Becoming Real Science Writers

“You are writing the first lab report of your life. You will do this science writing in high school, in college, and for many of you, when you are scientists!”

The ever-present “Me too!” sign filled the air–thumbs and pinkies, like dog’s tails, wagged back and forth at me.

“I’m going to be a scientist who studies chemicals.”

“I’m going to be an animal scientist.”

“I’m going to be a scientist who works with plants.”

“I’m going to work for NASA.”

As we kick off our spring expedition on water pollution, we are are also launching a writing unit on science writing. During the water expedition, students will conduct four weeks worth of experiments with water to learn about evaporation, condensation, solubility, and mixtures. But during this writing unit, students are designing and conducting their own experiments and writing them up in lab reports.

“We start with a question that we have about the world,” Anna explained. “And then we have to find a way to answer it,” her writing partner Tyra added.

Will the car travel further on the carpet or on the floor? Will it travel further with a short ramp or a tall ramp? How far will a ball roll if we just drop it or if we push it? These questions filled the first pages of the budding scientists’ lab reports.

After developing questions, they wrote their hypotheses. “It’s like an educated guess–not just any guess. You use your schema and evidence.” Anna continued.

“I think the car will go further on the floor because it is smoother,” Marlon predicted.

“I think it will go really fast on the high ramp because the ramp is taller,” Ryan and Tiffany wrote.

Working with their writing partners, they made a plan. Which variables could they change? What materials would they need? What steps would they take to test their question? After looking at a mentor text of science experiments, they concluded that their procedures needed to be specific. They should include specific measurements, materials, and numbered steps that include diagrams to show how the experiment should look.  Each scientist wrote her procedures and then gathered materials.

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During this writing workshop, the classroom was abuzz as children grabbed clipboards, wood blocks, cars, unifix cubes, balls, and chairs to build ramps throughout the room. “Oh my gosh it went so far!” Fiona exclaimed as her ball rolled past the meter stick. “We need more!” Giovanni, her partner, responded, as he rushed to the math center to grab an armful of meter sticks. “Now we have to change our procedures,” Fiona reminded.

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Students went through mutiple trials of their experiments and documented what happened on their results page.  Now, they are ready to ask why and to begin to draw conclusions. As usual, they will study mentor texts and mine them for writing strategies and best practices.

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