Lesson 3

Introduction to Scientific Observation & Measurement: Day One of Plaid Pete's Prize Potato

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SWBAT identify and collect qualitative and quantitative data.

Big Idea

How do scientists collect data? What kinds of data do they collect? Students learn about qualitative and quantitative data.

Setting Up the Investigation

Connection to The Next Generation Science Standards

In this two part investigation, students use the Science Practices of making observations and measurements to identify materials based on their properties (5-PS1-3), support an argument with evidence and data (5-PS2-1); and use the Crosscutting Concept of using standard units to describe physical quantities (e.g. mass) (5-PS1-3).

Please Note:  The Lexile Level for What's The Matter Plaid Pete? - Lab Scenario Sheet Lesson 4 is 960 (5th Grade Range is 740 - 1010).

The Preparation Time for This Investigation is approximately 30 minutes.

Materials Needed:

6 apples

1 balance and mass cubes for each team

2 plastic cups to fit into each balance (if needed)

1 tape measure for each team

8-10 sticky notes per team

2 magnifying/hand lenses per team

1 materials tub per team

6 potatoes (see below before purchasing)

One copy of What's The Matter Plaid Pete?  What's The Matter Plaid Pete? Vocabulary Practice Lesson 3 for each student - This is may also be accessed as an online computer activity by clicking here.  (Constructed using the Puzzle Maker App.)

One copy of

What's The Matter Plaid Pete? Vocabulary Practice Lesson 3 Answer Key

 Preparation - I did the following to prepare for this investigation:

  • Purchase 6 potatoes, approximately fist-sized. 

  • Select 1 potato to be Plaid Pete's Prize Potato.  

  • Print off Plaid Pete’s Field Notes – The Prize Potato - Lesson 4  Use the selected potato to complete this page, showing the observations that Plaid Pete made.  Sketch the potato in colored pencil, and include the data (observations and measurements) for coloring, texture, length, mass, and circumference.  Leave the choice of Qualitative or Quantitative Measurement unselected, as well as the box with Tool/Sense Used, blank, as students will be filling these out. Make additional copies of this sheet on the color copier for each team.  If you do not have a color copier, you will need to do them by hand.  

  • Prepare a copy of the Qualitative vs. Quantitative Graphic Organizer - Lesson 3 for instruction by projecting a student copy onto a piece of chart paper using a document camera (you can also use an overhead), and tracing it.  Outline the words and borders in black marker.  During instruction, fill in the actual words of the organizer with students, as they take notes.  



  • Prepare 1 small tub for each team that includes an apple, the Science tools (balance, gram cubes, measuring tape, magnifying/hand lenses) and slips of paper.  

Focus & Motivation

10 minutes

Review & Practice

I begin today's lesson with a quick review of the eight essential Science Practices from the Science and Engineering Practices Poster  I use a strategy called "Numbered Heads Together."  

I post the question on the white board, Name and describe in your own words one of the eight essential Science Practices.  I make this a quick paced practice that gets my students ready to dive into today's activity.

Share Learning Objective and Success Criteria

Note:  Consistent with the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol, I am now including a language objective with each lesson.  These objectives were derived from the Washington State ELP Standards Frameworks that are correlated with the CCSS and the NGSS.

I share the learning objective and success criteria:  

Learning Objective:  I can observations to produce data, to serve as evidence for a claim.

Language Objective:  I can construct a simple claim and support it with one or more reasons.  [ELP.4-5.4]

Success Criteria:  I have correctly collected and identified the two types of data, and have used evidence to support my claim using that data on the lab sheet that I will paste into my Science Notebook.

Investigation Scenario

I place the What's The Matter Plaid Pete?- Lab Scenario Lesson 4 on my document camera, and read it out loud.  It isn't necessary at this point for students to have their own copies, as they will have them in Lesson 4.  Just to get students interested in the activity, I pose the question, "What would be so difficult about figuring out which potato was Plaid Pete's?  As I call on students to answer, I am listening for responses that help me direct the answers towards the idea that all of the potatoes probably have similar properties and that might make it difficult to tell them apart.  This question throws them at first, and I have to really nudge my scientists to get used to thinking this way.  It is the beginning of the year, and I must get them to work honing their skills of observation.  I also realize that I have to read the scenario twice, and then talk about what happened.  Their listening skills are rusty!

Guided Exploration

25 minutes

Important Vocabulary & Habits of Mind

I tell my students that today, we are going to be working on a very important skill that scientists use - observation.  I point to the word wall card that was introduced in Lesson 1 of the unit and ask a student to read that definition.  I ask, "What does it mean to do observation in a scientific way?"  I call on students to respond.  I am specifically looking to establish habits of careful observation during this investigation.  I know if I am not explicit, students will rush through these activities and it will create bad habits that will impact the rest of the year.

I also point out the vocabulary word - property.  I tell my students that the "properties" of objects they will be working with in this unit will be absolutely critical, and that they need to pay special attention to them.

Concept Building - Quantitative vs. Qualitative Data

This task is important because it helps students to a) examine an everyday object in a scientific way b) develop a conceptual understanding of the two different types of data that they could not get by just telling them, and c) prepares them for tomorrow's investigative experience by building engagement.

I hand out a tub to each research team in which I have placed an apple, sticky notes, a balance (and plastic cups if needed), gram cubes (used to calculate mass), magnifying lenses, and a measuring tape.  

