To help reinforce students’ ability to ask questions, develop hypotheses, make and record observations during an investigation, and then draw conclusions based on their observations.
This lesson is the second of a two-part series that focuses on how scientists carry out the process of scientific inquiry. These lessons make use of a book called The Frog Scientist, by Pamela S. Turner. This book is one of the winners of the 2010 AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books.
The lessons emphasize the nature of scientific inquiry with the learning goals being value and attitudinal based; these concepts are learned over the course of many lessons. The Frog Scientist lesson series can be used for the reinforcement and application of existing student knowledge. For example, students at the middle-school grade level should understand what a hypothesis is and be able to develop one. Additionally, students should have some science lab experience, including making and recording observations.
Students commonly view scientific work as something that is performed in laboratories by scientists in lab coats. The book shows how a scientist not only conducts experiments in the laboratory but also works outdoors in the field making observations and collecting specimens. It is recommended that before beginning the lesson, conduct a brief review of key concepts in ecology, including the definitions of habitat, ecosystem, population, species, pollution, and conservation. Review with students that frogs are amphibians, pointing out the distinguishing characteristics of amphibians and additional animal species that are classified as amphibians. It also would be helpful to review the definitions for data, observations, explanation, evidence, and experimentation.
The Frog Scientist is an engaging, well-written book that provides a realistic and accurate picture of what scientists do and how they do it. The book is filled with Andy Comins’ photography of many frog species as well as the people who study them. The book profiles Dr. Tyrone Hayes, providing a view of him as a scientist, activist, mentor, and family man. Students will learn about Dr. Hayes’ scientific research into the possible connection between atrazine, which is the most commonly used agricultural weed killer, and the feminization of male frogs. The book provides a realistic view of the scientific process showing how it can be highly stimulating, frustrating, and rewarding. Through Dr. Hayes’ example, one sees the passion, commitment, and persistence that scientists can have for their work, not only for the joy of discovery but also for the ways in which they can make a difference by improving the living environment and the health of the species that live in it.
The Frog Scientist 1: The Mystery of Disappearing Frogs introduces students to Dr. Tyrone Hayes. Students will see how scientists do their work and how that work not only helps our understanding of the natural world but also is important for protecting both animals and their habitats. Using The Frog Scientist and related resources, the lesson shows how scientists engage in scientific inquiry, including the formation of hypotheses, making observations, and the collection, analysis, and interpretation of data.
The Frog Scientist 2: Schoolyard Field Investigation, allows students to apply the knowledge and skills acquired in the first lesson to developing a hypothesis, conducting their own scientific inquiry, and reporting their results just as working scientists do. Students will engage in scientific inquiry by conducting their own field investigation, presenting their findings in a scientific poster, and engaging in scientific peer review.
Use the lessons to address common grade-level misconceptions about scientific inquiry, including: that students might not understand the difference between a description of evidence and interpretation of evidence; that experimentation is a method of testing ideas, rather than a method of trying things out or producing a desired outcome; that knowledge or ideas are not necessarily right or wrong—scientists can legitimately hold different explanations for the same set of data; the scientific method is not a linear/rigid process but follows a logical progression from question to hypothesis to experimentation, etc.; and when interpreting data it is important to avoid only focusing on evidence that confirms their current beliefs and concepts (i.e., personal explanations) and ignoring evidence that does not agree with their ideas. (Science for All Americans, pp. 1-12 and National Science Education Standards, pp. 143-148.)
Provide the students with an overview of the lesson’s purpose and what they will do. Explain that, similar to what Dr. Tryone Hayes and his students did when investigating frog habitats and collecting specimens, they will perform a field investigation of their schoolyard’s ecosystem, which includes living (biotic) and non-living (abiotic) factors. They will brainstorm questions to ask about their outside school grounds, make and record observations, interpret their results, draw conclusions, make predictions, and report their work in the form of a science poster. You can refer to the Schoolyard Field Investigation teacher sheet for more information.
