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)

March 6, 2016

Easter & Spring STEM Challenges

Spring is HERE!  I am always happy to move on to a new season, because each new season provides inspiration for STEM challenges!  I've got some super-engaging & fun ways to bust through that spring fever -- five collaborative, super-charged critical thinking & problem-solving STEM activities: Nice Nest, Egg-hanced, Basket Bounce, Carrot Carriage, and Bean Bind! And don't worry if you aren't interested in Easter challenges; there are simple tweaks to make these just for spring!

Five STEM Challenges perfect for Easter or spring! Modifications included for grades 2-8.

As always, I aim to create challenges with cheap, easily-obtained materials. Just about everything I used for all challenges was procured at the Dollar Tree and grocery stores. I recommend one challenge per day or week leading up to Easter, or even all challenges in one day-long 5-event pentathlon, for the brave of heart, mind, and spirit! 

Five STEM Challenges perfect for Easter or spring! Modifications included for grades 2-8.As you scroll through this post, you'll find a brief overview and photos of each challenge; more details can be found by clicking on the challenge titles.  I'm in the process of filming video walk-throughs for each challenge, which I will include on their own individual blog posts. You can find the linked schedule for when these will post below. 

Make sure you pin the image to the left so you can easily make your way back to check for videos on their post dates!

Video Walk-Throughs Include:

* An overview of how to conduct the challenge, including was to make the challenges more spring-based than Easter-based, if desired

* Basic criteria & constraints

* Ways to make the challenge easier or harder for your students

* How to extend with cross-curricular lessons/activities

* Demonstrations & examples

* Materials tips & more! 

Blog/Vlog Schedule:
Nice Nest: posted
Egg-Hanced: posted
Basket Bounce: posted
Carrot Carriage: posted
Bean Bind: posted

Nice Nest
Criteria & Constraints List
Stem Basics:

* Give the students a list of criteria and constraints to guide their designs (see example, right).

* Post-build, students test their designs and record and share results.

* If desired, give time for related research and extension activities.

*Provide time for a second iteration for students to apply learnings.

*Need more details on how to break up a STEM Challenge lesson? Check out The STEM Challenge Cycle.

Note: The challenge title links to the blog post as soon as it is available (prior to that, it will link to the resource in my Teachers Pay Teachers store).

Challenge: Nice Nest

Basic Premise: Individually, or in partners/groups, students will build a nest that holds as many eggs as possible using predominantly toilet paper.

You'll want the very cheapest TP one can find - maybe you can even use the school's TP!  The thinner the TP, the harder this challenge becomes!

Challenge: Bean Bind

Basic Premise: Due to equipment malfunctioning at the bean factory, several types of beans are all mixed-up, putting the Easter Bunny in a bind!  Individually or in partners/groups, students will design and build a device to sort the jelly beans from the mixed-up beans. (Not to worry, if your students are too cool for this explanation, we can take down the cutesy factor by just calling it a factory mix-up!)

If you’re working with younger students, you’ll want to mix jelly beans with only one other bean type that is not too similar in size (e.g. black beans). For older students, increase to two or three other bean types, some of which may be closer in size to the jelly beans.

Challenge: Carrot Carriage

Basic Premise: Individually, or in partners/groups, students will design and build a carriage to hold cargo and roll downhill made primarily of carrots.

Note: You'll need to demonstrate to students before starting how to handle the toothpicks safely so they don't poke their fingers. Pictures and notes are included in the prepared lesson.

Challenge: Egg-hanced

Basic Premise: This is a classic egg-drop challenge with optional modifications. Individually or in partners/groups, students will design and build a device to protect an egg from cracking when dropped from one or more predetermined heights.

Challenge: Basket Bounce

Basic Premise: Individually, or in partners/groups, students design and build a basket that will hold and contain Easter eggs as they participate in the Basket Bounce relay race.

Gotta have the bundle?

Sample pages from the Spring & Easter Bundle

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