Helping youth succeed in science – Part 4: Planning and carrying out investigations

Youth can succeed in science by exploring answers to their questions through planning and carrying out investigations.

Youth using D-tape to measure the tree diameter 4 feet from the ground, an example of planning and carrying out an investigation.
Youth using D-tape to measure the tree diameter 4 feet from the ground, an example of planning and carrying out an investigation.

In 2011, the National Research Council released a report, “A Framework for K-12 Science Education.” Michigan State University Extension and Michigan 4-H are working to increase science literacy through the inclusion of the Scientific and Engineering Practices described in the framework – and you can too!

The Scientific and Engineering Practices outlines eight simple but powerful practices about how to engage youth in science and engineering to increase STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) literacy. The Practices are:

  1. Asking questions (science) and defining problems (engineering).
  2. Developing and using models.
  3. Planning and carrying out investigations.
  4. Analyzing and interpreting data.
  5. Constructing explanations and designing solutions.
  6. Using mathematics and computational thinking.
  7. Engaging in argument from evidence.
  8. Obtaining, evaluating and communicating information.

You can help youth succeed in science by encouraging them to explore answers to their questions through planning and carrying out investigations. Investigations that youth design and carry out are vital in the development of critical thinking skills, skills youth will use in all aspects of their life. Successful scientists, youth and curious adults all attempt to answer questions and explain the world around them.

Youth at MSU Extension’s 2015 4-H Forestry Fun Camp were asked to help design a management plan for a forest in Ogemaw County to potentially increase timber production. To begin, youth needed to determine the questions; is the forest currently producing as much timber as it could? The campers hypothesized the forest was not producing as much timber as it could. Youth then worked with the foresters to determine if their hypothesis was correct. With the aid of a forester, youth planned and carried out investigations, addressing their hypothesis. In their investigations, they

  • Made observations about the forest, tree spacing, different kinds of trees, diseases, tree age and soil type.
  • Identified and marked a representative sample of trees within the forest to study.
  • Learned how to use tools to measure the trees, such as a diameter or D-tape, relascope, meter stick and data sheet.
  • Measured the tree diameter at 4 feet from the ground using the D-tape and measured the height of the tree using the relascope.
  • Calculated the board feet of lumber that would be produced by each selected and measured tree.

After confirming the data supported their hypothesis, that the forest was not producing the amount of timber it could, youth discussed with their forester ways to improve timber production based on their investigations.

You can help youth plan and carry out investigations by helping them identify questions along with hypotheses. A hypothesis is a reasonable answer to a question. Just as there are often multiple questions, there may be multiple hypotheses for one question. You can help youth think through how they can test their hypotheses. This includes identifying items they can control and those they cannot. Further, youth will need to identify the data that should be collected to answer the question for their investigation and the data that could be collected; the extra data that could be collected might lead to new questions and future investigations.

This is Part 4 of a series of nine articles that will explore a variety of ways you can help youth engage in the Scientific and Engineering Practices. Although the series will address individual practices, it is important to remember that as a whole they increase STEM literacy and like science itself, the individual practices do not function in a vacuum, but are intertwined with STEM exploration. To learn more about the Scientific and Engineering Practices, you can download a free copy of “A Framework for K-12 Science Education,” or Appendix F of the Next Generation Science Standards.

To learn more about helping youth succeed in science, read the other articles in this series listed below and explore the MSU Extension Science and Technology website. For more information about 4-H learning opportunities and other 4-H programs, contact your local MSU Extension office.

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