I think one of the most unknown science teaching articles that may have the potential for a large impact on teaching students the skills necessary to generate testable questions was publishing October 2006. You can find the article in the NSTA journal, Science and Children and is called Inquiry on Board by Helen Buttemer. Using her ideas I have observed various educators tweak and modify her thinking to help support students through the difficult process of generating a testable question. If open inquiry is to ever happen in a classroom developing the skill to create a testable question is paramount to any successful investigation. Using the excellent work of many, I have created (with the previously mentioned literacy consultant Sandra (@SciLitSandra) the following framework as a guide for expanding on the Observe-Wonder graphic organizer. Using this chart you can work with your students to generate testable questions and in the process extend the conversation on how science generates knowledge.
Before starting you will need to find two different colors of Post-It notes. Recall in the One Graphic Organizer to Rule them All blog post there was a suggestion to record students observations and wonderings on Post-It notes. Now imagine an Observe and Wonder chart filled with Post-It notes like the one in the image below.
We are now going to use these Post-It notes to create independent (manipulated) variables with the observation Post-It notes and dependent (responding) variables with the wondering Post-It notes.
And that previous paragraph is what makes Helen Buttemer’s idea so amazing. If students can observe and wonder, they can craft a testable question. And this is how…
Crafting a Testable Question
To guide us along the next phase of our journey, I would download, open and print the following Student Engagement Through Inquiry (SETI) anchor chart. Ideally this guide is a black line master that is available to all your students as they work through this process. There are two things to remember when using this chart.
- First, the questions inside each box are good prompts to help guide your thinking.
- Second, the colors matter. You’ll notice that from the Observe-Wonder chart to the SETI chart the dotted orange and blue boxes remain. This is important. The dotted orange boxes are for Post-It notes with wonderings and the blue boxes are for observation Post-It notes. Ideally you are using orange and blue Post-It notes to facilitate this connection.
Now, take a look at all your wonderings and select any statements that answer the question “What could I change about the event?”
Repeat this step with the observations and select any statements that answer the question what could I measure about the event. You may find this step challenging, but I find it easier if I remember to select observations that have a number. Usually time or amounts are good choices. And remember you don’t have to take more than one or two observations. All the other observation Post-It notes can be left in the observation column. And don’t forget the observation anchor chart as a reminder for students.
Now, the fun begins because you’ve done the hard work. Select one orange, wondering Post-It note to be the independent or manipulated variable. Place that Post-It note in the next box labeled Manipulated Variable – What will I change. All the other Post-It notes can then be placed in the dotted orange boxes labeled control variables. At this point you can have a discussion on how a fair test requires all variables be controlled except one. If you wish to differentiate your instruction you can assign different manipulated variables to different students. Just make sure they control all the other variables in the orange Post-It notes.
Now repeat this process with the blue Post-It notes by selecting one wondering to be the responding or dependent variable. The following animation shows the steps I just outlined.
Now move the manipulated and responding variable Post-It notes into the last two boxes to generate your testable question. You now have a question in the following format:
If I change <> (orange Post-it note), What will happen to << responding variable>> (blue Post-It note) compared to the control.
Now there’s some additional supports we’ll add in the next blog post, but this is the essence of the process of going from an Observe and Wonder anchor chart to a testable question using the SETI anchor chart.
Try it out and let me know how it goes.