Updated for 2016 – click here
This is a great lesson to start off the school year and have students thinking like scientists, learning how to work cooperatively with their lab group, dust off their problem solving skills, be creative, and realize that as scientists get new information, their ideas change.
One of the things that students struggle with is wanting to get the ‘right’ answer and not making a ‘mistake’. They don’t like open-ended results. I stress that they have to look at their data, what does their data tell them? What do we know? What can we find out? As the year goes on, their confidence grows and they learn to really think like scientists.
- D & T Activity sheet (pdf)
- 23 words cut up and placed into envelopes (pdf)
- The order of the words is the ‘correct answer’
- I labeled each envelope with the name of a different country to simulate how scientists all over the world can work on the same problem and share their results
- Teacher reference
- construction paper
- white paper cut into 1/4ths or small index cards
- glue sticks
- colored pencils
Before starting the activity, I set the stage that they are a group of archeologists and have discovered an ancient tablet at an archeological dig site. Unfortunately, the tablet is broken and as they excavate, they only find a few pieces at a time. What does the ancient table say? Scientists all over the world try to decipher the ancient text…
Each group is given the same exact 23 words, each slip of paper has one word on it (such as dog, turnip, white, bone, bowl, etc… ). All the words are in the envelope, and they ‘excavate’ 5 words from the envelope. Using those 5 words, they have to guess what the tablet says and make some kind of sentence out of the words. After they write it down, they ‘excavate’ 5 more words and either try to add on to their original story, or make a new story now that they have more information. Once again, after they write down their new hypothesis, they ‘excavate’ another 5 words and either add to their hypothesis, or make a new one. (During this part of the activity, they should whisper quietly so the other groups do not overhear their ideas)
Once everyone has uncovered 15 words and made their 3rd hypothesis, I have each group share their sentence with the class. Even though each group starts out with the same 23 cards, no two groups have uncovered the exact same 15 words (hypothetically). Each group has their own hypothesis and we compare what is similar, what’s different, if there were any common themes, etc…
Now that we have all shared our stories, we ‘excavate’ the rest of the words. They have to use all 23 words to make the final version of their story. This is not as easy as it may sound. By this point, they may have a story they really like and want it to work out, or they may not agree on a final hypothesis, or they may get stuck because they have grouped words together and don’t want to change it: Red dog, red bowl, or red house? Big dog, little dog, fat dog, big red fat dog?
We now share our final hypothesis, or story, with the class and we discuss our results. I then ask, “If we all have the same 23 words, why don’t we all have the same story?” The kids come up with some great reasons as to why. We talk about what challenges they encountered when trying to come up with a story, if there was disagreement in the group, if their stories even made sense, etc…
I then tie it into how scientists may have the same exact information, or data, but come up with different hypotheses and disagree just like they did in this activity. I then bring up the topic of who has the “correct” hypothesis? How do I know what is “correct”? I can’t ask the ancient people what the tablet originally said, so how do I know if my idea is the correct one?
Scientists are always getting new information (just like they got more words to work with) all the time and have to either see if it fits their current data, tweak their ideas using the new data, or come up with a totally new hypothesis and scrap the old one. You can then tie in real examples of how in the past, people thought the world was flat, the sun went around the Earth, that man could never walk on the moon, etc..
After all my classes have done this activity, I then reveal what the “correct” story was and we compare what was the same and what was different.
Note – this lesson plan is a modification of the original lesson plan from The University of California Museum of Paleontology (link)