Lesson 7

Introduction to Scientific Investigation: Plaid Pete is in a Pickle!

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SWBAT identify the characteristics of different types of scientific investigations.

Big Idea

What types of scientific study do scientists engage in? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each. Students meet "mentor scientists" and learn about the different ways that scientists explore the world around them.

Setting Up the Investigation

Connection to The Next Generation Science Standards

In this investigation, students begin the work that will lead to their ability to demonstrate the following Science Practices; conduct an investigation collaboratively to produce data to serve as the basis for evidence, using fair tests in which variables are controlled and the number of trials considered (5-PS1-4); measure quantities such as weight to address scientific problems (5-PS1-3); and demonstrate the Crosscutting Concept of using a cause and effect relationship to explain change (5-PS1-4).

*  Although students are beginning to address the Disciplinary Core Idea that when two or more substances are mixed, a new substance with different properties is formed (5-PS1.B) - that is not the emphasis for this lesson and will be fully explored in later lessons in the unit.  This lesson will however, become a "touchstone" lesson for this concept.

Please Note:  The Lexile Level for What's The Matter Plaid Pete? - Lab Scenario Sheet Lesson 4 is 800 (5th Grade Range is 740 - 1010).

The Preparation Time for This Investigation is approximately  10 minutes.

Materials Needed:


Focus & Motivation

5 minutes

Assessing Background Knowledge

I gather my students together and say, "Our friend, Plaid Pete is in another "pickle" of a problem, and he needs our help."  I explain that "in a pickle" is a figure of speech that means he has a difficult problem to solve. (Hey - we have to get figurative language in wherever we can!)

I read What's The Matter Plaid Pete?- Lab Scenario Sheet Lesson 7 out loud.  (It isn't necessary for them to have a copy just yet).  "Wow!" I say.  "It looks like Plaid Pete is going to need our help to set up and conduct an experiment."  I let that sink in for a moment or two.  Then I ask my scientists to think for a moment about what they know about actual science experiments, and how they are different from investigations - like the ones we have done with Plaid Pete's Prize Potato, and the balloon investigation.  I give them a few moments of think time, and then I ask for a few students to volunteer what they know.  I take student comments without evaluating them - I simply listen.  I want to know what my students' preconceptions are, before I begin any instruction.  

I tell them that before we jump in and start helping Plaid Pete, we probably should get a little more information about what experiments are.  I tell them that just like when we use "mentor text" in writing workshop, we are going to meet some "Science Mentors" who are going to help us figure out the difference between investigations and experiments, so that we can design a great experiment for Plaid Pete, Seth, and Jason.

Share Lesson Objective & 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 lesson objectives and success criteria:

Learning Objective:  I can identify the characteristics of the three types of science investigations.

Language Objective:  I can gather information from print and digital sources to answer a question.  [ELP.4-5.5]

Success Criteria:  I have correctly identified which "Science Mentor" is associated with each type of investigation, and have correctly listed this as a claim, with the characteristics as supporting evidence in my Science Lab book.

Guided Exploration

35 minutes

Setting the Task

I tell my students that they will be meeting their "mentor scientists" in videos.  I further state that although these "mentor scientists" probably used different types of investigations, I specifically picked the videos they are watching today, because each one of them is a good representation of one of the 3 main types of scientific investigations that we are going to learn about.

I tell them that they will be taking notes while we watch these videos, and that these notes will become the basis for some Claims and Evidence statements they will be making in just a bit, so it is important that they take good notes.

Note Taking in Science

I hand out enough copies for each student of What's The Matter Plaid Pete? - Lab Sheet Lesson 7 to each team.  I tell them that good listening and note taking skills are not only important in Science, but in other subjects as well.  I know my students are going to need practice listening to videos and taking notes, as they will be taking the Smarter Balanced Assessment in the spring.  This assessment requires that they be able to synthesize information from multiple sources (e.g. multiple pieces of text and video) and then use them to create a written product.  This is a great opportunity for them to practice those skills in context, and I explain that to them.

I ask one student to read the directions.  I then point to the center column of my copy that is projected on my document camera and tell students that these are the "Science Mentors" that they will be working with today.  I randomly call on 3 students to read the questions out loud that are in the first column, ensuring that students understand they are looking for the answers to these questions for each Scientist and are to write them in the box to the right of the Scientist's name.  

I explain that each of the videos is approximately 5 minutes long, and that I am going to model for them how to "Listen with a question in mind."  I play the video,  and as soon as the first bit of information is given that answers one of my questions (e.g. Where does this scientist investigate?), I stop the video, and on my copy of the lab sheet that is projected under a document camera, I make a bulleted note in the appropriate box.  I continue on, playing the video, and stopping at appropriate points to model the process of "Listening with a question(s) in mind," and collecting bulleted notes to answer those questions.  My scientists notice how they have to listen carefully, and I hear lots of complaints that "They are talking too fast."  They are the same complaints that I heard last year about the videos on the Smarter Balanced Field Test.  I am glad that I have constructed additional practice for my students in working with video clips (See Reflection:  Writing Research In Science).  I can tell they are going to need a lot more practice with this before end of the year testing rolls around.

As we move into the second video, I tell my students that now I want them to listen carefully, because we are going to work together to construct the notes.  This time when I stop the video, I have them very briefly turn and talk to the person sitting next to them and tell them what note they would write.  I call on a student to share out.  We continue this way, collecting notes together.

On the third video, I stop at the first appropriate point, ask my students to turn and talk to their partner about what they heard that would be important to note, and write their bulleted note.  I call on a student or two to share out.  Knowing that I have students who will struggle with this, I choose one of the notes and write it on my sheet, indicating to students that they may "collect" this note.  I am also watching for students who will need additional instruction with this task, and make a list on my clipboard.  I will be working with these students in small groups on note taking skills, with both text and video.  


