To begin the unit, the other 7th grade teacher and I asked students to explain their thoughts on the effects of putting a coat on a snowman--would it cause faster melting, have no effect, or cause slower melting? (See the image at this website http://nyghsec1physics.pbworks.com/w/page/54556305/concept_snowman) Students were engaged and enjoyed thinking about this problem. Many students wanted to know "the answer." When they realized we didn't have an answer to give them, they were ready to investigate. Here in central Kentucky, there is one problem for investigating snowmen--no snow. We asked students to design an investigation to provide evidence for the effect of the coat on the snowman in the absence of snow.
Students produced many ideas ranging from snowmen made of ice cream or crushed ice to using a single ice cube to represent the snowman. While the ideas were great, the details in the procedures they designed were not well thought-out or well designed. For students who have spent most of their lives following procedures instead of developing procedures, their attempts weren't terrible, but we needed them to do better.
The following day, we put the students in feedback groups. Each student shared the procedure they had helped write the previous day. Then the students in their feedback circle offered compliments on the procedure and asked questions to help clarify the procedure. We began with a fishbowl demonstration to show students what we expected. To make the process easier, we provided students with the following sentence stems.
- One part of your procedure that was really clear was. .
- One thing you explained well was . . .
- I could do this experiment because. . .
- I was confused when you said. . . .
- Can you explain how you are going to repeat the experiment?
- How will know if the “coat” made a difference? What will you compare it to?
- Tell me more about. . .
- What are you going to measure?
- What variable are you changing (on purpose)?
- Your procedure would be more clear to me if . . .
I would love to say that the students embraced the challenge, provided great feedback, and wrote amazing, detail rich procedures. They did work through the process and offer some feedback. Their procedures did improve. It wasn't a home-run like I had hoped, but it was an improvement. I can't help but look towards the future when students come to 7th grade with a background in "doing" and "thinking" science instead of just learning about it. Experiences like this will flow smoothly as students will have had practice throughout their science careers.