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Saturday, 3 October 2015

Grade 8 Science: Writing Descriptive Observations


Last week, my Grade 8 Science kids completed a lab to observe the characteristics of living things.  In it, they compared dry yeast and salt, then put each into apple juice to observe the reactions.  The first step in the lab was to describe the dry yeast and salt in a table, looking at the colour, size, texture, and shape of each.

When I looked over the lab reports my kids had turned in, I was more than a little disappointed with their observations.  I had more than half of the class simply writing the word "small" for size of the grains, and I even had about 5 or 6 kids write "salty" for the texture of the salt! 

This made me realize that I hadn't given them enough clarification on what was acceptable, scientific language for observations.  To help them understand the level of description I wanted, we completed a simple activity.  We went outside, and I asked each student to find a leaf.  We have a beautiful maple tree that takes up a large portion of our grounds behind the school, so many students chose maple leaves, but some picked chestnut leaves, pine needles, and other foliage they found.



When we came inside, I asked each student to write a detailed description of their leaf, charting every tear, stripe, colour change, spot, and distinguishing feature they could observe.  


After about 10-15 minutes, the students each had almost a full page of descriptions.  I then asked everyone to put their leaves together on a table.  The goal was to write a detailed enough description that someone else could easily find their leaf among the rest.  They took turns reading out their descriptions with two or three other students designated as the "finders."  The descriptions were very detailed, and every leaf was found.



 If I did this activity again, I think I would have each student choose a leaf from the same tree, just to make it a little more challenging, but I got my point across about making specific, descriptive observations.

Have you done something similar in your science class? Let me know in the comments below.

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