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A collection of helpful articles on teachers and teaching

Post It Note Science

The old question goes, “which came first…the chicken or the egg”. This is always good for an interesting discussion in biology. But, buried in the thinking that surrounds that question is the idea that we need to spend some time teaching students how to sequence procedures and natural processes.

When you think about processes you may remember mitosis or metamorphosis. Throughout all science disciplines are sequences. There are steps to solving a stoichiometry problem, calculating density, and any number of biological processes. Some have rigid sequences and some are more flexible. You can solve a density problem by measuring the volume first or the mass. My students, even those who say they love randomness, like to have steps that do not change. When a process or a sequence is flexible it seems to throw them off a bit.

I am fully into inquiry so these flexible steps are part of my teaching process. I do not want to frustrate my more linear students so I teach sequences as part of the skill set of science. For this I use one of the greatest inventions of the last half century, Post it Notes.

I begin by demonstrating my own inquiry process. I use something simple. I place 3 glasses of water (300 ml in each) in the front of the room. I measure the temperature to verify that they are all starting at the same temperature and I drop one ice cube in one, two in the second and 3 in the third. I have volunteers measure the temperature changes in the water each 30 seconds. I chart these readings and we discuss our findings as a class. Prior to this experiment I have 4 students record the steps on post it notes. Each set of notes is slightly different. That is a good place to begin the teaching of recording our procedures in an experiment and a good place to talk about sequences.

This year I tried to incorporate a little brain science into the mix. I asked the students to use 10 Post-It notes and write out the steps to one of several simple processes. The students could select from sending a text message, making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, posting a message on Facebook, mixing a pitcher of Kool Aid, parallel parking (no one selected this), drawing a face, and washing your hands. Had the students mix up their steps and hand exchange with another student. They each then try to place the steps in the proper sequence. What is amazing to most is that in over 80% of the cases the students could not resequence the set correctly.
In many cases there was not enough information about each step. In a few cases the sequence was a bit more flexible (do you turn on the water to wash your hands before you grab the soap or after). What this simple 15 minute activity showed the students is that they needed to be a bit more precise in their technical writing (procedures) and that it is important to include all relevant information.

We teach kids in science that part of the scientific processes include being able to replicate and experiment. To do that, we need clear procedures and accurate data. This activity works on the procedures. I will let you know how the next lab reports turn out. If this works the procedures should be spectacular.
For more Post-It note science ideas check out these sites:

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