Mystery Socks – Using Indirect Evidence

image
Some examples of the small toys I used in this activity

Purpose:

Students will use indirect evidence to determine what is inside each mystery sock.

Materials: per class

  • 10 new long black socks
  • 20 rubber bands
  • 10 clothes pins numbered 1-10
  • small toys or other objects to place inside each sock
  • (online) stopwatch
  • student handout (Mystery Socks-Using Indirect Evidence)

Preparation:

  • Place the desired quantity of each item into each sock.
  • Halfway down the sock, secure/close the sock with a rubber band.
  • Fold the top half of the sock down so that it completely covers up the bottom half of the sock.
  • Add the 2nd rubber band to the opening of the sock to secure it.
    • this will prevent items from falling out, students peeking into the sock, and provide an additional layer of material to conceal what is inside
  • Attach a numbered clothes pin to the sock.
  • Each group or pair of students will make observations on one sock at a time, then pass the sock to the next group when the timer goes off after 1 minute.
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Mystery Sock with item secured inside

Procedures:

  1. Discuss and share strategies students may use to determine what is inside a wrapped present before they open it. Students are using clues, or observations, and their problem solving skills to guess what is inside. They will know if their guess is correct once they open the gift. But what if we couldn’t open the gift, ever? How would we know what is inside? How would we know if we were right or not?
  2. Introduce the activity to the students. They will have one minute to determine what is inside each sock. They can’t open the sock but they can use their hands to feel what is inside the sock.
  3. Arrange students into pairs or groups.
  4. Give each pair/group a mystery sock and ask them not to handle the sock until the timer starts.
  5. Once the timer starts, students will make as many observations as they can and guess what is inside each sock.
  6. Once the timer goes off, they will pass it to the next pair/group and the timer will start again.
  7. Continue until students have made observations on all 10 socks.
  8. Collect all 10 socks.
  9. Share observations and guesses.
  10. Open one sock at a time and reveal what is inside, and discuss.

Closure:

For thousands of years, we have been trying to figure out what an atom looks like, and what is inside the atom. We can’t ‘unwrap’ the atom and peak inside. But based on experiments and observations, we have our current atomic model.

Students will watch the BrainPOP movie and fill in notes about the Atomic Model

 

 

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Candle Observation Lab

candle_observation_lab

Materials – per 2 students

  • Student Handout (Candle Observations)
  • votive candle
  • small beaker
  • large beaker
  • ruler
  • matches & beaker with water for spent matches
    • I light the candles for the students in this age group (6th)

candle_observation_2

Procedures

  1. Discuss how candles work and the fire triangle (link)
  2. Discuss combustion and the chemical reactions that takes place when a candle burns
  3. Explain the lab procedures and remind students of safety protocols
  4. Students will record qualitative and quantitative observations of an unlit candle (5 minutes), burning candle (10 minutes), and a covered burning candle until it goes out and the wax hardens (5 minutes)
    • all students will place the larger beaker over the candle at the same time and watch as the candle goes out
  5. Share observations and discuss
rtemagicc_condensingcandle-burning
Image via The Naked Scientist

I like to use this lab as part of my physical and chemical changes unit, it is such a classic and the kids make some great observations and ask lots of good questions.

Links:

Density Bottles Demo

Density Bottles
Density Bottles: Sand, Air, Rice, Water, & Cotton Balls in 500 mL bottles

How to use density bottles:

Demo & Discussion – For this part of the lesson, students will not handle the bottles, they will answer discussion questions based on their observations only.

  1. Share observations about the bottles.
  2. What do the bottles have in common?
  3. What is different about the bottles?
  4. What do you think the original contents of the bottle were?
  5. What phases of matter are shown?
  6. Are any of these bottles empty? Explain.
  7. Do all of these bottles have air in them?
  8. Which bottle has more air in it: Cotton Balls or Water? Explain.
  9. Which bottle is filled the most? Least?
  10. Which bottle has has the most ‘stuff’ in it? Least?
  11. Which bottle is the heaviest? Lightest?
  12. How would you order these bottles from lightest to heaviest?
  13. Estimate the mass of each bottle in grams.
  14. Which bottle is the densest?
  15. How would you arrange these bottles from least to most dense?
  16. Which of these bottles can have more of the same ‘stuff’ added to the inside of the bottle? Explain.
  17. Which bottle(s) would float in a tank of water? (I do this at the very end of the lesson with everyone at the sink)

Hands On Exploration

  1. Each group will have one set of bottles or take turns using the demo bottles and sharing their findings.
  2. Using a triple beam balance, the volume of the bottles, and a tank of water, answer as many of the questions above as you can. (for our calculations, we use the volume of the bottle’s original content (500 mL of sport drink) to give us an approximate density, not the actual density – for comparison purposes only)
  3. How did your findings compare to your observations and predictions?
  4. Dunk tank – time to find out which one will float!

