Lesson 4

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

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SWBAT collect qualitative and quantitative data and use it as evidence to support a scientific claim.

Big Idea

How do scientists use data to support a claim? Do some types of data provide more effective support than others? Students lend Plaid Pete a helping hand, as they collect evidence to make a claim about the identity of the Prize Potato.

Setting Up the Investigation

 This is Day Two of a Two Day Lesson.  Click here for Introduction to Scientific Observation & Measurement:  Day One of Plaid Pete's Prize Potato.

On Day One of this investigation, students fine-tuned their observational skills, and built a conceptual understanding of quantitative and qualitative data.

On this second day, students are guided through a step by step process that has them first collect these two different types of data, and then use them as evidence to support a scientific claim.  These experiences are critical to students' understanding that all scientific claims must be supported by empirical evidence.

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 2 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)

 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

5 minutes

This is the second day of a 2 day investigation.  Click here for Day One of Plaid Pete's Prize Potato.

Rallying the Troops!

My students are very motivated to use their observational skills and understanding of an object's properties to help them identify Plaid Pete's Prize Potato.  I ask them, "Now do you see why we practiced observation and collecting data with the apple yesterday?"  Their heads bob up and down as they nod yes.

To get them started today, all they need are a few minutes of quick review about the differences between qualitative and quantitative data, and clarification on what is meant by an object's properties.  We review the Comparative Input Chart from yesterday where we listed that qualitative observations are descriptive data, and quantitative measurements are data in numerical form.

I ask the question, "Do the 6 potatoes we are examining today have exactly the same properties?"  I have placed the Potato Samples in clear plastic bins and marked them as Sample #1, Sample #2, and so on.  I call on one student who correctly responds, "No they have different colors, and I can tell by looking at them that they are different sizes.  I think that means the masses might be different."

Not only are they ready, they are very excited to begin!

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 collect qualitative and quantitative data and use it to support a scientific 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.

Team Exploration

35 minutes

Tasks 1 & 2 on the Lab Sheet

Since this is the first time I have presented a Lab Scenario to students, I project a copy of the What's The Matter Plaid Pete?- Lab Scenario Lesson 4 that I prepared in the Setting Up the Investigation section from Day 1, and ask students to follow along as I read it out loud. After ensuring that students understand the task and the directions, I explain that the class will work in their research teams to complete the first two tasks (1.  Identify each piece of data Plaid Pete collected as either quantitative or qualitative, and 2.  Identify the tool or sense that was used to collect that data), before they begin the third task, 3.  Collect data on the 6 potato samples.  

Since this is also the first Science Lab of the year, I am very explicit in the expectations I have for groups, and scaffold this lab by breaking it into steps. 

Students get right to work and I am pleased to see their active engagement and collaboration.  This is an example of Team 5's Work.

Task 3 on the Lab Sheet

Once teams have finished task 2, I call the class to attention and explain the directions for the third step - collecting data on the 6 potato samples.  I hand out What's The Matter Plaid Pete?- Lab Sheet Lesson 4 explaining that this time, although teams are still working together, they will each be responsible for their own lab sheet.  I tell them to stop at the end of page 3, because I want to give the whole class explicit directions on how to complete page 4 - the T-Table Chart where they will list Claims and Evidence.  

I instruct Teams who finish early to work on completing the vocabulary activity presented yesterday.

Planning to Work Collaboratively

I ask teams to make a plan for how they will divide the work - because in a team nobody coasts! Although they will each complete their own lab sheet, they need to share the tasks.  I purposefully do not assign jobs or roles within teams, because I want my students to develop the skills necessary to do this independently.  If they don't learn how to work collaboratively, I will end up being the mediator all year!  I give them a piece of notebook paper and require a Written Plan. before they begin.  This team's Written Plan was done quickly and creatively - using the first letter for each task M (mass), C (circumference) L (length) and O (other), and the first letter of the student's name to assign job roles.  

Evaluating Understanding of Measurement Concepts & Vocabulary

When the team has a plan for how they will work together, I allow them to begin the task.  This is a good opportunity for me to discuss the idea that all measurement is relative, but that scientists strive to be as accurate as possible.  I am also watching very carefully, and making a list of those students who are struggling with measurement concepts.  

