Who are scientists? What do they do?
- curious problem solvers
- conduct experiments
Observation & Communication
Real world example: Professor Elizabeth Blackburn studied something relatively mundane (pond scum) which led to some remarkable discoveries. The science discoveries are quite complex, my summary for students was: by studying the DNA in pond scum, she made discoveries about how humans could live healthier (health-span), for longer.
- Nobel Prize Winner, Australian-born American molecular biologist and biochemist
Students learn to make scientific observations and use labelled diagrams to communicate.
- Real-world connections: Share Professor Elizabeth Blackburn story and achievements
- Context: Set the scene- we are going to be scientists and make observations and communicate our findings. Professor Elizabeth Blackburn studied pond scum, and made discoveries that impacted humans, like Professor Blackburn we are also going to study living things.
- Introduce labelled diagrams.
We use a labelled diagram to show the shape, size and features of an object.
A labelled diagram might include a title, an accurate drawing, a scale to show the object’s size and labels showing the main features. A line or arrow connects the label to the feature. Reference: Primary Connections, “Plants in action- Year 4 Biological Sciences”
Example of student observation and communication (labelled diagram) skills:
What’s inside a seed? Reference: Primary Connections, “Plants in action- Year 4 Biological Sciences”
- Discussion: is a seed living or non-living? (answer: a seed is living but is in a quiet or dormant state). Students can be supported to come to this conclusion after seeing seeds germinate.
- Diagrams: Students made 4 diagrams with notes:
- Dry bean outside
- Dry bean inside (I cut the beans in half )
- Soaked been outside
- Soaked bean inside (students used a plastic knife to cut the beans)
Questioning & Experimenting
“Science is about asking good questions that can be answered through direct observation or experiments.”
Real world example of asking good questions:
Emeritus Professor Alan Mackay-Sim: Biomedical scientist treating spinal cord injuries. Awarded 2017 Australian of the Year for asking two scientific questions.
“It is not the answer that gets you the prize, it is the question”.
Students pose scientific questions:
- Real-world connections: Share Emeritus Professor Alan Mackay-Sim’s story and achievements
- Brainstorm: Brainstorm as many questions as possible about your science topic/focus
- Learn about scientific questions: Sort scientific and non-scientific questions. Click here for question sorting resource.
- For example:What is the best brand of paper towel? (non-scientific) What brand of paper towel holds the most water? (scientific)
- Pose scientific question: Revisit students’ question brainstorm. Students need to write at least 1 scientific question which can be investigated through conducting an experiment. They can use one of the questions from their brainstorm, re-phrase one of their questions so it is scientific, or write a completely new question.
- Choose question: The class can then vote on which scientific question they will investigate through conducting an experiment. Depending on the age of students, they might be able to investigate different questions in groups or individually.
An example of a question my class chose to investigate is: Will the absence of a seed coat effect a plant’s ability to grow?
Students learn to write a hypothesis:
- Hypothesis: Clear, testable statement. Suggests a relationship between two variables.
- If, then statements…. or… If, then, because statements.
- If (I do this) then (this) will happen because___(reason for prediction).
- If a broad bean seed has no coat, then it will start growing before seeds with a seed coat because there is less of a barrier to the seed shoot.
- More information: https://www.vcaa.vic.edu.au/Pages/vce/adviceforteachers/environscience/controlled_experiments_and_hypothesis_formulation.aspx & https://www.gtac.edu.au/students/learning-resources/a-guide-to-constructing-a-hypothesis/
Students conduct the experiment and write a science report
Examples of science learning activities to develop inquiry skills: questioning, observing, experimenting and communicating.
Photo 1- vinegar and bicarb soda, compared with water and bicarb soda. I poured a clear liquid (water) into a cup of bicarb soda. We then repeated this however the next cup of clear liquid was vinegar (students did not know this). Students hypothesised why there may have been different reactions when the clear liquid was added and tested their predictions.
Photo 2: water, cornflour and food colouring to make slime.
Photo 3: Effect of heat on different materials. Students made observations before and after heating. Materials were placed in water-proof ziplock bags, bags were then placed in bowls of hot water.
Properties of different materials, eg. water resistance, absorbency
Effect of friction on Sphero time to travel from point A to point B.
Observations of seed growth.
Compare growth of broad been seed, with and without seed coat.
Impact of scientific discoveries- ‘real-world’ examples
Emeritus Professor Alan Mackay-Sim: Biomedical scientist treating spinal cord injuries, 2017 Australian of the Year.
Dr Fiona Wood: Australian plastic surgeon and ‘Spray-on Skin’ Pioneer. Fiona Wood and Marie Stoner used tissue engineering technology to treat burns using ‘spray-on skin’. Dr Wood was the 2005 Australian of the Year. More information:
Earth and Space Science
- NASA: earth and space resources and lesson plans.
- 20 mysterious radio bursts
- Scientists have landed a new spacecraft on Mars
- Discovery of a new solar system
Click here for a STEM unit which links coding Spheros and learning about space.
- Science report template for students’ experiment
- Scientific and non-scientific questions to sort
- Rubric to assess science experiments, see page 76 of this resource.
- NASA: earth and space resources and lesson plans.
- Working Scientifically: Implementing and Assessing Open Investigation Work in Science by Mark W. Hackling. Original resource.
***Primary Connections resource links are at the end of this blog post.
- A New Toy Story STEM Unit Plan Yr 3, 4 which includes learning about forces.
- Real-world examples of STEM
- STEM units: ideas, examples and resources
Equality in STEM and Science education
- Be aware of unconscious bias: Dr Carol Newall and colleagues found that teachers used less scientific talk when they were teaching a girl.
- Have role models close to their age such as successful girls in science at high school, so they can imagine themselves as scientists in the near future.
- Model a positive attitude towards maths and science
- Encourage children to join in non-stereotypical activities during preschool and primary school years.
- Foster self-confidence and self-efficacy for female students, who are typically less confident than their male peers.
- Effort and appropriate experiences, rather than natural ability, are mainly responsible for success in the STEM disciplines. Therefore, praise effort and reasoning to a greater degree than correct answers.
- Develop reasoning skills through putting the emphasis on the process, not just product. Encourage female students to make reasoned conjectures about problems, to explore varied approaches to STEM tasks, and to explain and justify their work.
- Make connections so students see the practical value of the STEM knowledge and skills they learn in school. Click here for ‘real world’ examples.
- Set up collaborative groups for success:
- put in place measures to ensure equal and fair student participation;
- mixed-gender groups, but avoid placing only one girl in a small group, even if that results in having one or more all-male groups. Monitor and rotate these groups regularly
Primary Connections: science lessons & resources
These resources are available for free, for teachers in Australian schools via the Scootle website. Click the links below, to be directed to the resource on the Scootle website. Log in via your education network, eg. South Australian Department for Education and Child Development.
If you are not a teacher in an Australian school, the resources can be purchased from this website: https://primaryconnections.org.au/curriculum-resources .
Primary Connections: other resources
Primary Connections Unit Map, with connections to the Australian Curriculum Achievement Standards
Primary Connections Unit Plan template/example: backward design unit planner