2007-2008 Adams Middle School

Six Graduate Student Fellows are working with Peg Dabel, John Eby, Mike Kunz, and Marilyn Gonzalez and their students each week throughout this school year. Following a series of visits to the school to become acquainted with the 7th graders at Adams Middle School, the Fellows began their teaching experiences with a focus on the nature of science.


The Egg Activity
The Egg Activity
The purpose of this lesson is for students to practice their observation skills and realize that when looked at more carefully, common objects are more complex than previously believed. Students describe the egg (both outside and inside) first from their memory, and then after carefully observing a real egg. Perceptions of the egg often change from thinking of it is a simple object to a much more complicated one. Lastly, students are introduced to forming a hypothesis on what they expect to happen when an egg is dropped. Not knowing the egg is hard-boiled, students are forced to refine their hypothesis and to think about what information they could have gathered to know the egg was hard-boiled.

What Is In the Mystery Box?
The Mystery Box
GK-12 Fellow Guin Wogan queries her class on how they could use their senses to gather information about the object inside the "Mystery Box" she is holding.
The "Mystery Box" activity was a great vector for introducing students to the scientific method. Building on the previous week's activity that focused on observation skills and the concept of a hypothesis, students used their senses (i.e. touch, sight, hearing, smelling) to find out what the object is inside a "mystery box" using a scientific approach. In a small group, students gathered information using senses they chose, posed hypotheses of what was in their mystery box, tested their predictions, and revised their hypotheses based on new information. They were not allowed to use their sense of sight until the end of the activity. The students were very engaged and eager to share their ideas of what was in the box as they gathered more information and students used evidence to convince others in their group that their hypothesis was correct. Different groups had different objects, and each group identified different senses (i.e., smelling, hearing, or touching) as the most informative way of gathering information on their object before they were able to see the object.

The students brainstormed ways to scare the fish into their nets
The students brainstormed ways to scare the fish into their nets.
We took half of the students on a biohunt (a biology-based scavenger hunt) at a local park. The students were told that they were exploring a new habitat for the first time. They made observations and collected data about the biodiversity of this habitat that they will later share with their peers by making posters. A few examples of the data-gathering done included collecting insects, catching snakes and lizards, counting tree rings, making leaf rubbings, and sitting for one minute and writing down all the sounds they heard. They also made predictions about how the park would change in the spring when the other half of the students will be doing a similar activity. The main goal for the lesson was for the students to explore their local environment, and for them to become familiar with the tools we will use for collecting later in the year. We also wanted the students to learn the term biodiversity and experience it for themselves.

See some sample pages from the students' field notebooks (pdf).
See more photos from the biohunt.

The Tree of Life
There are two lessons for the Tree of Life unit. The main focus of Tree of Life #1 (Family Trees and Hominids) was to introduce students to evolutionary trees and what their parts (e.g., branches and nodes) represent, in order to meaningfully discuss the tree of life. The first part of this lesson introduced the concepts of ancestors, common ancestry, descendents, generations, and generation time using a generalized family tree that the class constructed together on the board. Students found this exercise relevant and understood that the entire human family tree could not be represented on the board and that their ancient ancestors (e.g., great, great, great grandparents) must have existed even if they never knew them. This helped students make the jump from family trees to evolutionary trees. Using a simple evolutionary tree that included a few hominid species, students learned that each branch on an evolutionary tree represents the "family tree" of each species. Images and fossil casts for extinct hominids and real human skulls were presented as evidence for shared ancestry. A variety of skull features were used to discuss hominid evolution and to identify traits that hominids inherited from their common ancestors. The students found the fossil evidence we presented very engaging and it helped them understand how we know about life in the past and what an evolutionary tree represents.

Ready to place traits and fossils on the tree
Traits and fossils on the tree
Placing traits and fossils on the tree.
In Tree of Life #2 (Tree Thinking), we asked the students to draft a list of all the major groups of organisms they observed on a recent field trip. Building on what they learned from the previous lesson about common ancestry and evolutionary trees, we drew an evolutionary tree that included the organisms on their list and asked volunteers to identify common ancestors for various groups on the tree. The next task was to identify traits that all the descendents of a common ancestor shared. This was demonstrated using a plant example with fossil evidence and specimens of living groups. In pairs, students were given a copy of this tree and asked to match specific traits with the correct ancestors on the trees based on what they knew about the organisms (i.e., descendents) on the tree. For example, they would match exoskeleton with the ancestor to insects and spiders. Most students successfully completed this task quickly and were able to continue with two other tasks. The first was to place images of fossils of three extinct species on the tree where they think they fit in. Even if students placed these fossils in the incorrect place on the tree, they were able to defend their choice based on traits they identified on the fossils that they thought were similar to the living descendents. If time allowed, they were given a set of unique traits that were matched to the living species on the tree. The lesson concluded with a presentation by volunteer pairs on where they put certain traits and with a presentation of the fossils they had to place on the tree.

How does the tobacco hornworm develop into a moth?
We used tobacco hornworm larvae to introduce students to the insect life cycle and use of the scientific method. Our first lesson (What is a Life Cycle?) introduced the idea of life cycles to students and introduced the effects of temperature on the development of organisms. Students were given vials with fruit fly larvae, pupae, and adults and then formed and tested hypotheses about the effects of cold on adult fruit flies. Introduction to the phenomenon that insects are inactive in cold temperatures served as a starting point for a discussion of factors that could affect the development of the hornworm larvae. In the second lesson (Life Cycle Experiment), we introduced the students to the use of controlled experiments in science. The main component of this lesson involved rearing hornworm larvae under experimental conditions and recording larval length and weight on a weekly basis. For the experiment, students were divided into groups and provided with one hornworm larva per group. Larvae were placed in the following experimental conditions: low light, low temperature, and tobacco food source. A control group was maintained with 16 hours of light and eight hours of dark, at a temperature of 27°C, and provided with lab-prepared food media. In the concluding lesson, (Life Cycle Wrap-up) students graphed their results and compared them to other classes. The effects of different treatments and obvious trends in the data were discussed within the context of the scientific method. The strengths of this module were the opportunity for students to handle insects while observing a dramatic change in form from larva to adult and reinforcement of the use of the scientific method.

Previous Years

2006-2007 AMS activities

2005-2006 AMS activities

2004-2005 AMS activities