Skip to main content

teaching through trade books

Starting With Science

The start of the school year is a great time to engage students in and allow them to develop their interest in science. As the Next Generation Science Standards states, “[t]he actual doing of science or engineering can also pique students’ curiosity, capture their interest, and motivate their continued study; the insights thus gained help them recognize that the work of scientists and engineers is a creative endeavor—one that has deeply affected the world they live in” (NGSS 2013, p. 2). This month’s investigations and book selections help to generate that curiosity about science while helping students learn to use science and engineering practices (SEP).

Ada Twist, Scientist By Andrea Beaty

Ada Twist, Scientist
By Andrea Beaty
Illustrated by David Roberts
ISBN: 978-1419721373
Abrams Books for Young Readers
32 pages
Grades K–2

A curious young girl named Ada Marie Twist has decided she is a scientist and, as such, questions everything! She explores different ways to answer the questions she has, although not always in the way her parents prefer. As her parents help her “think through” these questions, she becomes better at pursuing answers.

11 Experiments That Failed By Jenny Offill

11 Experiments That Failed
By Jenny Offill
Illustrated by Nancy Carpenter
ISBN: 978-0-545-57188-3
40 pages
Grades 1–5

This book presents the reader with a series of science experiments. They are introduced to developing and testing hypotheses and the type of information gathered throughout the process. Altogether there are 12 different hypotheses presented, along with details on what is needed to try it, what the scientist needs to do, and the outcome.

Grades K–2:  I Can Be a Scientist


Students describe the practices that are used as tools when scientists work.


  • Ada Twist, Scientist
  • chart paper
  • markers
  • bowl of fruit
  • Supplemental Resources (Pictures and I Can Be a Scientist Sheets) at
  • Online Resources (Science and Engineering Practices (SEP) posters and SEP matrix)


Read Ada Twist, Scientist, to the class all the way through as a read-aloud. Engage the students in a conversation about Ada and why they think she is called a scientist in the title of the book. Begin to introduce the idea and guide the discussion to help students focus on actions or behaviors a scientist does that help them to investigate and learn more about science. Make a list of their responses on chart paper. Share the Science and Engineering Practices posters (see Online Resources) one at a time and discuss what each means. Allow students to describe when they might have used any of these practices in daily life. To determine what is developmentally appropriate, there is a matrix available that explains what targets are for each practice at the K–2 level (see Online Resources).


To help students begin to use the practices, there are a series of discussions that use pictures or other objects that can be used to prompt student thinking. Share each picture and/or object with the class one at a time and ask them to think about and discuss the following questions. Record student ideas on chart paper.

Asking Questions and Defining Problems: (Picture #1 & #2)

What are things that you can observe happening in this picture? What questions do you have based on something you observed that you would like to find out more information about? How can we find out more information? (look something up, investigation, etc.).

Is there a problem that you can identify in this picture? ?

Developing and Using Models: (Picture #3 and Bowl of Real Fruit)

What is the difference between the picture and a bowl of fruit? What is the same between them?

If I said a model (picture) represents something that is real (bowl of fruit), why would the picture be a model? What are other examples of models that you know about? What do they represent? (i.e., water cycle)

Planning and Carrying Out Investigations: (Pictures #4 and #5)

What is an investigation? Why is it important that scientists investigate? What types of things do scientists investigate? What are some questions that you have about these pictures that could be investigated?

What are some things that you would do to test questions you have?

Analyzing and Interpreting Data: (Pictures #6 and #7)

What kind of information do we keep track of in an investigation? What are ways we can record this information?

What information do these graphs help tell us? What are examples of data that we can collect in our classroom?

Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking: (Picture #8)

What are some examples of patterns that we see in our world? (phases of the Moon, seasons, etc.) How do we use numbers to help us understand these patterns? What do the patterns in the pictures communicate?

What are some ways that we can use numbers to compare groups of objects?

Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions: (Pictures #1, 2, 4, & 5)

Look back at the pictures from before. IF you were asked to explain what was happening in these photos, what would you say? What information supports your explanation?

Why is it important that scientists have information to support their thinking?

Engaging in Argument from Evidence: (Picture #9)

What is the difference between fact and opinion and evidence that was collected? Can you give an example of each? What would be an opinion about the jellybeans in the picture? What would be a fact?

Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

What are different ways that we can obtain or get information? How do we make sure the information is accurate? What are ways we share information with others?


