students read through it, highlighting ideas they have not yet considered, or information they feel is important to know as they write out the procedures for their science fair projects. We review it together, calling special attention to what the students have highlighted and discussing why this is important information.


5 minutes

At this point, I invite the class to revisit their procedures and to make revisions. Once they have all had a chance to make their revisions, I have them swap their writing with another individual or group to read and provide feedback.

Students now have the responsibility to write the materials and procedures lists for their individual projects. They share their writing with me through the Google Doc begun in the previous lesson. This document should already contain their question and hypothesis. Not only is a Google doc a greener, more efficient way to share their work, it also provides a central location to store their work, which they will later print and add to their project boards.

I use the following criteria for evaluating student work on crafting procedures:

  • All required materials included
  • Specific and accurate
  • Proper format (written in bullets or numbered lists)
  • Proper conventions (grammar, punctuation, capitalization, spelling)

For more information on assessment and grading, please see my reflection, as well as my screencast, "How to Provide feedback in Google Docs".