Introducing Scientific Inquiry

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Building Inquiry Into a Science Class, written by Holly Young and Carol Murphy

Grade Level: 3-12

Essential Questions for students (objectives):  Why is observation and questioning necessary for problem-solving? What is the relationship between science and technology?

Supplies: index cards, Question Comparison sheet, Bridge Building Handout, means of research (ipad/computer), kg weights, metric rulers, paper, tape, scissors, timer

Standards, NGSS:  Science and Engineering practices #1 – Asking Questions and Defining Problems (grades 3-12)

Prior Knowledge: scientific process skills
Instructional Format:  Teacher –led instruction, journaling, cooperative groups

Time needed:  2 class periods (60 minutes each)

Vocabulary for a Word Wall: Observation, Inference
Lesson step by step description:

1)   Read Help Wanted at Mount Vernon by Holly Young and Cathy Morgan.
2)   Display the illustration on page 26 of George Washington’s study using an Elmo or visual reading device.  In a journal, have students divide a page in two columns.  Column 1 should be titled – Observations, and column 2 should be titled – Inferences.   Individually, students look at the picture and write as many statements that are direct observations as well as many statements that are inferences.   It is important that instruction be given on the difference between the two (There is a large rifle propped up in the corner is an observation, while "it gets hot at Mount Vernon" is an inference made by the presence of a fanning chair) – 5 minutes.
3)   Have students form groups and share their observations and inferences, making sure to check whether they have categorized their statements correctly.  Looking over the inferences, have students review each one and find evidence to support the inference.  This can be extended to additional research away from the picture in the book.
4)  Introduce students to the process of asking open-ended reflective questions.  This skill is so critical to scientific and engineering!  The goal is for students to create 2 questions about the picture on page 26.
Explain to students that the 5 question stems – who, what, when  where, why, which, and how help us start asking questions, but there are ways to use the stems to create stronger open-ended questions that don’t have one right answer, but lead to experimentation and investigation.  According to Dr. Richard Cash in his book, Advancing  Differentiation:  Thinking and Learning for the 21st Century, he states that for questions to be higher order, the following should be true:
        “Who” should engage people in making choices.

        “What” should involve people in hypothesizing.

        “When” should require people to predict.

        “Where” should have people developing plans.

        “Why” should use people’s skills of analysis.

        “Which” should provoke people to use criteria and evidence to make decisions and reason arguments

        “How” should compel people to synthesize meaning by gathering information on the manner or method of problem solving.

Show students the Question comparison sheet as an example.(Advancing Differentiation:  Thinking and Learning for the 21st Century, Cash, Richard, Free Spirit Press, 2010, pg. 23)
5)   Students write 2 questions from observing the picture on page 26 on 2 index cards. Whichever question stem they use, make sure that they can justify how their question in a deep, complex question. 
6)   Students exchange their 2 questions with another group.  First the group should analyze the question itself.  For instance, if it is a “who” question, does it involve the students in making choices or is it a quick, easy answer.  Questions that pass the test for a deep open-ended question can all be posted in the classroom.
7)   Students can either work as a group, in partners, or individually to choose a question that they find interesting and start seeking additional information or empirical evidence to answer.
8)   Engineering Component:  Student complete the build a bridge experiment.  See handout.  When the students are finished have them brainstorm reflective questions about their experiment, such as the following:
       What could you have done to make your bridge stronger?  How can you apply your knowledge gained by this activity to other structures?  How was measurement used in this investigation?  Why is accuracy important?

9)  Students will then pass their questions to another group who will answer them about their own experiment.  As a class, discuss the reflective questions.  How can asking good questions lead to improvement in the experiment?

Extension: Some questions may be worthwhile as a class to have as an essential question for all of science or for an engineering unit, or a student could take a question and create a passion project around it.  If students would like to ask questions about the book, we have information on our website About Help Wanted at Mount Vernon.
Attached worksheets or documents: Question Comparison Sheet, Bridge Building Handout