I Am a Scientist: Analyzing Handwashing Methods

With the school day schedule turned upside-down this year, Burlington elementary students are receiving their science instruction remotely via synchronous instruction by its grades 1-5 teachers. To kick off the school year, Wendy Pavlicek and I wanted to support our school’s efforts to instill effective handwashing procedures into all of its in-person students by developing an instruction sequence over four days that examined common handwashing methods seen by students. Within the sequence we took the opportunity to introduce the overarching essential question we commonly ask teachers to explore with their students. “How do scientists do their work?” and “How do I work and think like a scientist?”

Our four-day lesson sequence (full lesson plans outlined here) uses Glo Germ as a tool for modeling germ presence on surfaces, providing students visible data to analyze the otherwise invisible presence of germs on hands pre and post handwashing. Throughout the sequence we consistently revisit the question, “How do scientists do their work?” Each day’s lesson includes a video that teachers use as a vehicle to facilitate conversation with their students. Links connect to Google Slides that include student scaffolds to demonstrate learning.

Day 1: How do scientists do their work?

Focus is on eliciting student ideas and asking questions. To get students’ initial ideas and experiences on the table. To provide a supportive opportunity for students to make sense of what may not be fully formed ideas (either their own ideas or those of others).  Help students realize that there are gaps in our understanding to promote curiosity and what we could do next to figure something out. 

Teachers are encouraged to either chart student answers themselves or utilize a Google Jamboard designed to support the collaborative energies of students answering the essential question with their students across their households.

Day 2: Planning a Handwashing Investigation

The second lesson brings into focus several practices scientists perform, including asking questions, planning and conducting investigations, and using models. Teachers facilitate a discussion around the question, “How did Mr. Musselman & Ms. Pavlicek show how scientists work/behave?” and “What are some of the things/practices scientists do?”, answers that are only provided after students exercise the practice of obtaining and communication information from a media source. Students share answers with one another before recording their answers. On all occassions where students are asked to record their thinking, accessibility concerns are met by allowing students to either record their spoken word or written language using the SeeSaw app utilized by the district for K-5 learning through an activity like the one linked here.

Day 3: Analyzing Handwashing Method Data and Making Claims through Evidence

On the third day students observe the Glo Germ model investigation in action, and have the opportunity to review the results of the three handwashing techniques when Miss Pavlicek’s hands are put under the UV light after scrubbing.

Glo Germ results from our three handwashing method tests

The Glo-Germ provides visually compelling imagery for students to use while developing their claims as to which handwashing technique is the most effective. Students use the synchronous time making observations about each handwashing result, drawing comparisons between the three before being asked to write their claim at the conclusion of the lesson.

Day 4: Revisiting Student Thinking – New Understanding and Wonderings

Besides providing students opportunity to share their claims with one another, students also revisit their initial thinking around how scientists do their work on the chart paper or Google Jamboard created on Day 1. The four-day progression of student thinking rolled out through this investigation sequence we hope to use consistently throughout the school year when exploring other phenomena with students, allowing teachers and students to get into a rhythm around how the science investigations will develop across each science week of learning.

Besides spearheading the K-5 elementary science exeperiences this year, Wendy will be offering weekly “Wild Wednesday” programming for our students via Google Meet Livestreams during the district’s weekly half-day programming to allow for teacher collaboration time.

I would be remiss without explicitly acknowledging the efforts of my partner, Wendy Pavlicek on this and future lesson sequences. At the beginning of the school year I was unexpectedly thrusted into the roll of Director of our district’s “Remote Learning Academy,” the exclusively remote school year experience being offered to our students and their families that requested it at the beginning of the school year. What was originally planned to be a split share workload in developing our remote science experiences has shifted heavily on her shoulders. I am fortunate to have a partner who is so engaging and knowledgeable in the world of elementary science education. The accompanying lesson plans, Google Slides, and SeeSaw investigations have all been created primarily by her. Thank you, Wendy!

About Sean Musselman

Teacher Dad and Burlington MA Schools K-5 Science and Social Studies Curriculum Coordinator. NSTA Professional Development facilitator and author of "Think Like a Scientist: Investigating Weather and Climate" NSTA Kids ebook.
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