March 30, 2016

Scientific Method: Neglect & Regrets






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!





A little background: 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 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 gotten it so wrong?! Hadn’t anyone taught them that?  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.  Now my neglect was coming back to haunt me – cruel, cruel karma!

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

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!}  

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!




The full Analyze and Interpret Data Unit includes:







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!

Here’s an application/assessment freebie to get you started on your path:





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







SCIENTIFIC METHOD & WISH LIST FONT CREDIT:
Khys Bosland Fonts


PHOTO CREDITS:

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 STEM Challenge Events






Back in October, I decided to create my first set of holiday-themed STEM challenges. It was one of those units that re-inspires you -- I guess I should say it re-inspired me, at least!  I had fantastic responses from students and teachers, so as Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine's Day, and St. Patrick's Day came around, I was excited to put together new challenges for my growing seasonal STEM series.

Now, Easter is almost upon us. I had been hoping to have the challenge set ready by March 7, but I've decided to take another week to fine-tune and, honestly, to be kind to myself and work at a more reasonable pace.  Plus, we still have another week to implement the St. Patrick's Day challenges, so why rush? (Update, March 10: Series is complete!)

With that, I'm going to approach this Easter STEM Events blog differently from those in the past, where the challenges were introduced all together at the same time. To keep on track, I will unveil one new Easter challenge each day this week until all five are revealed.
Nice Nest Criteria & Constraints List

As always, materials for all challenges were procured at the Dollar Tree except a large box of craft sticks (Michael’s) and candy (Target).

Just by viewing the information below (as it becomes available), you can pick up the simple materials and run the challenges with a bit of prep time on your part.  

Alternatively, you can save yourself time and energy (and use it to head over to your local dollar store!) by picking up the prepared lessons, which include teacher notes/guide, modifications to increase the difficulty for older students, data recording & analysis handouts, NGSS Standards, extension ideas and more.

I recommend one challenge per day or week leading up to Easter, or even all challenges in one day-long 5-event pentathlon!  STEM challenges are always most beneficial when done in multiple iterations, but they can be treated as one-off activities as well.

A brief description of each challenge is available below, and more information is available by clicking on each challenge title.





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!

Stem Basics:

  • Give the students a list of criteria and constraints to guide their designs.
  • 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.





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. 

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.




Stem Basics:


  • Give the students a list of criteria and constraints to guide their designs.
  • 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.





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.

Stem Basics:
  • Give the students a list of criteria and constraints to guide their designs.
  • 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.





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.




Stem Basics:
  • Give the students a list of criteria and constraints to guide their designs.
  • 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.



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.


Stem Basics:

  • Give the students a list of criteria and constraints to guide their designs.
  • 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.









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