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Getting started: Sample starting activities

The following introductory activities can set the tone for the school year by presenting an accurate and engaging perspective on what science is really about. These activities involve students in aspects of science in a simple and exploratory fashion. If you have not used the Science Knowledge Survey, from the Evolution and the Nature of Science Institutes, it may be helpful to ask students to "Define" or "Describe Science" before beginning these activities. Their ideas can be written on a 3x5 card and collected to identify student perceptions about science that you hope to reinforce or change during the year. Follow with one of the activities below to introduce nature of science concepts. To make the key concepts explicit, after the activity, have a class discussion regarding the starter activity prompted by the question: Were you doing science? You may want to employ students' definition or descriptions in this discussion.

  • Mystery tubes — In this lesson, students are asked to determine what the interior construction of the mystery tube looks like. Working in groups, students pose explanations (hypotheses) for what they are observing and are asked to test their hypotheses.

  • Poking around — In this lesson, students are introduced to the process of scientific inquiry as they develop an approach to determine the shape and size of an unseen object. The activity reinforces the concept that scientists often make indirect observations of the phenomena they are attempting to study. This activity also point out that not all scientists follow the same path in such an investigation.

  • Mystery boxes: Uncertainty and collaboration — Students manipulate sealed "mystery" boxes and attempt to determine the inner structure of the boxes, which contain a moving ball and a fixed barrier or two. The nature and sources of uncertainty inherent in the process of problem-solving are experienced. The uncertainty of the conclusions is reduced by student collaboration.

  • The checks lab — Students construct plausible scenarios to explain a series of bank checks. As students examine additional canceled checks, they revise their original hypotheses with new evidence. In the process, they learn how human values and biases influence observation and interpretation.

  • Exploring bouncing balls — In this lesson, students will explore the physical properties of a variety of balls and how they bounce (i.e., their bounciness or elasticity). The point of the activity is not necessarily to have students arrive at a precise explanation for the phenomena they are investigating, but to provide students with an opportunity to participate in and reflect on the process of science.

  • Amazon fly — This short activity quickly engages the participants in the process of developing testable hypotheses. Students come up with multiple hypotheses to explain a set of observations and figure out how to test these hypotheses. The activity is appropriate for small or large group discussion.

  • How science works: Scientific inquiry in everyday life — In this very simple starting activity, students make observations of phenomena in their everyday lives and recognize that they can and do reason about such phenomena scientifically. A summative class discussion of this take-home activity can be used to make this point explicit.

  • Crime scene: The case of the missing computer chip — In this classroom activity, a simulated crime scene is presented for teams of students to solve, using clues received piecemeal and adjusting hypotheses as more clues are found and discussed. The elements of the nature and process of science are recognized through discussion of the crime solution metaphor.

  • Investigating a crime scene — Two suspicious dogs and a shredded book provide a perfect combination for engaging your students in the process of science. This PowerPoint presentation sets the crime scene, encourages students to pose and test multiple hypotheses, and reinforces the logic of a scientific approach in solving everyday problems.

  • Number patterns — In this activity, students are challenged to discover the relationship among six numbers. In the process, they engage in observation, collaboration, questioning, formulating explanations, developing expectations/predictions, and testing and modifying their ideas. Students are then asked to reflect on whether they were doing science.


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