March 30, 2016

Scientific Method: Neglect & Regrets

If your students struggle with the last steps of the scientific method: Analyze data and Draw Conclusions & Report Results, read this.

Are you guilty?

 - of being a scientific method side-stepper?

- a latter-steps neglecter?

- all flash, but no bang?

I’m a recovering latter-steps neglecter, and I want you to know there is hope & the grass is so much greener on the other side!


I spent most of my ten years teaching 5th grade. I moved down to second grade to shock the system for two years, and then up to 7th Life Science & ELA, which is where this story begins.

The Scientific Method

Students are usually given the most experience with the first four steps of the scientific method:
1) Ask a question or state a problem
2) Do background research
3) State a hypothesis
4) Test the hypothesis with an experiment

But we frequently don't give as much time and practice to the final two steps:
5) Analyze data and draw conclusions
6) Report results

This often occurs because we run out of steam or class time after performing experiments, and the result is that students simply don't get enough instruction and experience with the higher-level thinking skills involved in making meaning from their experiment results...and that's the most fascinating part!

Data Analysis: Osmosis Doesn't Work

The first 7th-grade science experiment reports I collected were underwhelming, to say the least. In their reports the students explained the hypothesis, procedure, and results with absolutely no analysis or critical thought. 

How on Earth had they missed the most important element of their reports?! It seemed they missed the point of conducting experiments entirely. Hadn’t anyone taught them to analyze and interpret their results?  What a tremendous waste of time trying to grade these reports would be!

If there's a better way to show the whirlwind of emotions as I read those reports,
I couldn't figure it out!

When ~70 students are all doing it wrong, you have to pull up your big teacher pants and admit you made the classic error of assigning rather than teaching.

My irritation gave way to guilt as I recalled the ghosts of experiments in years past where my class performed an experiment but ran out of time to go much further. Visiting my classroom on those days, you might have thought there were only four steps to scientific method! With all the good intent of following up the next day but little quality follow-through, these crucial latter steps were often short-changed.  All too often, I trusted the students would just inherently know what their results meant. Now my neglect was coming back to haunt me – cruel, cruel karma!

I decided not to grade my students' reports. Instead I would teach (what a concept!), and have them revise (really re-do) the reports.

When Teaching Data Analysis, Begin with the End in Mind

I began my hunt for support materials, but I just couldn't find what I needed to dig deep on thinking critically about data.  My epiphany moment came when I realized what I really wanted to do was to shift the imbalance of class time to the latter part of the scientific method.  I didn’t have the luxury of time (who does?!) to run full experiments and generate data to then teach data analysis.  Plus, my students had already shown they knew how to run experiments and record results! 

We didn't have to do the entire experiment for multiple experiments to get what I was after! What we needed was a set of completed experiments/investigations we could analyze, draw conclusions, and suggest next steps.

Oh, did I try hard to find the items on my wish list!  I really tried - physical stores and online with every possible search term & verb tense configuration possible.  I was desperate to find resources, but I came up empty.

I fretted.

I lamented.

I tried and tried again. 

Finally, I accepted what I wanted wasn't out there.
I did as all teachers do: when you can't find it, make it!

So began the birth of the:   

Analyze & Interpret Data Unit

{Read on for a freebie application/assessment sheet!}

Each lesson I created includes editable PowerPoint presentations and student notes/practice. Below, you can see my lesson sequence:

Lesson 1: The Scientific Method and Variables

- Review the steps of the scientific method
- Introduce new terminology (trials and theory)
- Define and practice identifying independent variable, dependent variable, and control variables

Lesson 2: Making a Line Graph for Science Experiment Data

- Independent variable on the x-axis
- Dependent variable goes on the y-axis
- Choosing a reasonable scale
- Creating a title for the line graph
- Creating axis titles and labels

If your students struggle with the last steps of the scientific method: Analyze data and Draw Conclusions & Report Results, read this. Freebie included.

Lesson 3: Identifying Relationships Between Variables

- Discern whether the independent and dependent variables have a direct relationship, inverse relationship, or no relationship

Lesson 4: Analyzing Results, Drawing Conclusions and Next Steps

-        Use data to determine if hypothesis is correct, partially correct, or incorrect
-        Construct/brainstorm possible explanations for data results
-        Create a conclusion statement explaining results
-        Identify "next steps" (experiment repeat, re-design, expansion, etc.)

