Scientific Observations - Middle School

Modified for middle school by Jill Madden

Essential Questions

  • How do scientists use observations to investigate and understand what they are studying?
  • How do scientists share what they investigate and learn with other scientists?

Unit Sequence

A. Is It Alive???

Teacher Notes: Before we begin the investigation we will work together as a class to develop the understanding for the following academic language and will add these words to the notebook glossary:

Characteristics, Biotic, & Abiotic: Students will be asked to work in their research teams of no more than 3 students to develop their ideas regarding the characteristics of Biotic or living things. As a team they will fill out this handout in their science notebooks. This will take about 10 minutes. Teams will then share out information that I will record on a class chart. We will develop a class agreement as scientists regarding the characteristics that living things share. As the class expands this list all students will be asked to add information to their notebook handout. The entire lesson should take approximately 30 minutes.

B. Using Observation Skills as Scientists

Teacher Notes: This lesson has three goals. The first is to introduce the students to the skill of detailed observations during an investigation. The second goal is to have students apply the content of characteristics of living things with the skill of detailed scientific observation through a mini investigation by recording their observations.. The last goal is to introduce the skills of writing scientific questions about what you are observing as investigative questions. This work will be conducted in science teams and will be recorded in their science notebooks.

  1. Scientific Observations
    Teacher Notes: Students will be given this handout for scientific observations to be glued in their science notebooks. The team will be asked to read it together and to highlight what they feel is important for them to know:
  2. Mystery Specimen Investigation!
    Teacher Notes: Each team is given a petri dish with a piece of moss and a hand lens. They are not told what the specimen in the dish is. They are to use the handout to observe the specimen and to record their observations using the format outlined on the handout in their science notebook. They must answer at least one writing frame from each category. When they have completed their team observations each team is given a note card or sentence strip. Using their notebook entry on the characteristics of living things they must decide if the specimen is Biotic or Abiotic and must use their observations as evidence to support their decision. The note cards will be posted on the class walls. Students will then be asked to develop at least three investigative questions about their mystery specimen. An investigative question can not be answered yes or no and must be able to be investigated. Students will be supported as they work on their questions in their notebooks. Their final questions will also be written on note cards or sentence strips and will be posted on the class walls to share with other scientists. This investigation will take approximately 45 minutes.

C. School Yard Investigation: Using The Scientific Method

Teacher Notes: This lesson is the application of knowledge piece pulling together all the content and skill aspects of this mini-unit. In this School Yard Investigation students will be navigating the Scientific method to explore, through observation, the relationships between the Biotic and Abiotic parts of an ecosystem. Students will be asked to work in their established research teams. Prior to heading out to the school yard to begin the investigation students will:

  • Glue in the different handouts for the investigation and review/highlight them as a team.
  • Will clarify the words Ecosystem and Interdependent as a class and will add it to their notebook glossary.
  • Will be given the tools for this investigation which include a hand lens, thermometer, and a one meter transect line and will be given instructions on their use.
  • Norms for behavior will be reviewed.

This investigation is designed for a block period and will take approximately 110 minutes. Download

Written Investigation Results and Conclusion: Students will write their results and conclusion for the School Yard Ecosystem Investigation answering the following two prompts. They should be reminded that in the results section they are stating what they actually observed. This is where they tell what happened. In the conclusion section they are giving reasons or thoughts for why they think it was observed or happened. They are explaining what was observed. Students will use their science notebooks to complete this science writing. They should be reminded to write using the academic language in their glossary. This written work will be submitted for a grade and is worth 100 Points. It will be completed in class and will take approximately 45 minutes. Download

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