From Brainstorm to Published Paper
- Grades: 3–5
- Unit Plan:
After investigating a topic through research, observation, and experimentation, students will prepare a short science report and publish it online.
- Reflect on the role of science reports in the larger scientific community
- Become familiar with one scientist's experience preparing a report
- Learn the importance of prewriting, brainstorming, and reviewing and polishing writing
- Identify the key points to build a strong science report
- Write a science report and publish it online
- Writing with Scientists Activities
- Brain Buzzer, a timer or easily set alarm clock
- Computer(s) with Internet access and audio capability
- Construction paper for folders or pre-made folders
- Teacher-Student Reading Conference Form (PDF)
- Writing with Scientist Worksheets (PDF): one set per student
- Optional: LCD or overhead projector to display Writing with Scientists
Set Up and Prepare
- To get the most out of this workshop, your class should first investigate a topic of interest. Students may:
- Make observations in a natural environment, like a park or your backyard
- Do experiments in class or at home and record the results
- Go to the library to gather information
- Visit a museum, historic site, or state park to make observations or conduct research or any combination in order to investigate something that interests you.
Step 1: Ask your class why scientists write and publish reports on their work. Record some of the reasons students offer on the board. Answers might include that other scientists:
- learn new information from other scientist's work
- can repeat the steps one scientist has taken to evaluate the conclusions
- may use one scientist's results to build new studies and experiments
Step 2: Explain to your class that over the next two weeks, they will work step by step to transform their collection of notes, observations, research, and experiment results into a science report to be published. By doing this they will share their observations with student scientists from around the country and around the globe.
Step 3: Distribute one folder to each student. Explain that it's important to keep notes and resources organized while writing a report. Have each student write their name, grade, and report subject along with the date on the front of the folder. Students will use this folder to keep all their notes and resources together for the duration of the project.
Step 4: Have each student label a sheet of paper: "Prewriting." Ask the students to think about their chosen subjects and reflect on why it's important for scientists to write and publish reports on their work.
Have students free write for 5 minutes about:
- Their report topic
- What they hope to explain in their reports
- What they want other student scientists to get from reading their report online
Students can add this sheet to their folders.
Step 1: Go to the Writing with Scientists site. Read aloud the first page to introduce the students to Dr. Susan Perkins, a microbiologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and the site host. Explain that students will follow the same steps professional scientists take when preparing a report for publication.
Step 2: Students will now hear Dr. Perkins story. Either as a class or in small groups, click the orange "start" button and then click the "play" button in the Scientist at Work section located on the right panel of each of the six steps on the site. Students can read along as they listen. If using audio isn't feasible, you can read the six "Scientist at Work" sections aloud or ask volunteers to do so.
Step 3: Remind students that in the beginning of Dr. Perkins' story, she made an observation. She observed that few lizards had a certain parasite in both their red and white cells. Her observation made her wonder if the parasites could represent two different parasite species. That idea represents Dr. Perkins "hypothesis." Write the word "hypothesis" on the board.
Explain that the word hypothesis means a temporary prediction that can be tested about how a scientific investigation or experiment will turn out. In other words, a hypothesis is a "best guess."
Step 4: Ask students to get out their Prewriting sheet. Have students free write for five minutes about their own hypothesis for their science report. Students may also record any information they learned from Dr. Perkins' story that might apply to writing their report. Students may record their thoughts and ideas in list form or in complete sentences.
Step 1: Ask volunteers to pass out to each student a complete set of six worksheets representing steps 1-6. (Based on your goals and the level of your class, you may wish to modify the worksheets to suit your students' needs). Instruct students to take out their folders and review their Prewriting sheet. Students may also wish to look over their notes and other resources.
Step 2: Explain that the class will now play The Brainstorm Game with the Brain Buzzer. During the game, students will brainstorm each worksheet for a 5-minute block.
Tell your class the value of brainstorming is to get all thoughts, ideas, and information down on paper. Once students have successfully brainstormed, they will have time to fill in gaps and polish writing.
Depending on the age and personality of your class you may want to play this part up as a real game show complete with music and simple prizes ("behind door number 1 is... a new pencil!").