One of the questions I am asking is, "What if I started here (pointing to a unit in the middle of the tape), how would you measure the length of this potato if this tape measure was torn and you only had this piece to work with?  I am informally assessing whether or not my students understand that they need to count the intervals between the units.  

As students are working, I am moving between the teams, reinforcing the use of vocabulary and ensuring their understanding of data collection and quantitative vs. qualitative data.  Some students need extra practice and prompting in using Science Words, before they can begin to incorporate this new vocabulary into either their spoken or written language.  In this Video Clip, I assist this student in doing so.  I am also looking for how they use measurement tools, and provide direction and assistance to those students who need it.  I have my clipboard with me, and am Coding for Formative Assessment.

One group discovers a problem when they can't fit anymore gram cubes in the cup and their potato still won't balance.  After some discussion, one student in the group comments, "Well it doesn't matter because we know it isn't the Prize Potato, it's too heavy.  The Prize Potato is only 150 grams and there is 200 grams in the cup and it still won't balance."  Although I don't like to stop the action, I know other teams will face this very same issue.  It is a great time for Making Math Connections  I want my students to see another application for Math, and it gives those students who struggle some needed practice.


Reflection & Closure

25 minutes

Claims & Evidence

Once teams have completed collecting their data on the 6 potato samples, I tell them they will need to take a few minutes to compare the data collected, both quantitative and qualitative, to the data that was collected by Plaid Pete.  

After they have carefully examined all of the data, they will need to decide which potato sample they believe was Plaid Pete's Prize Potato that Seth accidentally threw into the bin.  

I tell them, "When scientists make a claim, it is always based on the evidence they discovered during an investigation not on what they did.  Claims are based on the patterns that they see."

It is critical that students understand this concept that scientific claims are based on the patterns produced by evidence, rather than what they did.  They need to begin to use observations and data to support their reasoning. 

They need to write their "claim" in the left column on Page 4 of their What's The Matter Plaid Pete? - Lab Sheet Lesson 2 packet .  I model the following sentence stem on my copy:

I claim that potato sample # ____ is Plaid Pete's Prize Potato.

I tell them that they need to list the evidence that supports their claim in the right column on Page 4.  I model the following sentence stem on my copy:

I know this because _____

I give groups a few minutes of discussion time, and then prompt them to begin work on their claims and evidence.  

Group Share

When students have completed their Claims and Evidence sheet, we move to the meeting area, where I ask each team to report out their claim and supporting evidence, as I list it on a chart paper replica of their claims and evidence table:  Plaid Pete's Prize Potato - Claims and Evidence Chart

We engage in a group discussion about the evidence.  We notice that some of the groups had different measurements for mass and circumference.  I ask, "Why would that be?"  Students' first responses were, "They didn't measure correctly."  This gives us an opportunity to not only talk about measuring carefully, but also that measurement is always relative - and that when you are dealing with real life objects (like potatoes!), it can depend at what point on the potato you are measuring.  

We also notice how some teams have more evidence than others, and that this makes their claim stronger.  We agree that more evidence equals a stronger claim.  We also notice that there are two teams with 3 pieces of evidence.  One student comments, "I think the team that used 3 pieces of quantitative data to support their claim has stronger evidence than the team that only used 1 piece of quantitative data."  I push him to explain why he thinks this is so, and he has a difficult time putting it into words.  I point him back to our word wall, and point out the words "subjective" and "objective."  We discuss the idea that objective data provides better evidence because it is easier to prove.

The students are quite happy that they were able to correctly identify the prize potato.  I am thinking that the next time I do this - I won't make it so easy!  I was concerned that they would have difficulty identifying the correct potato.  The next time I do this, I will make it more difficult by choosing a few potatoes that have similar properties (especially quantitative measurements).  These kids are good!

The Lesson 4 Check-Up reveals that all but 2 of my students can accurately identify quantitative and qualitative data.  I pull these two students into a reteach group the following day, and note on my coding sheet that I need to re-assess them during another investigation to see if they have mastered this concept yet.