I quickly review the science tools included within the tubs to ensure that students know what they are and how they are used.  I tell students that our friend Plaid Pete has a problem that he is going to need our help, but before we begin that task, we need to have some common understandings about scientific observations.  I ask them to put on their "Science Glasses" and to examine their apple very carefully.  They are to work in their teams to make observations about their apple.  I tell them that they may use their knowledge of the definitions we discussed and anything in their tub.  They are to write one observation on each index card.

As students engage in this task, I move around the room observing them.  I am watching to see if they know how to use measurement tools.  I am also prompting them to look at the definitions.  

Some students will only make observations using the tools.  I interrupt the class and prompt a student to look at the definition and read the word "sensing."  I ask another student, "What does that mean?  How do scientists sense things?"  We come to an understanding that scientists also include sensory details as observations and these are used to determine an object's properties.  This discussion of properties will become a touchstone for understanding properties of different states of matter in later lessons.  I have to really push my students to make scientific observations because after all, they think this is just an apple.

When students have finished writing one observation on each sticky note, I ask them if they can sort their notes somehow into groups that go together.  At first they don't understand what I mean.  I further clarify the idea of organizing these slips into categories by using the analogy of fruit.  I tell them that they can have a general category of fruit, but then have sub-categories of berries, and melons, and so on.   One group's beginning sort looks like this:

As they work I am nudging and prompting them.  I want them to be able to see that the slips can be grouped into the two types of data.  I am listening to them work in their groups, talking to each other and trying to find commonalities between the slips of paper.  They make comments such as, "These are observations you can make with your senses, but these are observations you have to make with Science tools and they have numbers in them."  Questions I use with my students as I circulate between the groups include:  "Are some of these pieces of data alike in some ways?  Are some of them different?  How are they alike?  How are they different?


20 minutes

Comparative Input Chart

I call students up to the whiteboard, where they make a half-circle.  Although some students may not be quite finished with the sorting activity, I begin this next instructional routine when I can see that a chunk of them have made the leap and the others are on the threshold.  I tell them that I am going to give them some new information that might help them complete this sorting task.

I tell students that in order to help out our friend, Plaid Pete, we need to know the two types of data that we will be working with.  I hand out the Qualitative vs. Quantitative Graphic Organizer - Lesson 3.  I keep the Answer Key - Qualitative vs. Quantitative Graphic Organizer - Lesson 3 to the side so only I can see it to remind me what needs to go on the chart.  

I call students up to sit "criss-cross applesauce" in front of the whiteboard while I put the information on the graphic organizer.  In GLAD (Guided Language Acquisition Design) this is also known as a "Comparative Input Chart."  As I put each piece of information on the chart, I use a different colored marker for each type of data, to assist students in comparing the two.  Students are writing exactly what I write on the chart on their own graphic organizers. 

When I ask for examples of each type of data, I am pleased when students say, "The stem was 4 cm. long.  That is quantitative data."  And another student volunteers, "Our apple was reddish yellow.  That's an example of qualitative data."

I make a special point to highlight and identify the root of quantitative (quantity) and qualitative (quality), as I know that this will assist my students in remembering and differentiating between these two terms.

Team Activity

After I have finished constructing the chart, I ask students to go back to their teams.  I place the following on the whiteboard:


  1. Sort your slips of paper into 2 columns.
  2. Glue the columns on the piece of chart paper provided.
  3. Label each of the columns.


This is one team's sort just before they glued it onto the chart paper:

When all teams have finished, I call on each team to share a piece of data from each of their columns.  The charts will be collected and displayed.  

Students get out their Science Notebooks, and get ready for Vocabulary Instruction.

Vocabulary Instruction

10 minutes

Introduce Vocabulary

I ask a student for the definition of the word data.  I am asking for the following definition from Lesson 1:  data - facts in the form of measurements or observations that can be collected for analysis.  

I tell students that today they learned that there are two main types of data, and that they will be collecting both kinds of data in their investigation tomorrow to help Plaid Pete find his Prize Potato.

I tell students that I need to again give them some vocabulary and definitions that they will need to understand, as we are learning the language of Science.  I introduce the lesson vocabulary using the What's The Matter Plaid Pete?- Word Wall Cards Lesson 3.  I use the same procedure that I have used previously. 

  1. Say the word to students.
  2. Ask students to repeat the word at least 5 times.  For example, I will say, "Say it to the window.  Say it to my hand.  Say it to the door.  Say it to the ceiling."
  3. I say the word in context.  For example, I will say, " One property of the orange I ate for breakfast this morning is that it had a dimpled and bumpy texture."  
  4. I will then randomly call on a student to use the word in a sentence, giving successive prompts to assist them, if needed.

Science Notebooks

After introducing the words, I again demonstrate for students how to make a three column table with rows for each of the eight vocabulary words.  I model for them in my own Science Notebook how to write the word in the first box, a non-linguistic (e.g. picture) representation of the word in the second box, and work with the class to generate an example sentence for the first word in the third box.  They cut out their copies of the word cards, place them in an envelope, and glue the envelope to the back of the page on which they have constructed their columns.  They will finish sentences for the remaining seven words either for homework, or for seat-work later.

Although it seems like I am giving scant attention to Vocabulary, with only 10 minutes allocated to its introduction - the lesson is designed to be "language embedded."  I am attending to vocabulary throughout the entire lesson - prompting its use, questioning students on meaning, and ensuring they understand the concepts behind the words.

My task is to ensure that when they go back to create their non-linguistic representation and sentences, that they can use this new language correctly.  Tomorrow morning during check in, as a part of our morning routine, their Science Notebooks will be on the corner of their desks and I will be checking them.  A completed student notebook will look like this Example 1.