Thursday, April 21, 2016

Scientific Experiments

Scientific Experiments

Every other week we conduct scientific experiments to practice creating hypotheses, testing them, and analyzing the results. This process, known as the Scientific Method, helps our sixth graders organize how to solve problems and how to answer questions.

The Scientific Method
There are variations to the Scientific Method. Below are the steps we follow in class:

1) Ask a Question
2) Construct a hypothesis
3) Test your hypothesis by doing an experiment
4) Analyze your results
5) Communicate your results

Developing a Sense of Curiosity
Every other Wednesday is our experiment day. Students know we will be experimenting, but the novelty of not knowing what we will experiment excites them the most! The materials are left out on the table for students to see and before the lesson even begins I can hear students making predictions about our experiment. As a whole class, we begin by developing a question for the experiment (Ask a question). The question should drive our exploration. Students use a variety of sentence stems such as, "I wonder if...", "What happens when...", "What would the results be if..." to guide their thinking.

Making Realistic Predictions
Students use their developed questions and background knowledge to create a hypothesis (Construct a hypothesis). We describe hypotheses as being an educated guess that you test through an experiment. These hypotheses are constructed in an "if/then" format. For example, "If I add more vinegar to the solution, then the bubbles will expand."

The Experiment
This is the fun part! Students get to conduct the experiment with the given materials in a way that will help them test their hypothesis (Test your hypothesis by doing an experiment). Each student is given the materials, but the process they follow when conducting the experiment is their choice. At times this can lead to "failed" experiments. We discuss the importance of tracking our experiment process so we can make educated guesses about what went wrong and how we can alter the experiment next time. 

When students analyze their results, they are combining predicted outcomes, the notes taken during the experiment, the final product, and the answer to their hypothesis (Analyze your results). This step in the Scientific Method can be messy. Students' notes are crossed out, rewritten, sketched, graphed, highlighted, etc. The notes are for them and their own exploration process. 

Finalizing the Process
Students then take their analysis and organize it in a way that can be communicated with others (Communicate your results). Through cooperative learning structures, written responses, or presentations students link their discoveries to the science behind the experiment. Through a short lesson, I can provide students with the "whys" behind their results. By doing the instructional piece at the end, it provides students with a larger background knowledge that they can make connections to.

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