This is a description of a unit my class did in 2014.
My second grade class had a unit of inquiry on forces. A presentation on science writing at the Columbia University Teachers College Summer Institute on the Teaching of Writing inspired me to create a strong writing focus for the science unit.
What we did:
I started the unit with a provocation to assess students’ science writing. After that, we combined science experiments with our writing workshop. For each experiment, students wrote parts of a report, which included:
- An introduction (basically telling how the scientist/writer became interested in the topic)
- How this is useful
I want to emphasize that the students did NOT complete all the sections of a lab report for each experiment. For some parts of the lab report, I modeled writing, for some we did shared writing, and for some we just talked about what that section would say if we were to write it.
At the end of the unit (the “going further” part of the inquiry), students designed their own experiments or found experiments they wanted to try. Some students needed help to do this, so they told me what concepts they enjoyed exploring, such as buoyancy, and I helped them think of ways they could further explore the concept. Others looked in books about experiments on forces to find ideas.
Doing the experiments and writing lab reports took about 2 weeks. I supported the students by:
- helping them come up with a list of supplies and telling them which supplies they could get at school and which they needed to bring in from home
- working with a few kids each day while others did independent tasks or helped their classmates
- recruiting volunteers (a high school student, a parent) to come in and help
- helping the students to find library books that explain the concept behind their experiment (having a lot of texts around their reading levels on forces was very important!)
Each child wrote one complete, original lab report. Each child named their experiment and glued their lab report to poster board to create a display. Then parents and other classes visited the science fair where they could try the experiments with the students’ help.
Here is an example of one of the lab reports we used at the beginning of the unit:
Here is the reflection students completed at the end of the unit:
The unit was a great opportunity for students with strong inquiry skills and independence to extend their learning. The science fair was so exciting and the class got lots of positive feedback from other teachers and parents. Even the high school physics class came!
There were a couple of things that were challenging about this unit: reading the students’ writing every day to make sure they were doing both the writing and the experimenting, not just the latter; and also managing all the experiments at one time when students were carrying out their own projects. A strong TA or good parent volunteer would be necessary to help during this stage.