As I was preparing for a day with our middle school science alignment team, I came across a two-part series in the NSTA journal Science Scope.  Scaffolding Students Towards Argumentation shares several short, but effective strategies on supporting students in their ability to collect evidence and use that evidence to support or refute a claim.  This is the foundation of Science & Engineering Practice #7 – Engage in Argument from Evidence.

I used a suggestion from the article to build an anchor experience for the middle school teachers who are part of our alignment team.

The presentation for teachers was very simple.  In addition to the two packages of Oreo cookies –  I provided a variety of measurement tools, paper plates, cups, plastic knives and string.  Participants worked alone or in groups to carry out an investigation, collect data and argue the validity of the company’s claim.

The extension came later.  I was invited to two different middle schools to observe and participate in a lesson study.  At each school, teachers were using the Oreo lesson as the basis for the lesson study.  I was fascinated – both by the various ways in which teachers set up the lesson and by the response from kids.  Having an opportunity to debrief different lesson study experiences, provided me an opportunity to help teachers unpack the bones of this lesson.  As is the case with so many good, shared lessons there are many applications for this one.  Here are the varied purposes I observed:

  • formatively assess students’ ability to design and carry out an investigation
  • challenge students to collect as many relevant data points as possible
  • support a mini-lesson on relevant vs irrelevant data
  • arithmetic practice
  • writing a claim-based argument
  • having a claim-based argument in class
  • practicing measurement and units of measure
  • writing a procedure
  • presenting group process / thinking with a poster

Each time we set up a lesson for students, we have the responsibility to determine which skills will be practiced and emphasized.  This was a good example of how identifying the purpose of the lesson helps to identify those skills which are most important for that lesson, and those students, at that time.  Ultimately, this lesson provided students a short and easy opportunity to practice designing their own investigation and arguing from evidence.

I challenge you to try the lesson, give it your own spin by emphasizing skills your students need to practice.  What did you learn?