Post the different practices posters to serve as a reference for the Explain part of the lesson. Return to the story and discuss what the students think about the points on the following pages and ask the students to consider which practice Ada might be using in each situation.

pp. 1–2:  What would be some things that Ada could observe from her crib? What does the word observe mean? What types of sights or sounds might she observe in the house during the day?

pp. 5–6:  Ada goes on a “fact-finding” spree. What are facts? Why are they important to scientists? What would be a fact on the pages? What would be an opinion?

pp. 7–8:  Using the questions on page 7, which are “why” questions, help the students consider these topics as “what,” “how,” or “when” questions. For example, the question of “why does it tick and why does it tock?” might be “when does it tick and when does it tock?” or “how often does it tick or tock?” Write out the original question and the modified questions on chart paper. Which of these modified questions could we investigate? What other practices could we use to help us investigate?

pp. 9–10: Look at the questions that are part of the illustration. Discuss when you might ask each type of question? What does each question type help us answer? If Ada wanted to learn more about the planets in the drawing, how could she find this information?

pp. 11–12: Ada had the traits of a great scientist. What are traits? What do you think traits of a great scientist might be?

pp. 13–18: Ask students to identify the words in the text that are things a scientist does, thinks about, or can use to gather information. Which of these did you do during the discussion activity?

pp. 23–24: What did Ada think about as she sat in the chair? What did she start to do about the questions she had? How can we keep track of questions we have during the day?

pp. 27–28: Ada’s parents helped do something that is important for science and scientists. What was it? Why do you think it is important?

Last, revisit the original ideas that students had about actions they could use or ways to investigate a question. Ask them to identify if the idea represents a practice and if it is similar to something Ada did in the story.


Ada loved to draw and record her ideas in the Great Thinking Hall. Using the practices sheets (see Supplemental Resources), create your own I Can Be a Scientist book by drawing or sketching something that will help you remember each practice. Include a description or words as well. Share your ideas with other class members after you have created your own book.


Initially, students are engaged in a group discussion about their ideas of what a scientist is and how they act based on the reading of the book. Students are then asked to engage in discussions about each practice and connect it back to the book. Finally, students make personal connections about how they could use each practice by creating their own personal “scientist book.”

Grades 3–5: Practicing the Practices


Students explore the science and engineering practices and discuss how each assists in engaging in and learning about science.


  • 11 Experiments That Failed
  • Supplemental Resources (Practices Set-Up Information, Practicing the Practices Sheet, two plants, and additional children’s books (see suggestions under Additional Books) at


Share the cover of 11 Experiments That Failed with the class, ask the students the question, “How do you know if an experiment fails?” and allow the students to share their thinking. As students are sharing their thinking, help guide them to an understanding that they must have an idea of the outcome ahead of time to know if the experiment “failed” or not. Allow the students to look at the first two-page spread with a diagram and the word hypothesis on it. Ask them to describe what they think the diagram represents, what the child thinks will happen if this works, and how that idea “should happen” in this sequence of events. Continue to share the story with the students stopping at the following points and discussing the questions. Other experiments will be discussed later in the Explain section.

Experiments With Food: Safety Note: Remind students that they should never place anything in their mouth during a science lesson.

Share the two double-page spreads with them and engage them in a discussion about the proposed experiment. Is this something they think they would want to test? What does test mean when experimenting? How would they test it? After allowing students to consider these questions, point out the headers used within the experiment, including the question, hypothesis, what they need, etc. Ask the students why they think these steps or focus points are important in an experiment. Share a list of the science and engineering practices with the students and briefly discuss each. Ask them to think about these actions or things that a scientist can do to learn about a topic as you continue to share the book with the students as a read-aloud. As you do read, ask the students to list the different actions or things that are being done to help perform the experiments. Possible points for engagement are the following:

What Makes a Fungus Grow? (Planning and Carrying Out Investigations; Analyzing and Interpreting Data). What does the character do to answer the question and test their hypothesis? What type of information do you think would be recorded?

Experiments With Animals: (Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking). Ask the students to explain why the gerbil didn’t go on the ride in the end. Have you ever been on a ride where they said you were too short or measured at home to know how tall you or a sibling is?

Can a Live Beaver Be Ordered Through the Mail? (Asking Questions and Defining Problems). What are some problems scientists might have in testing questions?

Can a Message Be Sent in a Bottle to a Faraway Land? (Engaging in Argument from Evidence). Using the pictures, what evidence can you point out that helps to support the statement that the toilet overflowed?