Further Exploration

Give each group of students a new set of bottles (ones that they have brought in from home) and have them make observations, predictions, and density calculations.

Additional Bottle Ideas:

  • Rocks/pebbles
  • laundry detergent – liquid or powder
  • paper clips
  • paper shreds
  • crayons
  • marbles
  • flour
  • bread crumbs
  • coffee beans
  • beans
  • different shapes of pasta
  • pom-poms
  • pop corn kernels or popped
  • Lego pieces
  • salt
  • dish-soap
  • beads
  • yarn/string
  • etc…

Have each student bring in a bottle from home filled with the contents of their choice so that you have enough bottle to compare. Match similar bottle shapes/sizes together for each group or match similar contents in different sized bottles for comparison.

You can also use these bottles as part of a Triple Beam Balance Activity (blog entry).

Mystery Footprints – Observation vs. Inference

footprints-mystery-activity
Image Source: Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science (1998)

Materials:

  • Updated for 2015 – Mystery Footprints – Observation vs. Inference (Google Slides Public link)
    • You can download this Google Slide Presentation in any format
      • Click “File” then “Download as” and choose ppt, etc
  • Handout for Mystery Footprint Activity (pdf)
  • projector

Background

This is one of my favorite activities to practice making observations and inferences, it really helps the students differentiate between the two. As I mentioned in my ‘Boy in the Water‘ post, students tend to clump their observations and inferences together, they think they are the same thing.

For example, after viewing the first panel of the image, they will say that they ‘see two animals running towards each other.’ and my response is, “I don’t see two animals running towards each other, but I do see two sets of tracks”. After a few tries, they refine their answers and start to see the ‘facts’ of the image. Then we talk about the ‘story’ behind the facts.

When doing this activity, before I show them the first panel for the image, I stress how important it is not to share, or shout out, their thoughts or answers as soon as they see the image. Why is that important? Why can’t we share our answers right away? I stress to them that when they share their answers, they are taking away opportunities for their peers to think about what they are seeing.

For example, if someone asked you to name a vegetable, and I shouted out BROCCOLI, my answer would creep into everyone’s thoughts and BROCCOLI would push away any ideas about vegetables that didn’t have a chance to develop. Instead of sweet potatoes, or even yucca, you are now thinking about broccoli. It is important to let everyone have a chance to see the image, think about it, and to process and form their ideas. Their ideas may end up being the same as yours, but they may also think of something totally different. Once everyone has had a chance to process their thoughts, we can share our ideas and have a discussion where everyone can contribute and develop their thoughts further.

This activity was originally published in Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science (1998) and the book is available as a free download. You can find more details on pages 87-89 for this lesson.

Making & Sharing Observations: A Telephone Game

Ischnura_heterosticta02
Image Source – Wikipedia Commons

Updated July 2016

Materials:

  • Google Slides  (Public)  – includes directions and photos of damselflies
  • Lesson Plan – (pdf-Instructions)
  • Images to print out and laminate (pdf)
  • 1 Index card per team

I used this activity with my 6th graders to emphasize observations, communication skills, and team work. It is a variation on the classic Telephone Game that many students are familiar with. Depending on the number of students you have, I found that 7-8 per team worked really well. The more students on a team, the more difficult it is to relay the information to each student, and less than 7 was much easier. If your teams aren’t exactly even, that is ok. When grouping students, be sure to mix abilities and plan accordingly for teams that are larger/smaller.

How the game works is I have 10 color photos of damselflies, and each team will make & share observations for one of the photos. The only person who will see the photo, however, is person #1. The rest of the team will not see the photo, and they don’t know what the photos are of. The only information they will have are the 10 observations person #1 will give them. Once each group determines who #1 is, #1 will come up to make and record 10 observations about their photo for 3 minutes. The rest of the team will determine who will receive the information from #1 and the order they will go in. Some strategies will go into determining the order, for example, someone who has a really good memory may want to be person #2.

Students will spread out around the room and take a seat. When the 3 minutes are up, person #1 will go to person #2 and whisper the 10 observations to them for 1 minute. Person #1 will have their index card, but can not give the index card to person #2. Person #2 can ask questions and repeat the information until the 1 minute is up. #1 will take #2’s seat and #2 will go to #3 and share the 10 observations from memory. This will continue until all members have had a turn sharing the observations.

The last member of the team will share the observations with the class and then pick out the photograph from the 10 I have. We will then compare the last set of observations to the original 10 and find out if they were able to choose the correct photo.

This was a fun and challenging activity, and it lead to some really great discussions about making and sharing observations. Many groups had difficulty picking out the original photograph because the information changed or went missing somewhere along the line, just like when they play the game telephone.