I play the videos in the order indicated:  

#1  Jane Goodall


# 2 Marie Curie


#3 Albert Einstein


15 minutes

Types of Scientific Investigations

Once the videos have been played, and students have completed taking their notes.  I hand out enough copies for each student of the What’s The Matter Plaid Pete? - Types of Scientific Investigations Sheet - Lesson 7 to each team.  

I explain to students that there are 3 main types of scientific investigations they are responsible for understanding in 5th Grade. I point out the first column, Experimental Investigations, and tell students that although this is the one that we will primarily be working with this year, we will be using the others and they do need to understand the differences. I tell them that each type has its strengths and weaknesses, but what is important today is that they understand that there are different types, and that they can identify the primary characteristics of each type.  

I tell them that although the last column actually lists 2 types, Investigating with Modelsand Open Ended Investigations - they are different and this column is more of an "Other" category. I tell them we will be working with Investigating Models today, but that I want them to know that there is something called an Open Ended Investigation, and we will be working a bit more with those at a later time. 

Guided Practice

I call on one student to read the bulleted notes for a Controlled Experiment.

I read the two examples from Example Set 1 of What’s The Matter Plaid Pete? - Investigation Examples - Lesson 7, and display it on my overhead projector, covering the remainder of the sheet with another piece of paper. I ask students of the two examples, which one is an example of a controlled experiment, and tell them they must be prepared to defend their answer by giving evidence. I have them turn and talk with their partner, and then I randomly pull a stick and "Cold Call" on a student.  I confirm that yes, #2 is the Controlled Experiment, because (a) quantitative data (numbers) is being collected (b) a tool (thermometer) is being used, and (c) some conditions are being kept the same.

I follow the same procedure for discussing the key characteristics, choosing the example, and defending the answer for both Field Investigations. The correct answer is #1 from example set 2, because (a) the investigation takes place in a natural setting (b) an animal is being observed without harming it and (c) qualitative data - observations are being collected and Investigating with Models. On this one I have them choose between the leftover answers - #1 from Example Set 1, and #2 from Example Set 2 - with #2 being the correct answer, because (a) it uses a mathematical formula/model (b) this situation would be difficult to study directly and (c) no prediction or hypothesis is made. I have to stop and explain the word "offspring" because it is a term that is unfamiliar to my students.

Team Activity

10 minutes

Claims & Evidence

Now that students have had some practice, I ask them to reflect on our three "Science Mentors" and the 3 main types of scientific investigations that we learned about today - Controlled Experiments, Field Investigations, and Investigation with Models.  

I ask them to go back to their lab sheet with their notes, and think about which scientist best represents which investigation type, and discuss this with their team.  Their notes will become the evidence for their claim.

I tell them that when they have made their decisions, they are to go to the next clean page of the Science Notebook and construct a Claims and Evidence T Table. They will be making 3 claims, one for each scientist. I tell them they may use the following sentence stems, and I model them in my Science Notebook:

On the Claim side of the T Table:

I claim that _____ best represents _______ (Controlled Investigations, Field Investigations, or Investigating with Models) 

On the Evidence side of the T Table:

My evidence for this is _______.

Reflection & Closure

10 minutes

Presenting Claims & Evidence

I call my scientists to attention. I ask each team to present their claims and evidence. After each team has presented, I ask the other teams if there are any scientists who disagree with their claims. We are beginning to build a culture in our classroom where we can question each other's ideas.  

I tell my students that it is important that they understand the different types of scientific study, because they will be participating in all three types this year. I tell them that while all three of these types of scientific study are used by scientists, and are important in bringing forth new scientific discoveries, controlled experiments are in a very special class.  They are the one type of scientific study that can be used to show cause and effect, or to prove that one thing causes another to happen.

I tell them that yes, scientists use models to understand phenomena, when working with the real thing would be too difficult, and they study plants and animals in their native habitats - but when they need to find a new treatment for cancer, or find out which ingredients can be added to toothpaste to prevent tooth decay, they rely on controlled experiments.  

Building the Case for A Controlled Experiment

I return to the dilemma of Plaid Pete, Seth, and Jason. I ask my students, "Why does Plaid Pete want to do a controlled experiment to solve this question of whether the soda made the candy dissolve faster?  Why doesn't he do a field observation, or build some kind of a model?"

One of my students responds, "He wants to see if the soda causes the candy to dissolve faster."  I confirm, and explain that the only way to prove if the soda made the candy dissolve faster is to conduct a controlled or "fair" experiment where everything is kept the same except for the type of liquid the candy is put in.

I tell my students, "However, we have a few things to work on before we can begin our experiment. Controlled experiments have some very specific parts that must be in place, and you need to know what those are. I think we can count on Plaid Pete to help us out and guide the way."

Lesson Check Up

The next morning I gave the Plaid Pete is Perplexed! - Lesson 7 Check - Up.  Some of my students did well. And then there were some who did not do so well - like this student who is one of my English Language Learners. While in some cases it is okay to move on - they will get it later; understanding the difference between types of scientific investigations is fundamental to our year. I knew it was time to drag out one of my skills learned as a Special Education Teacher - TOTE (Teach, Operate, Test, Exit). This is basically a recursive process of micro-teaching (small bursts of instruction that are targeted to address/compensate for student deficits), test, and re-teach until they understand it - each time adjusting the instructional process based on learner response.

I had several of these students and decided that language was really impacting their understanding. That knowledge informed my instruction. I provided additional instruction using simplified language, different colored markers, and picture support:

And they were all able to meet an acceptable benchmark score on the Plaid Pete is Perplexed Lesson 7 Check Up - B Form (75% or better). You can see this same student's first assessment and the better score on the B Form.