As a starting point, briefly review the key concepts of the first lesson in the series, The Frog Scientist 1: The Mystery of Disappearing Frogs. During the discussion, remind students about how Dr. Tyrone Hayes used a combination of scientific fieldwork and lab experimentation to study how the pesticide atrazine was affecting frogs and frog habitats. Also recall with the students that when interpreting data, it is important to not be limited by focusing on evidence or personal beliefs that agree with their ideas while ignoring evidence that does not agree with their ideas because doing so can result in misinterpretations and erroneous conclusions. Highlight for students that scientific inquiry is not always a straightforward process and that an important part of the process is to have scientists review and evaluate each other’s work. To illustrate the nature of scientific debate, alternative hypotheses, and how there can be more than one explanation for the same set of scientific evidence, direct the students to their Schoolyard Field Investigation student esheet to read the National Geographic News online article Hermaphrodite Frogs Caused by Popular Weed Killer? Instruct the students to answer the questions on the National Geographic News student sheet. You can find answers to the questions on the National Geographic News teacher sheet.
The activities in this section extend the concepts of scientific inquiry discussed in The Frog Scientist 1 lesson. Students will learn more about the nature of scientific inquiry in the context of field investigations. In field investigations, scientists ask questions about natural plant and animal systems to learn more about them or to solve problems (for example, Dr. Tyrone Hayes was investigating the effects of a pesticide on frogs and their aquatic habitats). You could lead an interactive class discussion setting the stage for the students’ work. This discussion also can be used to assess prerequisite student understandings of scientific inquiry, in particular how different types of questions call for different types of scientific investigations, including observing and describing organisms. Connecting scientific concepts found on pp. 16-18 in The Frog Scientist, discuss how scientists, such as wildlife biologists, rely upon their senses (sight, smell, touch, and hearing) and well-developed observation skills. Explain that in the field scientists might wait for days, weeks, or even months before observing a behavior or finding an animal specimen. Scientists also must have keen observation powers in order to collect enough meaningful data to make sense of their research.
Before students start their field investigation, you should use a combination of discussion and demonstration to point out to the class that field journals are a vital part of scientific fieldwork that are used by scientists for recording their observations, thoughts, and ideas. To learn more about how scientists take field notes, students should use their student esheet to go to and read How to Keep a Field Journal. They should answer the questions on the How to Keep a Field Journal student sheet. You can find answers to these questions on the How to Keep a Field Journal teacher sheet.
For the field investigation itself, you can refer to the Schoolyard Field Investigation teacher sheet for directions on how to help students conduct the investigation. Inform the students that their schoolyard field investigation will involve observing first a large area and then a smaller area of focus. Explain that they will observe their surroundings, taking note of abiotic (temperature, wind, humidity, buildings) and biotic (plants, animals) factors. You can provide the students with a map of the school grounds and they can select the area they want to study or you can divide the area into numbered sections and assign an area to each student team. While the amount of time for studying each area can vary, allow a minimum of 15-20 minutes for each area. One option is to repeat the investigations, illustrating to students that scientists need to repeat their work to be sure their data is reliable and free of as much error as possible. Provide students with a copy of the Schoolyard Field Investigation Data Sheet, which they will use to catalog specimens that they observe and identify. Before the activity, have a class brainstorming session asking, “What are the characteristics/features of our schoolyard ecosystem?” They can use a graphic organizer to distinguish abiotic and biotic factors.
The sharing of research findings among fellow scientists and with the public is vital to scientific progress and to the health and well-being of earth’s living and non-living systems. To experience this aspect of sharing research findings, students should prepare a scientific poster to report their schoolyard investigation. Students can use the student esheet to refer to the Science Buddies website to learn about creating a science poster. Provide the students with a copy of the Scientific Poster Checklist, which they should refer to when creating their poster. As a class discussion, you can summarize the key criteria (and show examples, if available) for the poster, being sure that they:
- Have a catchy and descriptive title
- Use contrasting colors for letters against the background
- Evenly space the poster elements for a neat and balanced appearance
- Use subheadings and bullet points rather than long paragraphs or sentences
- Include pictures, tables, graphs, charts, etc. and be sure that they are clearly labeled
- Carefully proofread and be neat
Note: The Schoolyard Field Investigation is one example of a field study that can be performed on school grounds. You are encouraged to check out additional website suggestions listed on the Schoolyard Field Investigation teacher sheet for additional project ideas and to find projects specific to your geographic location. You can have students independently research and choose their own topic. The lesson’s format can be applied to other types of studies.
You can use these Science NetLinks lessons to help extend the ideas in this lesson: