It's that time of year again. We are all reviewing the scientific method and working hard to inspire our students to not only do science, but think like scientists. It is important for us to remember that memorizing the steps of the scientific method is not real science, while engaging students in experimental design using the method is. So now you wonder, how can my students engage in real science when I can barely get them to write a correct sentence during writing time? Although I'm a firm believer that science process trumps science product during the elementary years, I realize that experimental design is not exactly a walk in the park for students and teachers alike. I recommend teaching the process in small chunks, with skillfully scaffolded tasks that build understanding and confidence.
I've always had a passion for authentic science instruction, but it took some time for me to figure out how to make it work in my classroom. During one of my first years teaching I asked my students to write their own procedure for a pond exploration lab. I thought...How hard can it be? This is what students should be able to do right? ROOKIE MISTAKE! Some students wrote 15+ steps, others 2-3 steps but most students procedures had little or nothing to do with the actual testable question or variables. Grrrr! Not to mention, reading each students incorrect procedure took longer than the actual lab should have taken, and by the time I realized how off-base their work was, the room was a pond scum-covered mess. (No really, some students steps included things like "Use a spoon to put pond water on the microscope." and "Place pond water on a plate near the window." Not cool when you have 125 students to manage).
So, needless to say I searched for a better way! The following is a sequential list of strategies I recommend for helping your students with this science process skill. Whether you want your students to be able to design their own science explorations, or simply improve their ability to follow a science procedure correctly, I recommend trying these strategies with your young scientists.
6 Tips to Help 6th Graders With Science Procedures
1. Show students examples of quality procedures. These are easy to find online or in science books.
2. Show students examples of poorly written procedures and have them compare them to the quality procedures. Poorly written procedures are easy to write up for examples. Use both types of examples to make a class anchor chart of what quality science procedures include.
3. Compare and contrast scientific procedures with cooking recipes. This is a great venn diagram discussion!
4. Do a procedure sorting exercise. (See today's freebie!) Note: You will need to teach kids about independent and dependent variables in order to do this skill builder,
5. Take an existing lab procedure and cut it into strips for each step. Have students organize them correctly on the lab table before they can begin the experiment. Once checked by an adult, they can flip each completed step upside down as they work to show they are following it in the correct order.
6. Provide a partially written procedure and have students write in the last few steps before beginning an experiment.
Now you are ready to take it to the next level! Will you have your students author their own procedures?
Are you working on procedure writing and comprehension with your students? If so, download this procedure sorting activity freebie!
This freebie is located in my TpT store. (Sorry for those of you who prefer Google Docs....but signing up for TpT is easy and free if you are not already a member.)