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Using Vicki Cobb’s Books to Teach Scientific Inquiry

What You Need

Materials

  • At least four of Vicki’s books for students to read in class
  • Various materials for conducting hands-on experiments based on the experiments you select
 
Using Vicki Cobb’s Books to Teach Scientific Inquiry

Purpose

To explore the contributions made to science and society by Vicki Cobb and to encourage hands-on exploration.


Context

This lesson is about the work of Vicki Cobb, the 2012 winner of the SB&F Lifetime Achievement Award. SB&F, Science Books & Films, is a project of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Students will learn about the life of science writer Vicki Cobb, read some of her books, and conduct hands-on experiments from her books.

Vicki has written 89 children’s books over the span of her career. You will choose four or five titles for your students to read in groups. Then you will assign each group a hands-on experiment from one of the books. (The books are cover-to-cover science experiments.) Students will conduct the experiments in class, and then each group will explain their experiment to the rest of the class and answer questions from their peers.

Vicki Cobb takes a light-hearted approach to hands-on science. Her trademark is getting kids involved in experiences that create real learning and get them excited about exploring science. Prior to becoming a full-time writer of science books for children, Vicki was a lab researcher and science teacher. She is founder and president of Ink Think Tank LLC, a company that features a large database of books on subjects teachers are required to teach, as well as their personal curriculum, and tied directly to National Education Standards.

Students in the early grades are learning how to do scientific investigations by conducting experiments in class. They start with simple experiments such as combining baking soda and vinegar in a plastic container with a lid and then waiting to see how long it takes for the lid to pop off. While students develop concepts and vocabulary from these experiences, they also need to develop the ability to ask scientific questions about what they learned from their experiments. They learn how to explain what happened and how to talk about the results with their peers.

The research shows that students in grades 3 to 5 do not fully understand that scientists conduct experiments to test their ideas and answer questions about possibility and probability. Nor do they understand that they cannot draw conclusions based on just one outcome of an experiment. Full inquiry involves asking a simple question, completing an investigation, answering the question, and presenting the results to others.

Your students will probably focus on the concrete results of their experiments. As they develop, your students will learn to seek information from reliable sources of scientific information as well as their own observations and investigations. They will get a sense of what a “fair” test is, which is a test where one variable is changed at a time.

Ideas in this lesson are also related to concepts found in these Common Core State Standards:

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.5.1 Quote accurately from a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.5.2 Determine two or more main ideas of a text and explain how they are supported by key details; summarize the text.
Read More

Planning Ahead

To prepare for this lesson, you will need to read a few of Vicki’s books. To see all of her titles, browse the Ink Think Tank website, which Vicki founded. The database on the site has hundreds of children’s book titles you can browse, including the ones Vicki wrote. The database is free but you will need to register to access it. You also can purchase books through this site. You should be able to find many of her titles at your library.

You will need to look through the books and choose several experiments for the students to do in class as part of the Development section of this lesson. Bring those supplies to class. You will ask students to break off into groups and conduct an experiment that you assign.

We also suggest you watch the Vicki Cobb: Lifetime Achievement Award video of her acceptance speech of the SB&F award. It clearly demonstrates her passion for educating children about science and her sense of humor, which is one reason her books are so appealing to children and adults alike. 

You also may want to read two articles Vicki has written about science and about how children (and adults) learn. One is titled ShowBiz Science: Science That’s Fun to Teach. The other is one of her blog posts from April 16, 2012 called An Explosion of Learning. You will need to scroll down to read this particular post. If you have time, also read the post “How do I think? How do I learn?” It’s a very interesting (and reaffirming) view on adult learning.


Motivation

To begin this lesson, students should go to their What Makes Vicki Tick? student sheet and read about Vicki Cobb. Ask students to answer the questions at the end of the article. Once students have gone through the article and answered the questions, hold a class discussion to go over the questions.

  • Vicki’s books have lots of fun science experiments kids can do in class and at home. How do you think Vicki came up with these experiments?
      (There are likely various answers for this question, including: she may have done them when she was in school; she may have read them in other books.)
  • Do you think she followed her own curiosity to discover how things work? What does it mean to follow your own curiosity?
      (Yes. It means you wonder about how something works and then maybe you read about it in books, and then you try to figure out how you can get the same answer or maybe a different answer.)
  • Why do you think it’s important for scientists, students, and anyone else interested in science to conduct experiments?
      (It’s important because experiments help us figure out how the world works.)
  • What does conducting experiments teach us?
      (It teaches us that there are often several different ways to solve a problem. It teaches us to observe how something works and then describe what we learned. And it teaches us that there’s often more than one way to solve a problem.)
  • What do you think a life-long learner is?
      (A life-long learner is someone who loves to learn and is curious about how things work. They continue to learn about new things after they finish school. They are always curious and learn new things all through their life.)
  • Vicki liked getting graded on her schoolwork. Why do you think she liked that?
      (She liked getting graded because she liked knowing when she did something well and when she needed to work a little harder at finding the answer to questions about science and schoolwork.)
  • Why did Vicki receive the SB&F Lifetime Achievement Award?
      (She received the award because her whole adult life has been about the best ways to teach students about science and to show students that science is everywhere in our lives. Vicki has written 89 books for kids about science. The award also recognizes how deeply she cares about bringing science into the world of every child.)

Development

In preparation for this lesson, you will have chosen four or five of Vicki’s books to use with the class. Ask students to break up into five or six groups (five students each maximum). Give each group one book to read as a group. Most of Vicki’s books are cover-to-cover hands-on science experiments, so the students should read through each book quickly to get an idea of the kinds of experiments featured.

Give each group about 15 minutes to read one book. Then switch books and ask students to spend another 15 minutes reading another book. Continue having the students exchange books until each group has read three or four books.

Now assign each group one hands-on experiment to do as a group. Since you will choose the experiments, you will have the necessary supplies on hand.

Each group of students should plan their experiment and conduct it within their group. This may take two or three days of class time for all the groups to complete this step. As the students conduct their experiments, have them use the Our Hands-On Experiment student sheet to record what happened. They will do this by answering the questions on the sheet. One person from each group should be the scribe for the group and write down the group’s answers.


Assessment

Ask each group to present to the class the experiment they conducted. They should talk about what they did during the experiment, and what results they had. The other students should ask the group questions about their experiments such as those on the Our Hands-On Experiment student sheet.

Students could also participate in Vicki’s project We Dare You. Parents, teachers, and kids record themselves doing a hands-on science activity and then share the video on Vicki Cobb’s site.


Extensions

In the Big Egg Mystery, students explore animal behavior and use eggs to conduct some activities in class.

In the Images of Science lesson, students do activities that help them understand the diversity of science in terms of scientific work and the people who do it.

A Taste of Exploratopia makes use of the book Exploratopia. Students work in small groups to conduct one of the experiments from the book.


Funder Info
Subaru
Science NetLinks is proud to have Subaru as a funder of this project.

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Lesson Details

Grades Themes Type Project 2061 Benchmarks National Science Standards
AAAS