I begin the first few days of school with introductory activities in which I get to know the students, establish norms (such as seating, class assignments, and lab folders), take informal surveys about student interests, and discuss course expectations.
I begin by talking with students about what Scientific Inquiry is. Many students will know the term "scientific method" and vocabulary such as observation and hypothesis. I explain that inquiry is about asking questions that are answerable through logical (scientific) habits of the mind.
The first unit, Scientific Inquiry, is begun in September, after I set the tone for the class. In my school, the Living Environment is taught in alternating single/double periods to accommodate the lab requirement.
I give the example of how early people sought to answer questions about the world around them through stories or myths. (I often use the story of Helios/Phaethon/Apollo and the Sun Chariot to discuss the ancient's explanation of the sun's apparent movement across the sky.) There is a short video below which depicts the myth of Demeter and Persephone. I lead students in a discussion about our (now) known, more scientific, explanation for the seasons.
I address the differences between laws, theories, and hypotheses, as well as discuss common "habits of mind" that are characteristic in scientific thinking. Most of this is done through direct instruction. I question students about how to set up controlled experiments designed to determine: How to grow the "best" tomatoes, Which is the strongest paper towel, and Which sedan gets the best gas mileage.
Next, I discuss some aspects of scientific inquiry, including the differences among data, results, and conclusions. I explain that conclusions are the opinions of scientists. I share the oft told story of the scientist who conducted an experiment to determine whether a frog could follow simple commands:
I then reiterate that conclusions are merely opinions. (Hopefully, students see the humor.)
The scientist began by placing a frog on a starting line and saying, “Jump, frog, jump!” Right on command, the frog jumped four feet. The scientist recorded the data. The scientist then used a scalpel to cut off one of the frog’s forelimbs and then he repeated his command, “Jump, frog, jump!”. The frog jumped three feet this time and the scientist recorded that data. With his scalpel, the scientist then removed the other of the frog’s forelimbs and said, “Jump, frog, jump!” The frog jumped two feet and the scientist dutifully recorded the data. A third time the scientist used his scalpel. This time he removed a hind limb from the frog and, again, the scientist said, “Jump, frog, jump!”. And the frog jumped…. but with only one foot. The scientist recorded the data and removed the frog’s remaining limb. “Jump, frog, jump!” said the scientist to the frog. No movement. The scientist repeated, “Jump, frog, jump!” The frog simply looked at the scientist with his glassy eyes. Finally, the scientist recorded his conclusion: Repeated commands cause frog deafness.
Next, I tell students that scientists communicate their results in their fields and that their colleagues attempt to see if experimental results can be replicated and verified.
Like actual scientists, students will need to graphically represent their own lab activities. I tell students that graphs are a way that scientists display their data. I discuss the placement of the independent and dependent variables on the graph.
I remind students that, unlike the common usage of the word theory (as on TV crime shows), a theory is a well-established explanation for phenomena. I show a video (below) that cites some of the evidence that supports the theory that modern birds evolved from dinosaurs. I show another video (below) that offers evidence that refutes the common understanding that plane collisions with the Twin Towers led to the destruction of building seven within the World Trade Center.
Next we address scientific measurement, called System International or the metric system. I explain that the metric system is easier to multiply and divide than the English system because it uses a base of ten, I also go over a mnemonic for converting metric measures. We then turn our attention to the measurement of distance, mass, and volume. I give students tips having to do with using meter sticks, moving the weights on the triple beam balance, and how to read the graduated cylinder at the bottom of the meniscus. Students then complete the LAB on Measurement.
The Graphing Skills LAB gives students practice displaying data. I teach students about the purpose of graphing (showing data trends) and how graphs should be formatted.
I provide students with the generally accepted “steps” of the scientific method, though I focus on scientific inquiry as particular habits of mind. I remind students that there is no one absolute “recipe” for conducting an investigation.
I introduce the next lab with a short video about butterfly puddling (below). Students are given a scenario where scientists are investigating why butterflies puddle. The scientists have various hypotheses, such as that butterflies are attracted to sodium or nitrogen. As I assist students with the "Butterfly" LAB, I discuss the idea of moving the trays on different days of the investigation. The trays are described as containing different substances. (Among the substances are trays with both sodium and nitrogen). I explain that the scientists would want to determine that the butterflies are attracted to the substance in the tray, not the area in which the tray is located. I also describe the benefit of blind testing in experimentation. (An important benefit of this is reducing experimenter bias).
Students then take the relevant data about butterfly sampling and puddling and complete the graphing portion of the lab. We finish with an analysis of the data and discussion of the possible conclusions and next steps that the scientists involved in this investigation should take.
New York State Teacher of Biology/Living Environment
All regular education and most special education students are required to take the New York State Living Environment Regents. This is the material I have delivered to all ability levels of students to prepare them for that test.
My instruction of this course evolved. Although I continually "tweaked" things from year to year and class to class, I found that the most orderly delivery was to use PowerPoint slides to act as my "plan book". From these, I communicated instructional objectives, vocabulary, lab activities, and other learning activities to students.