Discovery: Who Are Scientists?

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Students will be able to uncover some of their ideas about scientists and science and engage in a introductory conversation about science.

Big Idea

Who are these crazy scientists?

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Lesson Purpose:

This is a lesson I do on the first day of school to get kids ready to think scientifically.  One thing that I have discovered about teaching is that the first day of school always varies a lot from year to year.  I have written a lesson for a full class period, however, sections can easily be dropped to make it a 20, 25, 30, or 35 min lesson to fit the schedule for the first day.  This is a nice way to plan because then I am not stressed about the inevitable changes in plans and yet I have a great content based lesson for the first day!

Major Strategies to look for:

During this lesson I use a vocabulary protocol to help students develop an academic vocabulary in a collaborative group.  

Ready. Set. Engage!

5 minutes

Learning Goal:  Discover some of our beliefs about scientists and science.  

Essential Question:  What does a scientist look like?  Draw a picture of a scientist working.  

This lesson is day one in my unit The Ws of Science.  It is a discovery lesson meant to engage students and uncover ideas.  

The beginning of class is an essential time to harness.  Effectively using this time not only gives you more minutes of teaching but can also solve management issues, create motivation and engagement, and build a class culture of learning. 

In my class, this time is called Ready... Set... Engage.  The students come iton the room, get ready (get their stuff), get set (get settled in their seats), and engage in writing the learning goal and answering the opening question on the board.  By the time the bell rings, students should be in their seats and working.  Rather than calling attention to students that are not doing their job, I use ROCK STAR SCIENCE tickets to reward students that are working when the bell rings.  This goes a long way to developing a positive class culture.  

I use this time to handle any classroom business I have to do and then I walk about the room looking at the pictures and picking out things to bring up in the discussion.  Since this lesson is supposed to help students uncover preconceived ideas about scientists, I'm always especially interested in examples of stereotypes.  Most students will draw a picture of a white man in a lab coat.


Some of the students will even draw a "crazy" white man in a lab coat.  Later in the discussion I will make sure to go back to some of the common stereotypes so that students can build a new vision of a scientist, one that they might fit into.  

**** If this is the first day of school, I stand at the door, welcome the students, tell them their seat number and ask them to find their seat and get started on the assignment.  In my room I have the tables and individual seats numbered to make seating easy.  I leave an assignment sheet at each seat.  I also leave pencils on the table so students can get started quickly.  This type of organization means that class starts immediately and it sets a learning tone for the rest of the year.*****


7 minutes

I do this lesson on the first day of school, so the hook today is simply to introduce myself, let students know the most important rules of the class, give them a handout to take home with a supply list, and make them feel safe and happy in the classroom.  

One of the most important things to do in the first week of school is to start building a classroom community. I find that the first step is to give students the purpose and boundaries for the classroom.  The basic rules of my classroom are, 

We are Safe.

We are Learning.

We are Leading.

Later on in the week we will do activities that allow us to collaboratively develop the needs and rules of the class. 


7 minutes

The purpose of this part of the class is to find out what the kids already know about science and what some of their misconceptions are.  I use this Probe, but I don't grade it.  Instead, I look at the answers and put students in groups based on where I think they might be.  Generally, I have groups like;

1.  Knows a lot about science and the process of science already.  These students might have used advanced vocabulary and examples.  They are probably going to need some differentiation during this unit to challenge them. 

2.  Seems to have an implicit understanding of science.  These students put down answers that were reasonable and logical without using advanced vocabulary and examples. They might be advanced students and thinkers or have rich background experience.  

3. Has very little understanding about science.  These students put down answers that showed definite misconceptions or skill deficits.  They might not understand science concepts or they might be struggling with reading and writing.  They will need scaffolding or targeted instruction to pull them up to the standard level.

4. Could not assess knowledge.  These students answered in a way that did not uncover their ideas.  They could be a little lazy about writing or they could be trying to fake an answer they don't know.  In either case more information is needed soon. 

I record the students' levels in a spreadsheet that also contains their reading, writing, and math scores.  As the year goes on this document helps me make better decisions about grouping and instruction.

This video shows some of the student work, my assessment of their understanding, and what my next steps will be.  


Discovery Activity and Discussion

15 minutes

This discovery activity centers around a rap video about what you need and don't need to be a scientist.  Before watching the video, I ask students to compare their drawing of "what a scientist looks like" with their neighbors.  

