The science curriculum standards of many upper elementary grades, third through fifth, require that students learn the scientific method. By fourth grade, students may have been introduced to the vocabulary of the scientific method. Developmentally, fourth-grade students are capable of applying this method to simple experiments once they learn the steps. Walk students through the scientific process during a lesson to give students the confidence to use it independently.
Define the Steps
Inform students that the scientific method helps scientists answer questions with a step-by-step plan using research and data collection. Guide students through a brief introduction and discussion of the steps. Different models of the method may combine some steps, but many use eight steps: form question, gather resources, make hypothesis, plan research, collect data, organize data, interpret data to draw conclusions and present findings. Assign groups of students a chart to create and hang in the class with text and pictures to explain each of the steps. Instruct all students to write the steps in a science log book or journal for reference.
Model the Method
Instruct the class to observe you carefully as you conduct an experiment and describe the parts of the scientific method as you use them. Show students a D-cell battery, flashlight bulb and 6-inch insulated wire with a bit of both wire ends exposed. Inform students that the question for this experiment is: "Can the bulb be lit with only these supplies?" As you work to light the bulb, stop and ask students to give descriptions of each step of the scientific method. While conducting the experiment, create a chart with the information the class offers describing the steps of the method at work. Eventually, after several tries where you intentionally fail, light the bulb by touching an exposed wire end to one end of the battery with the bulb sitting on a battery terminal and the other wire touching the metal bulb base.
Instruct the students to work in pairs to conduct another experiment and answer a question you provide them. Require that students write down the scientific method step details as they work. Show them a clear, empty, 1-liter water bottle filled with honey, oil and water in equal measures. Inform students that the question is: "Will a quarter, grape and cork dropped in the bottle all sink to the bottom?" Give class time to write down the question and make a hypothesis. Provide each pair with the materials to conduct the experiment. Direct them to let the bottle rest on a flat surface before beginning and observe how the liquids settle and separate. Students then conduct the experiment, writing down the details from the experiment. The cork, grape and quarter end up suspended in different layers due to the differences in density of the liquids and the objects.
Inform students that after observing one experiment and conducting another with a partner, they are ready to choose an individual experiment to conduct using the scientific method. If students have trouble coming up with a scientific question to answer, provide them with ideas using a class list of possibilities or directing students to research in science textbooks and online resources. Assign each student the task of creating a poster to present the experiment to the class. Require that all posters use the steps of the scientific method in describing the experiments.
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