Noticing changes in the growth and habit of plants is part of the science of phenology. We do this casually when we comment on the buds swelling on the maple tree (yay! not as many branches are dead as I feared) or the daffodil leaves sprouting above the soil ( yay! they survived the winter). The USA National Phenology Network’s Activity Book for Children can give you some ideas about how children can document such changes.
Young children may notice weather changes more easily than more subtle changes in plant growth but they both can be part of a daily report, a form of collecting data. With a chart full of mostly “cool” days children can see a pattern when the season changes from winter to spring. Or perhaps the seasonal change in your area includes an increase in windy days, or more or less rain. Children can measure the size of sprouting leaves or a tree bud by comparison with a fingernail or finger length, or use a standard such as a cube block or centimeter rule. Making observations using a magnifier and drawing the details of plants is one way to collect data about plants.
The data that children collect is their evidence for any change they see in the weather or plant growth over time. Scientists, including citizen scientists, have collected this information over hundreds of years. Children can make predictions based on their evidence—how many cold, cool or warm days will we have next week?
Just as numerals marking the number of days in school are sometimes posted in one long line stretching across walls of the classroom, weather data can be collected and posted all year. Using symbols that both children and scientists recognize children can document the weather. I wrote about collecting weather data in the The Early Years: The Wonders of Weather in the January 2013 issue of Science and Children. I hope the data collection templates will be useful for your children as they make actual weather observations outdoors, describe and document them. Collecting data over the year or at least several months will be more meaningful than “doing” weather for a week. The children’s documented evidence will be a topic of discussion and the basis for developing math skills over time. Arguing for a “claim,” or knowledge statement, based on evidence is described in “Methods and Strategies: Claims and Evidence” by Julie Jackson, Annie Durham, Sabrina Dowell, Jessica Sockel, and Irene Boynton in the December 2016 Science and Children. With wonderful classroom examples they describe how first through fifth grade children learn to make scientific claims based on their evidence. Instead of asking “Why?” to prompt children to further explain their reasoning, they suggest teachers ask “Because?” because it is less threatening and “It invites the children to tell me more, to elaborate upon ideas, to support claim statements with evidence.” Articles from all National Science Teachers Association journals are free to members but if you aren’t yet a member of NSTA, this article is well worth the $0.99 cost.
To see how argument-based inquiry worked in a fourth grade classroom, read “Methods and Strategies: Using Argument-Based Inquiry Strategies for STEM Infused Science Teaching” by Mason Kuhn and Mark McDermott in the January 2017 Science and Children.
Engaging in argument from evidence is one of the science and engineering practices of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Read more about this and other practices in Appendix F – Science and Engineering Practices in the NGSS and look for ways to have your children use them in their science inquires and other areas of their life.