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I am a new science teacher and will be teaching the differences between independent, dependent and controlled variables. I have been unsuccessful in finding activities/games to use to help scholars (sixth grade) learn these definitions really well. I do have some experiments I will give to them for them to decide which variable it is, but other than that have been unable to find anything else. Any suggestions?
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Hi Monica and welcome to the discussion forums! How exciting that you are teaching sixth graders!!! I love that age group. There are many resources in the Learning Center that are helpful. Let me share a few. I am sure others will chime in with their favorite activities for helping students understand variables.
Firstly, there is a discussion thread all about hypotheses that you might want to take a look at: General Science and Teaching > Hypothesis format.
Secondly, there is a SciGuide called Experimental Design What's great about the SciGuides is that there are gobs of great resources for the teacher divided up by grade level. So you will find much helpful information, lessons and activities on this topic there.
Finally, an article with a lesson plan about this topic using paper airplanes can be found at Tried and True: Taking flight with an inquiry approach
Good luck on your first year of teaching.
So teachers out there...what great activities are you using that teach variables?
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Thank you so much for the great information!! I am in the process of reading through your recommendations!!
Monica, I have another suggestion - I love the 4 question strategy for helping my students come up with testable questions. If you are not familiar with it, here is an article that explains it in detail AND provides a neat 'experimental design' template for students to use.
The article is called:
From Cookbook to Experimental Design
I hope it is helpful to you.
Monica, this may be the best find yet! It is an article that shows how to set up stations where students go around identifying the different variables.
Science Sampler: The Great Fakesperiment
I really like the idea this teacher came up with to help her students understand the difference between dependent and independent variables!
I absolutely adore this site and all who contribute. What a real life saver!!!
Do you have any recommendations for a book that would be a great fit for a
beginning science teacher? I have seen a ton but I really don't need
classroom management type books which seem to be the most common. If you
have any suggestions I would be most grateful. : )
I taught 6th grade for nine years and this was always difficult for my students to grasp as well, not to mention they were expected to use the terminology proficiently on the state exam by the end of 8th grade. I still use this model with my 7th and 8th grade middle school students.
We have to remember, not only are they encountering these terms in Science, but also when they graph in Algebra. This only adds to the confusion. One thing that I have found really useful is the acronoym DRY MIX to help them figure out what goes on which axis. The students make a poster of this in their graphing notebooks as we review/introduce interpreting data.
D – Dependent
R – Responding – what we me measure
Y – Y-axis
M – Manipulated – what we change
I – Independent
X – X-axis
I am attaching a copy of a crude diagram that I do with my students they duplicate in their notebooks. This seems to have helped them keep the vocabulary straight so they can concentrate on the investigation itself. This model worked really well with my 6th graders and works equally as well with my 7th and 8th grade middle school students.
DRY_MIX_Diagram.jpg (2.42 Mb)
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Sandy, I had forgotten about your nifty acronym for getting the variables straight when graphing data from an experiment. Thank you for sharing!
Monica asks, "Do you have any recommendations for a book that would be a great fit for a
beginning science teacher?"
There are two in the Learning Center that you might be interested in, Monica.
Rise and Shine: A Practical Guide for the Beginning Science Teacher (e-book)
The first chapter is a free download at:
The First Week of School
Teaching Teachers: Bringing First-Rate Science to the Elementary Classroom (e-book)
I haven't read the first one yet. It just came out in May of this year; however, I have never been disappointed with NSTA products.
If you are looking for 'must have' resources, any of the Page Keeley (and others) probes are great to have on hand. I believe they all start with "Uncovering Student Ideas in..."
Of course I am in love with the Picture Perfect series by Karen Ansberry and Emily Morgan. If you have the opportunity to go to any of their workshops at an NSTA conference, it is well worth your time! There are book chapters available in the Learning Center for both series of books mentioned above if you want to try out a single lesson from either series.
I am sure others will have some suggestions, too.
I love the DRY MIX mnemonic - and will share with the teachers in my district. It is simple to post it, and easy for students to remember. I just made a simple WORD document for it. Many thanks!
Graphing_Variables_DRY_MIX.doc (0.02 Mb)
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Louise, thank you for taking the time to put this into a Word document, it looks so much better in Word than my handwriting.
I just finished sharing this with my middle school students a couple of days ago as part of our beginning of the year expectations around data. To look out at their faces and see the light bulb start to go on – priceless. I would love to hear how it goes when you share it with the teachers in your district and your students.
Monica, you said
"I really don't need classroom management type books which seem to be the most common."
Are you looking for books with content or pedagological advice? And what grade levels are you working with, as that will determine the responses? I am going to assume you are asking for content related activities but if I am wrong, please let me know!
