Two Powerful Words: I Think – Moving Writers
Some days in the second semester I do whatever I can to get my students to write. Teaching in a math and science classroom with a scripted program sometimes can be tough, and I am constantly having to think outside the box. This week we started a new unit in science, Force and Motion. I dread this unit because most of the activities are simulations and it’s less time to write. (My previous ecosystem unit allows for writing every class period).
In the past any attempts to get my kids to have words on paper in this unit and the one following is a win. I will be the first to admit that scientific writing for me is not my favorite genre to teach… but with a little creativity a lesson like this invigorates me.
This week we had many simulations involving different types of motion. I spent my whole plan Monday pumping myself up to sort out some type of writing… of course I can always go with my “go to” writing warm-ups but sometimes I just crave new ideas… keeping things fresh. I looked up from my desk and my “scientific method” poster adorns my wall. It’s self illustrated (I’m an amazing illustrator if you didn’t know) and it walks through the simplified “5th grade version” of the method.
- Ask Questions
- Make Predictions/Hypothesis
- Do the experiment
- Collect data
- Draw Conclusions
Looking through these 5 steps I find that only one of those steps isn’t explicitly writing ( #3 which is the doing part of the scientific method). I’m re-energized again by Pandora’s box of writing.
Using the Senses
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The words “I think”, which start hypotheses, can be a catalyst for deep intellectual thinking, as long as it’s followed by measurable, detailed, and crafty statements. Most students don’t know how to do this on their own and so in order to help deepen their hypothesis we go through a series of mini-lessons.
When we work through our motion simulation later that day I start the class with asking questions. I present the information of what we’re doing today and I have my students together ask questions they have about the experiment.
From there my students draft a hypothesis. I give them some options on how to start this–
- Sketch what you think will happen
- Use your senses to describe what you think you will happen
- Use figurative language like comparison sentences [Similes and Metaphors]
I then model through what that may look like: see examples below
Question: What would happen if I propelled a marble across grass vs. tile floor? Will there be less or more friction?
- It may zoom across the tile floor, sliding with ease and not coming to an easy stop. Across the grass it may bounce and tumble through but it will probably come to a quick halt because it can’t get through the blades of grass.
[See what I did there. I offered my reader a clear perspective of what they would “see” while doing this experiment hypothetically.]
- The marble on the tile may glide like skaters shoes barely touching the surface as it wizzes past. The marble in the grass will drop with a thud.
- The floor is smooth and will be a perfect backdrop for the smooth marble. When two smooth surfaces come together it is like a fresh batch of ice and my slick tennis shoes… go too fast and you will slide faster than you may like. The grass is rough and uneven. The marble cannot pass through something with such a great density of friction. It is like trying to scoot across carpet.
From these moves students can use those rough drafts of ideas to compose a statement combining ideas from their “pre-thinking” to form their hypothesis.
The Powerful Words: I Think
From these notes they then create a hypothesis statement about what they think may happen in the experiment. Students work with their lab partners to craft a hypothesis at the beginning of this type of writing. I do this because when students are left to write hypotheses on their own I find they look around and are afraid to make the wrong move and have the wrong answer. When they have someone trying with them they take risks. In my opinion working in groups always trumps working alone when learning a new writing strategy. Once they get the rhythm they will wiz through this on their own.
Here is an example of students’ work before drafting and after adding strong details.
- “The penny will fall and the paper will fly off”
Same response after thinking through our senses and sketching
- “I predict that when I flick the paper away from me that the penny will fly using gravity and fall to the ground. This is because I am causing a force (push) on the paper and the force (gravity) will pull the penny down.”
The rich details added to the second hypothesis gives purpose to writing hypotheses [admittedly often hypotheses in my class are almost after thoughts… I feel like a superhero when we do them, they often get thrown to the wayside]. The more I think about it the more I am convinced that hypotheses are thesis statements that haven’t been proven yet by evidence.
I believe that by putting in the groundwork for writing meaningful hypotheses this will help drive richer data [evidence] in the next step of our scientific method. Writing to think often gets lost in writing to report at school. These kinds of processes bring authenticity to academic writing.
Students are now ready to find data to support their hypotheses. Some students are disappointed that their hypotheses are not accurate after their experimentation stage. I remind them to hold on… we haven’t drawn any conclusions yet.
A Surprising Twist on Reflective Writing
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Tim Feriss says that “Failure without reflection is useless.” So, the lingering question is how do we use this writing to help my students reflect on experimental results?
Students use their question asking and hypothesis writing to give themselves adequate background knowledge going into their experiment. It gives them ownership in their investigation when they take the reigns of their thinking rather than being given a boring old prompt and force fed thinking. When students actually have buy-in to their learning they are more willing to reflect on the results in the end. My initial mistake was that I was constantly skipping the hypothesis stage, not giving my students the tools they needed to really reflect on their learning.
Students use their hypothesis to create reflective and concluding statements at the end of their data collection and experimentation stage. This is an opportunity for students to go back and look at their previous thinking and either affirm their thinking with the data that they collected or reflect on how their thinking changed. It gives them a chance to write a conclusion in a place where they can really show what they have learned.
Hypothesis writing [and thesis writing for that matter] empowers students to take a risk and write the words “I think.” These two powerful words open students to a world of possibilities.
How could you add detail and description into thesis writing or hypothesis writing? Do you think breaking down for your students would help them add more depth to their thinking?
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