teaching crtical thinking skills

I've been doing project based assessments for a few years now, where students choose a topic and perform an experiment of their own design.  After the first year, I structured most of the scaffolding around improving research skills.  Now I think I've got that down and I'm ready to improve another aspect of my final projects.

Last year before I turned over all class time to the projects, I spent five days reviewing skills the students would need for their experiments:  evaluating research sources, forming hypotheses, interpreting graphs, and drawing conclusions.   It was really helpful because as they needed these skills again in their experiments, we could recall together the skill review from earlier.

This year I want to make my skill instruction a lot more explicit, and much more evident from the beginning of the year instead of only right before the final projects.  The resources from sciencebuddies.org have been really helpful, especially the rubrics that help me communicate to the students exactly what I'm looking for. 

My first unit this year will focus on hypothesis forming. Along with the content for my first unit, my classes will perform these three activities:
  • use the hypothesis grading rubric to evaluate an exemplar hypothesis
  • use the hypothesis and variables worksheet to form a hypothesis in a quick lab, then evaluate their work with the rubric. 
  • read a short research paper on the content they've been studying to form a hypothesis they will test in their next lab period.  
These kinds of projects have been a little intimidating in the past because in order to do a full experiment, you've got to have the whole package, all the parts of the scientific method.  In the past, I guess I've been trying to teach these skills by repetition, thinking they would get all of the scientific method in all the labs we did without focusing on each specific skill.  Now, I see that of course they won't use these skills in isolation from the rest of scientific method, but it's ok to break it down and evaluate a specific step in the process.

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