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Nature Net’s Pre- and Post-Visit Field Trip Materials

Subject: Scientific Method

Level: Middle School


Introduction: The scientific method is a set of rules and procedures that allows us to test our ideas about how the world works, make predictions about events, and create theories. It is a method that can be applied in any discipline, from language to math to science. Its essential elements are: making a hypothesis; gathering data; interpreting data; drawing conclusions.


Pre-Trip Activities: You can have a lot of fun with your class using the scientific method. Here’s a way to introduce the scientific method to your class that also prepares for your field trip and can add structure to it. You can modify it to spend a day, a week or a month on it. We hope it gives you lots of creative ideas to use the scientific method in many contexts throughout the school year!


For example: Biodiversity on school grounds; water pollution in the community; leaves changing color in the fall; endangered species in Wisconsin; any topic that relates to your field trip. Involve history, math, or other skills you’d like to incorporate, and make it relate to other class lessons. Use props: make the topic visual, real.

Hypothesis example: What is the animal diversity on school grounds versus the animal diversity in "wild" grasslands or woodlands? (your future field trip site)

Ask the class how they will obtain answers to their question. Students can write their ideas individually, and then come up with a list together. Designing the experiment can also be a homework assignment, after discussing variables in class (see below). The next day the class can refine the design together, and discuss students’ problems and questions. Methods used may range from reading to interviewing to making careful observations and/or measurements. Work out the specifics – how exactly will they gather data? How will they organize it? Record it? What tools will they need?


General Design example: Record name of each animal, how and where and time identified. Create tables in field notebooks to record data. Go outside, identify and record different animals seen on school grounds. Replicate procedure for second (field trip) site. Tools: notebooks, pencils, field guides; etc.

Variables example: Animal sightings too brief to identify; weather (e.g. too rainy for butterflies); season (migration, hibernation); time of day; knowledge of animals; amount of time collecting.

To discuss data collection, you may want to go over designing charts and tables, or provide a table for students to record their data. Important concepts are organization, systematic collection (repeated procedures), keeping good notes, and what constitutes "enough data."

Compare results from sites one and two. What are the differences? Similarities? A good way to incorporate math lessons, and develop skills in organization, classification and inferring!


Analysis example: You may want to incorporate a math lesson. For example: calculate the area of your collection space(s) and discuss the concept of extrapolation to larger areas.

Ask each student to write a conclusion, which must include the hypothesis or statement and a summary of the results. You can emphasize critical thinking and synthesis skills.

  • A good time to bring up variables again, and think about how they may have affected the process. Also bias: how did my own beliefs and assumptions affect the process? (e.g. you look for the animals that you know). A reflection activity could be useful here. Ask students to brainstorm and write about "what if…" questions that would change the experiment. "What if we dug in the ground to look for animals in addition to looking on the ground?" This leads to a lesson on limitations in the process.

  • Ask them to reflect on what were the hardest and easiest parts to do. Did the results make them curious about other questions? Why or why not?

Bring in communication and language arts by asking students to turn in a written form of the experiment. Help them to organize by providing a "checklist" of items to include: topic, hypothesis, design description, experiment, etc (with points for how much each is worth), and hints for how to present clearly. When students are more familiar with the process you can ask them to do their own investigations, and incorporate lessons and practice in oral presentations of their work.


Post-Trip Activities. Branch out! Get creative! Have fun! As you can see, there are hundreds of ways to use the scientific method to learn about other disciplines. At each step there are myriad opportunities to bring in lessons on related subjects, and develop important skills. One huge advantage of this process is that it focuses on questions that are interesting to the students! Here are some ideas to get you started…



And… try these web pages for great in-class activities:

: www.middleweb.com/INCASEscimeth.html – how to incorporate the scientific method into your lessons throughout the year.