NGSS SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING PRACTICES (SEP 1, SEP 4, SEP 8)

  • Asking Questions and Defining Problems
  • Analyzing and Interpreting Data
  • Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

Boy in the Water: Observation vs Inference

goat_boy_water_observations
Image Source: Project Archaeology

Materials:

  • The original worksheet(pdf) for this activity is from Project Archaeology (link)
  • I also created Google Slides for this activity (Public)

Students often have difficulty distinguishing between observations and inferences, they often combine the two into one statement. For example, when asked to make an observation using the image above some students may say: “The boy fell into the water because the branch broke.” Another student may say: “The goat pushed the boy into the water when he was trying to pick up his sailboat.”

We then discuss the difference between the facts and the “story” that goes with it. The facts are our observations and the story is how we piece the facts together, or our inference.

Observations:

  • a boy is in the water
  • a goat standing next to the water
  • a broken tree branch
  • a sailboat is floating in the water

Inferences:

  • The branch broke when the boy was sitting on it, and he fell into the water.
  • The goat butted the boy into the water when he was picking up his sailboat.

After defining and discussing the differences between observations and inferences, students will have a chance to work with their partner to practice identifying and classifying the statements related to the image of the boy in the water. Once everyone is done, as a class, we then discuss each statement and confirm each as either an observation or inference.

Use the picture of the boy in the water to determine if the following statements are observations or if the statements are inferences. Place an “Inf” in the blank for inference and an “Obs” in the blank for observation.

  1. ____ The boy is in the water
  2. ____ The weather is cold
  3. ____ The tree branch is broken
  4. ____ If the boy crawled out of the water, the goat would push him
  5. ____ The boy fell off the branch
  6. ____ The goat is standing by the pond
  7. ____ The branch will fall on the boy’s head
  8. ____ The boy fell off the rocks
  9. ____ There is a sailboat in the water
  10. ____ The sailboat belongs to the boy
  11. ____ The goat will soon leave the pond
  12. ____ The tree by the pond has no leaves
  13. ____ There are three rocks in the pond
  14. ____ The tree by the pond is dead
  15. ____ If it rains, leaves will grow on the tree
  16. ____ The goat pushed the boy into the pond

Apple Observations

Image Source: http://www.clker.com/

Objectives: to stress the importance of observations

Thinking Question:  If I called you on the phone and said I had a red apple in my hand, what image would enter your head?  Describe your answer.

Procedure:

  1. Hold up a real apple (red) in front of the class. Have them list all their observations and thoughts about the apple. For example: color, texture, shape, etc. Accept all answers.
  2. Have students close their eyes. When they open their eyes, hold up a red plastic or wooden apple. Have them cross off everything on their list that does not apply to the new apple.
  3. Have students close their eyes again. When they open their eyes, hold up a red rubber or foam apple. Repeat.
  4. Have students close their eyes again. When they open their eyes, hold up a picture of a red apple. Repeat.
  5. Have students close their eyes again. When they open their eyes, hold up a piece of paper with the word “Apple” written on it in red marker.

Questions for discussion:

  1. At what point does the apple stop being an apple?
  2. Which one is not an apple at all? Discuss why or why not.
  3. What does an apple mean to you? Be very specific.
  4. Why is it important to be specific when describing something to another person or recording information?

Teacher Notes:

This is a great activity! Approximate time = 20 minutes. Higher order thinking skills such as Evaluation (Blooms) are involved. Great discussions and debates about the apple.

You can do this as a small group activity by giving each group a real apple (Red Delicious works nicely) and let them observe it and write down as many characteristics as they can, i.e. red, white spots, stem, smooth, leaf, bumps, etc.

This is a modified version of the original lesson, which was from a NASA Workshop I attended in 1997-98.

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Highlights “Hidden Pictures” help sharpen observation skills

Updated July 2016

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I love “Hidden Pictures” by Highlights magazine. On their website, they release several new puzzles each month and I download and save each one to my google drive so that I can select from different themes throughout the school year. My 6th & 7th grade students really enjoy working on these puzzles and will try to find all the pictures for each one.

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You can complete the hidden pictures online using an iPad or laptop, or you can print them out as B/W pdfs

I hand out one or two picture finds whenever we have assessments (or for holidays) for students to color in with either a highlighter or colored pencils/makers while they wait for everyone to finish their quiz or test. Once their assessments have been collected, they immediately ask each other where the items were that they couldn’t find and spend the alst few minutes of class finishing up the puzzles. There are usually a few items that stump the majority of the kids.

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Hidden Pictures as pdf files

Looking for the hidden items helps the students sharpen their observation skills. They are looking for shapes and patterns, looking with a purpose, and evaluating spaces where items could be or can’t be located in. My favorites are the hidden items that are found in the ’empty space’ of the drawings.

Bookmark the website and add it to your favorites!  https://www.highlightskids.com/hidden-pictures