Are you giving your students the opportunity to roll up their sleeves and get involved with science experiments in the classroom? Science experiments can often take a lot of time, energy, and prep work. They can also easily become a recipe for disaster if not well planned. Science experiments most likely introduce a lot of new, unique ingredients, materials, and tools to your students. Curiosity and excitement can quickly take over, causing chaos and disruption during experiment time. There’s also the chance that your experiment fails unexpectedly. This can cause disappointment and confusion in your students. In order to keep a productive, safe environment, and have a great learning experience follow these 5 steps for completing successful science experiments in your classroom!
Test the Experiment First
You may be crunched for time, but the first step (and one you should never skip over) is testing your experiment before launching it with students. Even experiments that have been performed in other classes, in YouTube videos, or in textbooks need troubleshooting in your classroom. By doing the experiment yourself, you’ll be able to easily identify any pain points that your kids may experience.
Testing your experiment before taking it to the classroom will help you be prepared for any issues that could (and most likely will) arise on experiment day. You’ll know what extra supplies or ingredients you may need on hand. You’ll also learn what additional prep work might need to happen, and the best method for introducing the experiment to students.
Use Small Groups for Experiments
You probably already do this step, but I want to share why small groups help make science activities successful. Keeping your science experiment groups small (3-5 students max) will help tremendously with engagement and focus. Students will have the opportunity to have more hands-on responsibilities when there are fewer students per experiment. They will also be less apt to become distracted or go off track because they will be more engaged with their peers.
Small groups are also great for discussion and allowing the students to learn from and lead one another. Being able to talk openly and voice their predictions and observations will help strengthen their connection to the experiment.
Give Students Time to Prepare
One of the biggest mistakes that I’ve made over the years is not giving my students enough time to become familiar with new materials or tools. Introducing new tools like microscopes, beakers, tweezers, and other objects may not seem exciting to you – but to students that can be a really big deal. Finally getting to use those cool scientific tools can be very stimulating. Students might need a few minutes to check out the new objects.
Be sure that you’re introducing new tools and materials with clear guidelines and expectations. As I just mentioned, students might be overly excited to be using new tools for the experiment. Be sure they’re given safety instructions and understand how to properly handle or use any new items before handing them over!
Give Time to Make Predictions
You might be just as excited as your students when it comes time to put on the safety goggles and start experimenting. To ensure students are getting the full benefit of conducting scientific investigations in the classroom, you’ll want to review the scientific method with them. It’s especially important to help them understand the importance of making predictions before completing the experiment.
Making predictions can help students in asking testable questions. These are questions that students can answer by completing one or more steps in the experiment. Predictions also give them a starting point for their experiment.
They may think that XYZ will happen during the experiment. Once they’ve completed the experiment, they’ll find that their prediction was correct and XYZ happened. They may also find that ABC happened and their prediction was not correct. This gives them the opportunity to discuss why the outcome was different than their prediction.
Students can then investigate further as to why the outcome varied, what assumptions they made incorrectly, and if changing a variable in their experiment might give them different results.
I usually include space for predictions on many of my experiment recording sheets and worksheets. Having students write their predictions down will keep them from “changing” their predictions to correlate with the results of their experiment. While they may not realize they are doing it, students may forget their prediction when they see how the experiment actually plays out.
Take Time for a Wrap-Up
You’ll want to give yourself and your students plenty of time to clean up after a science experiment. Don’t forget to leave a few extra minutes for a lesson wrap-up and class discussion after everything is back in order!
Although students will be involved in lots of discussions within their small groups, whole-class discussions can be very valuable. Even with carefully planned and researched experiments, you may still find that small groups end with varied results. This is a great opportunity to encourage students to present their group’s results. They can compare those results to the results of other groups. Then they can talk about why they think those results differed.
I also like to ask students for their predictions on experiment changes. You could ask what would happen if we changed specific variables within the experiment. You can also ask for suggestions on ways they feel the process could be improved or fine-tuned. This could be valuable information for your next class or next year’s lesson plans!
Easy Science Experiments Bundle
If you’re looking for fun, easy science experiments for the entire school year, be sure to check out the Science Investigations & Experiments Bundle. The bundle includes over 60 science investigations and experiments. These experiments are perfect to pair with your own lessons or to use as stand-alone activities. They are themed for use throughout the school year and correlate with holidays and seasons like Halloween, St. Patrick’s Day, and summer.
Following these 5 steps will help you bring well-planned, engaging experiments to your science classroom. While there is no guarantee these suggestions will make your experiments fail-proof, they will definitely improve the chances of success. Successful experiments can help your students have fun and become productive investigative scientists by the end of the school year!