Tuesday, September 8, 2015

How to Teach Good Procedure Writing: PB and No J Scientific Method Demonstration

I love teaching the scientific process
to start off the beginning of the year. It's the foundation for all other good scientific work that we will do throughout the entire academic year. I introduce the importance of good procedure writing with a fun and memorable demonstration called PB & No J.

Students are asked to write some steps for how to make a peanut butter sandwich as a type of pre-assessment. I usually walk around the room to observe the different skill levels of the students, since many of my students come to me with various scientific inquiry experiences. Then, I have a few volunteers to participate in the first part of the demonstration. Students experience poorly written procedures when trying to make a peanut butter sandwich. The student trying to make the sandwich in this demonstration automatically adds the unwritten steps since they have probably made a peanut butter sandwich before. It's a lot of fun for the class when the teacher polices this demonstration and calls the student out. "Did the instructions say to do that?" The classmates usually start shouting out ideas for what should be done, but as the teacher and facilitator, you want to get the point across that there is a lot of wiggle room with these procedures. You just
never know what should actually be done and need to do some guessing. That does not make for a clear and consistent procedure. I do allow students to be creative in opening the peanut butter jar and eating the sandwich - as long as it isn't with their hands. Always pick a student for this part of the demonstration who is generally outgoing and boisterous. You will know the perfect kid for each class who will help make this activity memorable.

The second part of the demonstration shows the students an example of well-written procedures. I usually try to over-emphasize on the detail, and then try to tell the kids that their procedures need to be a happy medium between the poor procedures and the extremely detailed procedures. Once the students have experienced both demonstrations, then I have them review the procedures they had written at the beginning of the activity. I ask them to self-assess on a rubric, and then have any super confident junior scientists try their hand at reading their procedure for someone to follow in front of the class. This is a great opening for a few other lab experiences that will provide the opportunity for students to continue refining their procedure writing skills. I can tell a HUGE difference in the student writing when I explicitly teach procedure writing with this activity versus years when I only mentioned how it was important to include detailed steps. PB & No J definitely makes an impression!

Do you love this activity but don't have a ton of time to think about writing all those procedures? Download the handout with a self-assessment rubric and t-chart as well as a corresponding PowerPoint on my TpT store here!

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