Monday, October 8, 2012

The Scientific Method For Elementary with David Wiesner

To review the scientific method with younger elementary kids, I really like to use the book, "June 29, 1999" by David Wiesner.  I introduced the method using bubble time and often needed to do a little something as a reminder half way through the year.  This activity does not help to review the elements of an experiment or "procedure" such as controls, but was a great way to remind young ones about the gist of the Scientific Method.

The book, "June 29, 1999" is a wonderfully illustrated book (as is typical with David Wiesner), and stars a young girl that is clearly passionate about science.  The ending of the book included a fun twist the kids always loved too.  The details of the illustrations gave us a lot to discuss.  Published in 1992, the events in the book are really supposed to take place in the near future.  Since my teaching career began in 1999, I just had to tell the kids the story actually took place in 2009 and it was a typo.  I suppose now you could just say it is a pretend time in the past or tell the kids 2019.

The first page of text in the book opens in May and specifies that the main character, Holly Evans, has spent months doing a lot of careful research.  You can see a calendar and Periodic table hanging on her bedroom wall, along with a photo of Albert Einstein, a newspaper with a headline about solar flares and a number of science books and other science paraphernalia scattered around the room.  Holly is looking at a cup of dirt critically.  We always searched the picture for clues about what it was she was doing.  I usually had to explain what the helium tank was for, but the kids could easily predict that she was doing some sort of test with plants growing up high somewhere.  After they felt they'd figured out what she was up to, I asked them to point out all the signs that she had been doing research and planning her experiment out before that day.  This helped us talk about, and solidify what "research" was.

On the second page of the book, Holly speaks to her classmates about her plans.  There is relevant vocabulary that always got defined for the kids, "extraterrestrial conditions", "development", "aloft" and "ionosphere".  The kids often identified this page as showing Holly communicating her findings (a decent guess given the circumstances), but I clarify that the page simply explains her procedure.  She's telling her colleagues (classmates) what her plans are and probably included a hypothesis.  I would then point out that the book tells us she expects the plants to float for a couple of weeks, but it does not tell us what she thinks this will do to the plants.  The story does not offer up a hypothesis.

Before moving on, I would ask the kids to give their hypotheses and I always wrote those on the board.

With older kids I suggest that this is where I would also discuss a "control", but with Kindergartners this is already pretty advanced stuff and it doesn't help to overdo it.  If I was doing this activity with a second grade student or up, I might ask, How will Holly be sure the differences in her floating plants (if there are any) are because they were up high and not because of something else?  What would Holly need to do to create a control?

I used this set of papers with Alice as part of her first grade experience in order to help really drive the discussion home for her.  She filled in the question we figured Holly must be asking, and then drew pictures of the "evidence" we found for some of the things Holly had researched.  She cited the posters Holly made and showed her classmates on the second page of story here as well.

Click on Picture to Enlarge and Print

After that I simply read the next four pages until we saw Holly with broccoli in her yard.  Then, I asked, "so what happened?"  The kids would offer up some analysis (and I made sure to use that word with them).  When they were ready to move on, I would say, "we really do need to gather all the data first though" as I turned to the next page.  Then, I read another four pages until we saw the picture of Holly taking clippings from magazines and newspapers while also watching the news on TV.  For this page I asked the kids to list all the ways she is keeping track of data.

In addition to the newspapers, magazines and TV coverage shown on the page, in the background you can see a map with pins in it and a clip board with a list of veggies and the locations where those fruits and veggies landed.  I always gave the kids a little time to discuss the data part of things.  In what ways is she collecting data?  In what ways is she not collecting data? Could she take any measurements?   Finally, I read the text on the page to the kids.  The last line of text is, "Holly is puzzled.  Arugula is not part of her experiment."  At this point, I asked the kids to tell me why this would puzzle Holly, and followed that discussion by asking them to form new conclusions after taking in this last piece of information.

When we got to the layout that shows Holly contemplating the results from her tree fort in the broccoli, I pointed out to the kids that mistakes, incorrect hypotheses and incorrect conclusions are a REALLY important part of science.  I told them, "we actually need to make mistakes in order to learn" and I'd whip out a few quotes (or in this case, near quotes) like, "I have not failed, I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work" said by Thomas Edison on inventing the light bulb before finally figuring it out and "Up from the ashes grow the roses of success" the scientists in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

I asked the kids to tell me if Holly is upset that she is wrong and gave the kids a chance to sort of politely argue about it with one another until some one used the book as a reference and came out with the conclusion that she was, "more curious than disappointed".  One Language Arts Objective in the early kids is to get kids to use evidence to support their statements. 

Then, I read the final two pages of the story.  Its was always a good reaction and I finished off by asking the kids to work in groups to give a presentation that would share Holly's findings as if they are Holly speaking to her class.  I would then remind them that Holly does not know what happened to her veggies or where the giant ones came from so they had to pretend they didn't know either.

On the Analysis Part, I had the kids write what they guessed Holly Evans thought about her experiment and what she might say about the big veggies.

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