Teacher notes: The science and engineering practices are one of three dimensions within A Framework for K–12 Science Education. Within this book, it is also stated that learning is a combination of knowledge and practices. Each of the following tasks has both content that could be part of the curriculum and will use science and engineering practices. The practices are listed for the teacher but should not be given to the students at this point. Each task has more information and detail for the task and a student sheet where students can record their information.

Task #1: Asking Questions and Defining Problems; Planning and Carrying Out Investigations

Materials for setting up this station are in the Practices Set-Up Information (see Supplemental Resources). Provide two different plants for the students to observe—one of which was watered and placed in appropriate sunlight and the other of which wasn’t placed in the appropriate amount of sunlight but has been watered with the same amount of water. Ask student groups to discuss the key questions on the Practicing the Practices Sheet (see Supplemental Resources), which includes focus questions about variables, writing a testable question, possible tasks that could be done, and the type of data collected.

Task #2: Developing and Using Models

Have students consider what they know or think they know about what plants need to grow. Ask them to create a diagram or sketch that helps to explain one of the possible experiments they could set up to test their questions about plants. Ask them to include information about the variables they would test, what they think will happen, and other relevant information.

Task #3: Analyzing and Interpreting Data; Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking; Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions

Using the information provided about plant growth, ask the students to organize the information, create a way to represent the data, and then construct an explanation about plant growth based on the data. As students work on these three practices, remind them to refer to the data as they construct their explanation.

Task #4: Engaging in Argument from Evidence

Using the list of reasons provided related to plant growth, have students discuss if each is a fact, reasoned judgment based on the data or findings, or speculation that is not based on information. Have the student refer back to the data sets from task 3; there are two different claims made about the data on their Practicing the Practices Sheet. Ask them to evaluate the claim and either support or refute the claim made with evidence.

Task #5: Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

Ask the groups to develop an infographic that helps to explain the initial question about plant growth. As they create this, they should ensure that information from the data is incorporated. They should also make a final statement regarding their understanding of plant growth.


After the students have engaged in the different tasks and listed the science and engineering practices, ask the students where they used each of the practices in their investigations. The following are some guiding questions that can be used to help students consider the use of the practices:

  • Why do you think a scientist would use two different plants to observe? In this investigation, what was the variable being tested? Which of the SEPs do you think were being used here?
  • Sometimes models will help make initial connections for both students and scientists. How did you create a model to show your initial understanding and ideas about what might happen?
  • What type of data were you examining? How was this data organized? Why would using a graph help interpret that data? Which SEPs does the use of data and organizing that data hit?
  • After you created a graph, what were you able to do in regard to the impact of sunlight on plant growth? What practice would this be?
  • We often hear different information and need to make an informed decision. What are the basic ways you could classify information (fact, fiction, opinion)? How does data or evidence help when making a reasonable statement?
  • What is a claim? Why is evidence important to a claim? Which of the SEPs is used when making a claim?

After discussing how the plant investigations used the practices, point out that the book told us what happened in the sections marked “what happened?” A follow-up question of “How do scientists tell us what they learned in real experiments?” helps move the discussion to the practice of obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information.


One of the ways scientists share findings is through presentations, posters, or other media. They also obtain information through these different means. Provide students with the listed children’s books about plants and ask them to use information from the books and from the tasks to put together a short presentation about what plants need to grow.


At the start of this lesson, students discuss what an experiment is. As they progress, they use plants to demonstrate their understanding of the different science and engineering practices. Finally, they use the practice of communicating information to present their understanding of plant growth.

Additional Books

Blackaby, S. 2003. Plant packages: A book about seeds. Minneapolis, MN: Picture Window Books.

Gaines, J. 2019. We are the gardeners. Nashville, TN: Tommy Nelson.

Knowles, L. 2016. It starts with a seed. Lake Forest, CA: Words and Pictures.

Lauber, P. 1994. Be a friend to trees. New York: Harper Collins.

Lowery, L.F. 2013. How does a plant grow? Arlington, VA: NSTA Press.

Messner, K. 2015. Up in the garden and down in the dirt. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.

Online Resources

Science and Engineering Practices Matrix

Science and Engineering Practices Posters

Christine Anne Royce ( is a professor at Shippensburg University in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, and past president of NSTA.

Careers Instructional Materials Literacy Early Childhood Elementary

Asset 2