Step 3: Introduce your class to steps 1-5 on the Writing with Scientists site. You may choose to go through the steps by:
- Projecting the steps with an overhead projector
- Allowing students to read the steps off the site alone or in small groups
- Summarizing the pertinent parts of the steps for your students' ability levels
After each step allow for 5 timed minutes during which students brainstorm on their worksheet for that step. Stress that this time is meant to record ideas and information for each step, so writing doesn't need to be complete and perfect at this point.
If students need more time, you may wish to assign completing these worksheets as homework.
Step 1: Explain to students that they will now add more information to their worksheets and start to flesh out their ideas. They should use their own research and notes to fill in any gaps.
They will also get essential feedback in two different ways: this feedback will help them develop their reports with a teacher touch-base meeting and with a peer review.
Step 2: Use an attendance sheet or have students sign up to touch base with you for 5-10 minutes. Meet individually with each student and use the Teacher-Student Reading Conference Form (PDF) as an informal way to give students direction on what parts of their worksheets they need to refine. Focus on establishing achievable goals. Also show students where they are succeeding.
Step 3: Ask students to add the completed Teacher-Student Reading Conference Form (PDF) to their folders. For the final 5 minutes of class, have students write a short list of what parts of the worksheets they plan to work on in the coming days. They may add this to their Prewriting sheet.
Step 1: Pair off students to trade peer reviews. Explain that the peer reviewer's job is to:
- Give feedback on what's clear in the worksheets and in what areas the student might need to add information
- Review the achievable goals suggested in the teacher touch-base meeting
- Suggest other ways the student can improve their report
Step 2: Allow students time to add information and detail to their worksheets until they feel comfortable giving their worksheets to their peer reviewer. After 20 minutes, instruct anyone who hasn't yet passed their worksheet pages to their peer reviewer to do so now. Peer reviewers should read their partner's worksheets, write down comments, and discuss suggestions with their partner.
Step 3: Allow time for students to review their peer reviewer's comments and ask any follow up questions.
Step 1: Revisit the Writing with Scientists site. Tell students that they are now preparing for the final stage of the project, which is to share their observations and ideas with other student scientists by publishing their reports online.
Step 2: Ask students if they are familiar with the concept of an outline, a helpful guide for writing a report. By successfully completing pertinent parts of the worksheets, students have created their own outline. Explain that now students will use their worksheet outlines to write their final draft.
Step 3: Allow students to compile their final draft in a computer word document. Have students print out one hard copy for their folder of bulletin board display. You may wish to incorporate an additional step to review the reports and make final suggestions for clarity and correctness.
Step 4: Instruct student on how to use "copy/paste" functionality under the "edit" option in most word processing programs to submit their completed report online via the Writing with Scientists publishing tool.
Students will need to enter a title for their report, along with their first name, last initial, age, and state or country. Have students use the preview button to make sure everything is in order, then have each student submit their report. (Please note: because all reports are moderated, there will be a delay before the report can be viewed online.)
Supporting All Learners
Science Standards 4th Edition
- Knows that although the same scientific investigation may give slightly different results when it is carried out by different persons, or at different times or places, the general evidence collected from the investigation should be replicable by others
- Knows that good scientific explanations are based on evidence (observations) and scientific knowledge
- Knows that scientists make the results of their investigations public; they describe the investigations in ways that enable others to repeat the investigations
- Knows that scientists review and ask questions about the results of other scientists' work
- Knows that scientific investigations involve asking and answering a question and comparing the answer to what scientists already know about the world
- Knows that different people may interpret the same set of observations differently
- Knows that although people using scientific inquiry have learned much about the objects, events, and phenomena in nature, science is an ongoing process and will never be finished
Add a presentation aspect to the assignment. Have students use information and visual aids from their report to create a 5-minute oral presentation on what they investigated and what they learned. Consider inviting another class (either of the same grade or younger) to watch the presentations.
As a final step, have students create a lively cover page for their report. Display the reports in the hall or around the classroom for parent teacher night.
After reports have been completed, assign students to small groups (about 3-5 students per group). Have each small group create a newspaper that summarizes each group members report findings and includes photos and illustrations.
Use the Young Naturalist Award Winners as examples of well-written, advanced student reports. Select reports published on Writing with Scientists and discuss as a class what works well and what might be strengthened.
Use this rubric to assess students' ability to express information and ideas in a clear and logical manner that follows the scientific method.