Lesson 5+: Application/Assessment

10 practice application worksheets for class, homework, and/or tests

Two versions of five experiment scenarios*:
- Does time off task affect grades?
- Do readers make better writers?
- Does skateboard length impact speed?
- Does the number of Mentos affect Diet Coke explosions?
- Are foods with fewer ingredients healthier?

With two of each scenario, you can have students compare different trials of the same experiment to graph as a double line graph, analyze data, determine next steps, etc. Or you can use them as stand-alone practice. When the students recognize the scenarios, it is another opportunity to remind them that good science requires multiple trials of the same experiment.

*Note, these are NOT actual experiments. The data tables are made up. The free product (link below) in my store is version A of this activity, so you can see exactly the format you will be getting.

All's Well that Ends Well

After two weeks of focused instruction and practice in identifying variables, setting up line graphs, determining variable relationships, drawing conclusions, and generating next steps, I asked students to revise their original experiment reports.

Wouldn’t you know it?  The revised reports showed fantastic growth in scientific thinking. Grammatical errors and general organization would have to wait for another day ... baby steps -- tackling one hurdle at a time!

Who would've guessed - when you teach students what to do, they'll often surprise you and do it!

Learn More

I’ve made this resource available in my TpT store, so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. As excited as I was to use these lessons with my own students, it gives me immense pride knowing other teachers and students I’ve never even met have also benefitted! Here’s what teachers have to say about the Analyze & Interpret Data Unit:

Data analysis conquered! Thank you!”

"This is a LIFESAVER! I have been struggling to find a concise way to explain data analysis to my kiddos and this exceeds my needs by a long shot! Thank you SO much for such a useful product!"

“This is an area of my students used to struggle in. But with this well thought out product my students were able to understand and consistently interpret data”

“This has helped my fifth graders with analyzing data and graphing. Love it!!”

“Wow! Everything I need to teach graphs and analysis!”

“This really helped my students understand things like the different types of variables, and next steps. Thanks!”

“This unit was very helpful - I used it as an in class assignment with grade 7 and 8 students, then chose a different topic as a quiz. I really like that there were several different topics and data sets so that I could introduce the topic, then have the students work through it themselves. Repeating the questions and vocabulary is very helpful for my weaker students.”

“Great resource! Will use this year after year!”


As you make your way through small group and class experiments year after year, start keeping a copy of the results. This will give you a stockpile to use in future lessons on drawing conclusions from experiment data. 

For so many of the early elementary years, students receive admirable practice in the early stages of the scientific method. Students in upper elementary and middle school will need focused practice on how to interpret results. Having sets of experiment data will give you a head start in preparing instruction and practice for your kids in these critical thinking skills! 

Here’s an application/assessment freebie to get you started on your path to becoming a Data Analysis Teacher Extraordinaire!

Whether you use one of my resources or not, I hope you'll aim to be a super-suave scientific method master and teach your students to do likewise!

Check out these other great ideas from some of my favorite bloggers!

Khys Bosland Fonts


photo credit: Road Side via photopin (license) photo credit: IMG_1016-2.jpg via photopin (license) photo credit: IMG_1044-2.jpg via photopin (license) photo credit: Sam meets the world via photopin (license) photo credit: Joey Lauren Adams 01 via photopin (license) photo credit: Goose looking confused via photopin (license) photo credit: Plantons via photopin (license)


  1. What an informative blog post. I so enjoyed reading it.

    1. Thanks, Deann! This focus on the analyzing and interpreting data made a huge impact in my class. Glad you enjoyed the post! :)

  2. Great post, Kerry! I agree that if you can't find exactly what you need, the best plan is to make it yourself! Thank you for saving science teachers hours of work by creating this great resource for them!

  3. Very nice post. I'm sure so many will benefit from you sharing your freebie.

  4. Brilliant product! I loved reading about your teaching process, thanks!

  5. I love this! And I admit, I'm guilty also. Since I'm teaching science next year (for the 1st time in 20 years!!), this is going to be so helpful!! Thank you!! You always have the BEST products that truly teaching students!!

  6. I really enjoyed this post. It connects to the work I've been doing with visible thinking routines. I've noticed this trend in classrooms, including mine!

  7. Thank you for this post. I know I've had to "Pull up my teacher pants" and admit that I was the problem, not the students. I'm always amazed how quiet they get and how much more focused they are when I admit that I didn't do a good job teaching them the first time. So, we do it again. Your product looks great!