As it is usually the beginning of the year when I do this lesson, it is a great time for students to use an introduction protocol.  I have students introduce themselves, state what school they went to last year, and then explain their drawing.  This is a very quick mini discussion (about 30 seconds).  If students are sitting at tables of four, we repeat the process with a new partner.  Having a set protocol helps students feel more comfortable introducing themselves to others.  

Once the students have described their pictures to each other, I ask them what things the pictures have in common.  What are scientists like?  We list some ideas on the board.  Then I tell the kids we're going to watch a video about what you need to be a scientist and I want them to think about how the video compares with their drawing.  

When the video is over, I open a discussion with some of the questions below.  

  • What did you learn from the video?
  • What do you think the most important point of the video was?  Why?
  • What do you need to have to be a scientist?
  • How is that different from the pictures we had at the beginning of class?
  • Is it dangerous to have set ideas about who scientists are?


After the discussion, I use a presentation to help solidify the ideas that we hopefully opened in discussion.  My purpose in the presentation is to take away the stereotypes we hold of scientists, (nerdy, white, crazy, men) and instead replace them with images that students can relate to.  

Vocabulary Introduction

17 minutes

I have a Vocabulary Protocol I do at the beginning of all mini-units to introduce these critical science words.  This helps all students, but especially DHH and ELL students, feel comfortable with using science terms.  For this particular lesson, I sometimes do this vocabulary on the discovery day and I sometimes do the vocabulary on the Direct Instruction day depending on class schedules.  

Students will need a TIP Chart (Term, Information, Picture) and the ability to see the presentation.  It can either be copied and left at the tables or projected, or both.    

Vocabulary Protocol with presentation

The purpose of this activity is to give students a set way to learn new science words.  Many teachers do a variety of different vocabulary activities.  I choose to always start with this one so that once  students have learned the protocol they can concentrate on the words and not the activity.   This is a FAST activity and is designed to simply introduce 3-7 words so that when the students meet them again they are ready to learn. This whole process should take about 15- 20 minutes depending on the amount of words. 

1.  Grouping

Ideally, I like to have students in groups of four.  If this is not possible, you can have groups of three in which case one student has two jobs.  The jobs are:

-The word expert

-The picture expert

-The definition expert

-The sentence expert.  

2.  Model

Model the process by doing the first word or two out loud, how many words you model is determined by how comfortable the students are with the process.  Even if students have done the process many times you should ALWAYS model at least one word.

a.  I am going to be the word person first.  I see the word ____________ this makes me think about _________________ because of _____________.  I Wonder if this has something to do with _______________.

b.  Now, I am the picture person.  I see a picture of _________________.  This makes me think that ____________________  because of ______________________.  I wonder if _________________________________.

c.  Now, I am the definition person.  The definition is ___________________________.  This makes me think ______________________________ because of ____________________.  I wonder if _______________________.

d.  Now I am the sentence person.  The sentence says _______________________________________________.  This makes me think _________________________ because of ___________________.  I wonder if ___________________

Note - each job is incredibly short and scripted.  Done correctly each job takes less than 15 seconds.  

3.  Guided Questions

Use this opportunity to make sure that each student knows what job they have, that they all know what to say and how to say it, and that they are prepared to beging.

4. Collaborative Activity

I use a bell and call out the first person, “Ok word expert go!”  Then I watch the clock.  I give the students about 15 seconds and then ring the bell, “Ok, picture expert, go!”  In this way it takes about one minute to get through all four ways of looking at the term.

5. Independent Activity

At the end of the collaborative discussion, I give the students between 1-2 minutes to write the term on their paper, copy or create a definition and sentence, and create their own picture.  This is not a lot of time and it is not supposed to be.  A quick pace increases engagement and pushes students to get their first ideas down.  


4 minutes

Closure is one of the most valuable pieces of a lesson.  It is the last thing students hear before they go on and the last chance a teacher has to shift thinking, create engagement or support motivation.  However, the universal truth ALL teachers know is that closure depends so much on time!  I choose different paths depending on how much time I have left in the class.  

<1 min left 

Oh no!  The bell rang!  I congratulate kids on their work and invite them back to learn more tomorrow.


1-2 min left 

The purpose of the closure today is to get a feel for what the students remember.  I give them each a sticky note and ask the question, "How are you a scientist?"

I give the students about one minute to write, and then I wrap up the class by reminding them of what we wanted to learn, what we did learn, and then I state what we will be learning tomorrow.  

As the students leave, they post their sticky notes on my exit ticket chart on the door.  This saves me time in having to collect them and I can look over the answers while doing hall duty!  


3-5 min left

I have the students do the sticky note as above and then go around the room sharing and celebrating their answers!