Falling into Science!

Use these fun, hands-on autumn activities to introduce science process skills.

By Jennifer Sinsel

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Falling Into Science

The beginning of every school year is an exciting time for both children and teachers—everyone is ready for new opportunities, friends, and learning experiences. The first few months set the tone in our classrooms, and it is the perfect time for teachers to show kids that science is not only interesting—it’s fun!

Fall Science in the Classroom

I like to start off each year with one or more fall activities that introduce learners to various science process skills. During the first month of school, I pose the question, “How do populations of organisms behave as the weather gets cooler?”  This, of course, requires an understanding of  the definition of organisms (living things) and populations (all the organisms in a certain group or habitat, such as the duck population of a pond). By posing questions that are relevant to their daily life, I help my students begin to learn the concepts they need to understand in order to be able to delve right into a hands-on experience.

Once they understand these concepts, we brainstorm ways to investigate various questions:

  • They can count the number of insects in a certain area as the weather gets cooler
  • Learners can observe the behavior of specific populations (such as ducks, geese, beetles, or pill bugs) over a period of time.
  • They can take photos of various plants or trees each week as the seasons change.

Investigations should relate to the resources you have available; for example, depending upon the location of your school, you may only have access to a courtyard, a garden, a grassy field, or a nearby nature center. In one of the investigations I have my class keep track of weather changes. Small groups are assigned the task of recording daily temperatures and making observations about the weather. They can make graphs showing temperature changes, and compare population differences that they see with changes in the weather. Older or more advanced learners can also create double line graphs that compare temperature with population counts over a period of weeks or months.

Identifying Proper Use of the Scientific Method

Young scientists should also be made aware of the components of a good science investigation, such as the ways to design a fair test. This involves testing only one variable at a time. For example, if a team is counting the number of beetles in a four square meter area of the courtyard, they should count in that same area every time they gather data. Choosing a different area from which to count beetles every day will result in inaccurate information because your young scientists would be testing two variables (the number of beetles along with the area of the courtyard).

Once they have gathered enough observations, learners can begin to look for patterns in the data.

  • Were certain populations of organisms common during the first week, but declined as the outside temperature decreased?
  • How did plants or trees change throughout the fall season? 
  • Did the behavior of bird populations change as the weather became cooler? 

Throughout this long-term investigation, young scientists are learning and making use of many different science process skills, including observation, classification, measurement, graphing, prediction, analyzing data, and making inferences.

For a language arts connection, students can share their findings by writing articles for a classroom science magazine. They can also make presentations to other classes in order to gain experience in speaking and listening skills. A technology component can be added by having individuals or small groups design a PowerPoint, HyperStudio, or Photo Story presentation. For more hands-on fall science activities, you can try one of the following lesson plans.

Fall Science Experiments and Investigations:

Why Do Leaves Change Color in the Fall?  

This site contains a nice explanation of why leaves change color, as well as some hands-on investigations. Upper-elementary and middle school students can separate leaf colors with chromatography using simple materials.

Tracking Fall's Falling Temperatures   

Students track weather from day to day and record results on graphs, maps, or other places. They see firsthand how weather temperatures trend cooler as fall progresses and practice grade-appropriate skills in geography (map location, color keys, more) and math (figuring temperature ranges, averages, and more). They study practical skills that will last them a lifetime.

Leaf Magic

Third graders "adopt" a deciduous tree in September and conduct regular observations of their tree. They collect leaves from their tree daily and create a timeline to show how the leaves change color. They also conduct a science experiment to show color changes.


Elementary Science Guide

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Jennifer Sinsel