- Keywords: Scientific method, autonomy, active learning
- Learner English level: Lower intermediate and above
- Learner maturity: University
- Preparation time: 30 minutes
- Activity time: 90 minutes
- Materials: Worksheets, tape measures, spare paper, balls (e.g., table tennis).
Conducting in-class science experiments can be a fun way to bring science and engineering topics into the English classroom. The activity described here allows students to apply practical skills to in-class experiments by using the scientific method. The scientific method is a problem-solving technique that is used to investigate problems or answer questions. There are five steps to the scientific method: i) ask a question, ii) make a hypothesis, iii) plan and conduct an experiment, iv) collect and analyze the data, and v) draw a conclusion. In groups, students are given a question to investigate. The students then use the scientific method to come up with an answer to the assigned question.
Step 1: Prepare some questions for the students to investigate in class, such as, “Does the shape of a paper plane’s nose affect the distance it can fly?”, “Does the height from which a ball is dropped affect how high it will bounce?”, or “Does the height of a person affect their step length?”
Step 2: Prepare a worksheet that guides students through the five steps of the scientific method (see Appendix 1).
Step 1: Arrange students into groups of 4-5 and distribute the worksheets. Each group can be assigned a different question.
Step 2: Introduce students to the five steps of the scientific method by writing them on the whiteboard and introduce key terms.
Step 3: Provide the students with a model of an “If…, then…” hypothesis statement. For example, “If we fold back the nose of a paper plane, then it will fly further than a standard paper plane”
Step 4: Give each group a question and have them write a hypothesis statement.
Step 5: Students design an experiment to test their hypothesis. Students must consider three main points. First, what factor they are trying to test (i.e., the shape of the paper plane’s nose, this is often referred to as the independent variable). Second, what data they aim to collect (often referred to as the dependent variable). Finally, what factors must they keep the same between experiments (often referred to as controlled variables).
Step 6: Students conduct their experiments and collect the required data. Remind the students they should repeat their experiment at least three times to make sure that the results are accurate.
Step 7: After finishing their experiments, give the students some time to analyze the data and come up with a conclusion.
Step 8: Finally, have the students review the hypothesis they wrote at the beginning of the lesson. Get the students to make a statement as to whether their data agrees or disagrees with their original hypothesis.
To provide students the opportunity for oral output, a presentation component could be included in the lesson plan. Students present their original hypothesis to the class and describe their results to see if their hypothese was correct or not.
Students enjoy this lesson because it provides them with a chance to have autonomy in the design and implementation of their experiments, while at the same time students have the opportunity to practice the content language of the scientific method in a practical and fun way. It also offers a wide range of flexibility in terms of topics and potential follow-up activities that teachers can adapt to their specific needs.