Blog Archives - Bobcat Laboratories
In preparation for our science inquiry activity involving the Mastodon Matrix Project, I have started working with the students in developing their understanding of Mastodons, the Pleistocene epoch in history, and some of the overall goals of the Mastodon Matrix Project.  One of those areas of understanding is trying to understand how mastodons existed and given their environment, how they might have behaved.  In class today, we reviewed the process of hypothesis building and what things go into a hypothesis (an "idea" and "the experience or previous information we have to support that idea").

Since elephants and mastodons are similar to one another, we hypothesized that some of their behaviors might be the same, also.  To help us possibly understand those behaviors a little better we watched a National Geographic video entitled: Reflections on Elephants.

I think it opened a few of our eyes to not only how mastodons existed but also to how modern elephants exist, as well 
The Mastodon Matrix will be here soon - or - at least, it will be here as soon as the Military Postal Service gets it to us.  When it arrives, I will be scheduling a series of days when we will be conducting our paleological dig. For those days, I will be sending out an invitation for parents to come in and watch, if they are interested and able to do so.  More information to come!
In today's society of fast-paced crime series on television and high-tech action-filled mystery movies, people are exposed to a broad range of media where the words data and evidence are used interchangeably.  It is, therefore, not surprising to say that this could be confusing due to the misconception that data automatically tells us something important about an investigation. Today we spent our time learning the difference between data and evidence.

To sum up, all data is information. However, evidence is data that can support a claim made by a scientist. Put in another way, all evidence is data but not all data is evidence.

To facilitate this concept, we all participated in an activity called Murder Mystery (created by James Rudd - a former chemical education graduate student from Iowa State University.  I provided a scenario to the students entitled, Who Killed Mr. Xavier, and they were then to develop a solution to the crime. The scenario purposefully does not provide enough data for students to be able to support any claims that they make with evidence. However, the superb imagination and strong opinions of 5th graders did not let such a detail stop them from making claims.  Instead of using scientific data and reasoning, the students used their own imaginations to "create" evidence - which, as any good judge woudl tell you, really is not evidence.

We all had a good time listening to the creative explanations of what had happened to Mr. Xavier. However, due to the lack of information, we will never really know what happened. We can only speculate.
Today was an interesting day in class.  We discussed our ideas of what the terms hypothesis, theory, and law mean in regards to how they are used in science.  We started with the word "theory." In everyday usage, it tends to mean an untested idea or opinion.  However, this can be very confusing in science because the word means exactly the opposite.  In science, a theory (e.g., Theory of Plate Tectonics, Atomic Theory, the General Theory of Relativity, or Heliocentrism) refers to a concept that is well supported through extensive and repeated study and testing.  Needless to say, we spent a great deal of our time discussing different scientific theories and how they have been supported by enough evidence to actually be categorized as a scientific theory.

There is a term for an untested idea or opinion, as well, that we spent a large portion of time learning.  That term is "hypothesis." A hypothesis needs has four important parts:
  1. A declarative statement must be made. (i.e., I think it will rain tomorrow...)
  2. Supporting evidence or prior knowledge/understanding. (i.e., ...because it rained today and yesterday.)
  3. Number 1 and Number 2 need to relate to one another. (e.g., it would sound ridiculous to say "I think it will rain tomorrow because I just clipped my dogs's toenails.)
  4. The hypothesis must be a statement with supporting evidence that can be tested through experimentation.

If a hypothesis is not false after being tested over and over and over again, then we as scientists come to accept it as being can become a "theory."

Finally, we spent a brief amount of time on Scientific Laws.  A scientific law is an attempt to describe the basic nature of the Universe. Some examples include Newton's Laws of Motion, Kepler's Laws of Planetary Motion, and the Laws of Thermodynamics. Although a hypothesis can become a theory, theories do not become laws. 

I realize that this may seem like some really heavy stuff for our 5th grade scientists.  However, they were all evry interested and following the concepts quite well.

A homework assignment was given for the weekend. It can be found here.
Today we began the process of understanding science and science inquiry. Of course, I first needed to begin with discussing what an "inquiry" is.  I always think it is interesting that when a person asks what an inquiry is - the answer is what they are doing ((asking a question)). To help us understand science and science inquiry, we used a couple of videos from BMS's account with Discovery Education. In the videos, examples of some basic inquiries in science were shown. There was one where a girl tested if contact with air might be the cause of rapidly ripening of bananas. In the other video, four different types of scientists (a psychologist, a geneticist, a wildlife biologist, and a seismologist) were shown talking about and doing their work. What was most interesting, though was that even though their fields of specialization were very different from one another, they still all followed the same pattern for doing science:

  1. Ask a question.
  2. Form a hypothesis based on what is already known.
  3. Develop a way to investigate the hypothesis.
  4. Conduct the investigation.
  5. Collect data
  6. Analyze the data
  7. Form a conclusion based on the evidence.
  8. Communicate the findings.

The only thing that I personally would add to all of that is one more step: #10. Ask more questions.

Last year They Might Be Giants released a new album (Here Comes Science) filled with songs about science. Here is a video of Science is Real:
We spent the day discussing our ideas of who scientists are and what scientists do.  Every year I become a little more hopeful about how science is viewed by the 5th grade students.  Although the majority of students still imagine a scientist as being a middle-age white male who works in a chemistry lab, the proportion of students that come to school with drawings of women scientists, scientists of diverse heritages, and scientists who are working outside seems to increase each year.  Here are a few of the pictures from the classes. You will notice that in addition to chemists, there is a forensic anthropologist (a person who studies bodies to solve crimes), a viticulturalist (a person who studies grapes and wine), an entomologist (a person who studies insects), and a microbiological geneticist (a person who studies DNA and bacterial species genetics).  After our discussion, I am sure that each of the 5th-graders now envision a wide array of scientist possibilities.

Most importantly, I think that they all will now see themselves as scientists - which is true becasue the ask questions, seek answers, have discoveries, and formulate ideas about how the world works every single day.
WHO IS A SCIENTIST? This assignment is for all 5th graders and it is due Monday, 12 SEP 2011. The task is to draw and color a scientist (include, the scientist, the place where the scientist works, and the equipment the scientist uses). This assignment should be done on 8.5" X 11" printer paper

Note: Drawings on lined paper will not be accepted. Tracings of other pictures will not be accepted.
Today we all took a pre-test to see how we, as 5th graders, understand specific scientific concepts.  I will be posting the results soon in the 5th grade productivity section of the Bobcat Labs website.  The benefit of a non-stressfull evaluation at the beginning of the school year is that I (as the teacher) can identify misunderstandings and thus, tailor the school year around what is already known, what information is not known, or what incorrect ideas are among the students.  Everyone did a great job on this online test.
Today, we began work on our laboratory safety contract.  As I explained to the students, it would be easy to simply give them a contract I produced, tell them that those are the rules and enforce them.  However, I have chosen to go a different route.  We all participated today in discussing what sort of things could go wrong in a science lab.  Then we discussed ways that we could prevent things from going wrong.  I will now take those suggestions, combined with the suggestions created by the Science 6 and Intro to Engineering students, and create a contract for all students to sign.  This allows them to be the ones deciding upon the rules, policies, and consequences to ensure that the science classrooms and labs remain as safe as possible for all people in the labs.