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Reading & Writing in the Disciplines

Thinking and Communicating Like a Biologist

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Amy Sheck leads students as they read and discuss a scientific paper on biofilms, design and propose an experiment, and then set up their experiment.

Teacher: Amy Sheck

School: North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, Durham, NC

Grade: 11–12

Discipline: Science (Biology)

Lesson Topic: Design and conduct an experiment

Lesson Month: November

Number of Students: 12

Other: This is a two-year school that focuses on the intensive study of science, mathematics, and technology.

Featured Lesson’s Student Goals:

  • Content objectives – Learn components of the scientific method; read from the primary literature; make an observation, form a hypothesis, design an experiment, collect data, analyze data, and formulate and communicate conclusions
  • Literacy/language objectives – Improve reading comprehension
  • Engagement/interaction objectives – Work independently and as a group; take ownership of and implement ideas in the form of an experiment

Standards Addressed:

Next Generation Science Standards

  • Science and Engineering Practices:
    Practice 3: Planning and Carrying Out Investigations

Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects

    Determine the central ideas or conclusions of a text; summarize complex concepts, processes, or information presented in a text by paraphrasing them in simpler but still accurate terms.
    Follow precisely a complex multistep procedure when carrying out experiments, taking measurements, or performing technical tasks; analyze the specific results based on explanations in the text.
    Determine the meaning of symbols, key terms, and other domain-specific words and phrases as they are used in a specific scientific or technical context relevant to grades 11–12 texts and topics.
    By the end of grade 12, read and comprehend science/technical texts in the grades 11-12 CCR text complexity band independently and proficiently.

Instruction Details:

The Unit
The goal of this seven-day unit was to introduce the scientific method. This was the first unit of the year for 11th graders. The lesson on designing and conducting an experiment fell in the middle of the unit.

Six 11th graders are accepted into this biology class every year and paired with 12th grade mentors. They are in the class for three trimesters, beginning in the winter of their junior year and ending in the fall of their senior year. During this time, they complete a research project.

Before the Video
This unit was designed to introduce students to the principles and practice of scientific research. It comprised seven steps. Students had completed three steps leading up to this lesson. The first step was to read a scientific paper: Dr. Sheck’s students were given a week to read the selected paper and gather questions. The second step was to meet the author of the paper: Dr. Sheck invited the author to come into her classroom to talk about the paper. The third step was to “meet” the study system.

During the Video
Class began with Dr. Sheck’s 11th grade students discussing the selected scientific paper. In small groups, students took a piece of the text and broke it down into smaller chunks to be less intimidating. They reported their findings back to the entire class.

Next, the 11th grade students presented their proposed lab experiment to the 12th grade students, who listened and gave their feedback. In presenting their experiment, students discussed their ideas and put them into a diagram. This visual representation of their experiment helped them see what the experiment encompassed as a whole. Students then set up their proposed experiments.

After the Video
After the lesson, Dr. Sheck’s 11th grade students set up 180 wells for their experiment. They looked at each well under the microscope and photographed it. The photographs were analyzed to estimate the area covered and the number of cells attached to the surface of each well. The 11th grade students were again paired with the 12th grade students to carry out data analysis, including graphing the data and calculating the means and standard deviations.

Teacher Prep
Dr. Sheck identified the scientific paper for students to read, chose the researcher who would visit, and asked the researcher to provide the experimental materials.

Prior Knowledge
Students needed to have a high aptitude in mathematics and reading as well as be familiar with the concepts of hypothesis, variables, controls, and graphing. They received safety training and knew how to use the equipment (pipets and microscope). They also had to be familiar with Microsoft Excel.

Group Interaction
During the first part of class, student groups of two or three were assigned a specific paragraph of the scientific paper to read, discuss, and report out. For the second part of class, students were divided into their grade-level groups. The 11th grade students were new to the class; as such, they proposed their experiments to the 12th grade students, who were more experienced and served as peer mentors. Dr. Sheck encouraged the 12th grade students to use restraint to allow the 11th grade students to work on their own and make some mistakes.

Resources and Tools


Formative Assessment
Dr. Sheck and the 12th grade students gave oral feedback to the 11th grade students during their final presentations.

Student Self-Assessment
The 11th grade students discussed their experiments and completed a self-critique within their groups.

Ongoing Assessment
Every Monday, Dr. Sheck has individual 15-minute meetings with her students to see how their projects are progressing.

Series Directory

Reading & Writing in the Disciplines


Produced by WGBH Educational Foundation. 2015.
  • Closed Captioning
  • ISBN: 1-57680-906-4