If you are elementary, might I suggest "Science Is....", keeping in mind this is NOT a book on inquiry but one on activities that could lead to inquiries. It has activities that are grouped by content and time/involvement that can provide the Engagement activities in a 3E or 5E unit lesson plan. It has things that can work well for middle school, too. I also like to use Janice VanCleeve books (any of them) for additional ideas for Engagement activities that use as springboards for discussions that lead to inquiry activities for my middle level students (and these also transfer down to elementary or up to high school).
I also do specific searches here in the Learning Center for additional articles, collections, and conference resources for topics like Climate Change and base some of my lessons on what I find here. And don't forget to search the forums for specific topics! I know there have been several discussion topics on things like Renewable Energy and Weather and Earth processes - and that is only in the Earth Science forum! I know the elementary and the general science forum have also had discussions that have included those topics (because they come up in my searches!)
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I am so appreciative of the valuable support and guidance I find on this site. I teach 6th grade science. I will research the books you have suggested and will likely end up with one or both. Thank you.
Several of the other posters have given you some great ideas for teaching independent and dependent variables. I've attached a collection of several NSTA and internet resources that are helpful for teaching independent and dependent variables. There are also several science method songs that my kids love. One of my favorites is "The Scientific Method" from Teacher and the Rockbots. Good luck with everything this year!
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I was struggling with the same thing as a new teacher. I just got finished using
Tried and True: Taking flight with an inquiry approach article and it went great! The students were so engaged (they are still making paper airplanes) and they understood variables very successfully!
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Earlier in this thread Maureen mentioned Scientific Method Songs; one of my favorites is from They Might Be Giants https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9kf51FpBuXQ
In fact this Canadian group has an entire CD of science songs "Here Come Science"
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Independent and Dependent variables as well as controlled variables can get quite confusing especially with the technicalities. I found it easier (as it took me years to try and figure out the easiest way to TEACH it so I wouldn't confuse myself and my students while doing so) to teach hypothesis first and then have them do cause and effect. I then related the cause as the independent variable and the effect as the dependent variable (of course I reiterated to them that being able to measure your outcome is more evident data) as it made it much easier for student understanding (part of the scaffolding process - technicalities can follow after basic understanding). I then went on to teach that the independent variable (not always but most of the time) can be found after the word "if" and before the word "then", and the dependent variable is usually found after the word "then" and before the word "because". The easiest thing that I found after this brief definition was to have them practice a problem as a "do now" or "bell work" as well as one at the end of class as an "exit pass". I had them pick out indepedent variables and dependent variables from hypotheses and problem/questions. As far as controlled variables, I tell them that they should focus on testing only one variable at a time so that they know what affects their results and that everything else in their experiment would be a controlled (unchanged) variable. Once my students got this simple, yet very basic idea and got good at identifying them, I was able to switch it up and bit and do more complicated investigations and add to the definitions of independent, dependent and controlled variables (manipulating more than one variable in an experiment). Of course, the resources on the NSTA site are great resources that will definitely help as well....
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Hi Rochelle, I would be really interested in seeing some examples of the “if – then” statements. I have peers who teach this as well, but when I ask them for examples, they can’t come up with any that make sense. Would you mind posting a handful of examples for us?
I didn't read all the replies so I'm not sure if someone else mentioned this site but sciencebuddies.org is an excellent website for us as teachers & for our students. It's even upgraded with EDP too. Best of all it's free. My 5th graders used the Topic Selection Wizard to find science topics that suit their interests to develop for the science fair. The site is very user friendly. If you enter "variables" in the search field and select 'Variables in Your Science Project', you will get a great, clear explanation and examples. I cannot rave enough about this website. I love science and I love teaching science but unfortunately our time is so limited in the classroom to teach science. Sciencebuddies has helped me teach want I need to teach in a shorter amount of time.
Below is the beginning part of 'What are Variables?'...
[color=purple]Scientists use an experiment to search for cause and effect relationships in nature. In other words, they design an experiment so that changes to one item cause something else to vary in a predictable way.
These changing quantities are called variables. A variable is any factor, trait, or condition that can exist in differing amounts or types. An experiment usually has three kinds of variables: independent, dependent, and controlled.
The independent variable is the one that is changed by the scientist. To insure a fair test, a good experiment has only one independent variable. As the scientist changes the independent variable, he or she observes what happens.
The scientist focuses his or her observations on the dependent variable to see how it responds to the change made to the independent variable. The new value of the dependent variable is caused by and depends on the value of the independent variable.
For example, if you open a faucet (the independent variable), the quantity of water flowing (dependent variable) changes in response--you observe that the water flow increases. The number of dependent variables in an experiment varies, but there is often more than one.
...and then it goes on about controlled variables. Sciencebuddies makes it very easy to understand science for our students.
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