Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Science Activity - Picture of the Day

A science "picture of the day" is a terrific tool for helping students to begin to analyze information and think critically.  It is also another tool to begin to teach the scientific method skills of observation, hypotheses and drawing conclusions.  Beyond all that, it's just plain fun!  Here's how to make thinking fun...


When you look for your picture of the day, you want it to be something that is imminently going to happen, in the process of happening or has some element of guessing required to figure out what is happening in the picture.  The more outlandish and difficult to figure out what is happening, the better for having fun, both as the teacher and student.  Giving students the excitement of wanting to come to class the next time to see what the new picture of the day is, is a great way to engage them in your science class.  I often found pictures that had something unusual about them or an element of something weird or squeamish to make it intriguing for the kids.  Here are a few samples below:

*photographs from National Geographic webpage

I always made sure that I knew what the real story was behind the picture so in the end, if it wasn't able to be correctly deciphered, I could inform the students of what they were really seeing happen.  My favorite places to find photos were:

Lastly, I would google search an idea I might have such as "man slipping on banana" or "house falling into lake" if I had something specific in mind.  There are many places online to find cool photos.  I would print them out on 8x11 paper and then show them to the class and let them pass it around.


When beginning, you will need to define the terms that the students will have to understand and become familiar with.  Be patient, it will take them several weeks of doing this activity before they will really begin to get them down, and even longer before they become proficient in all three.  There are three main terms:
  • Observation - what is visible to the eye (we would call "facts")
  • Inference - a logical conclusion based upon the "facts" (observations)
  • Prediction - a perceived idea of what could possibly happen but may not necessarily be based upon the facts observed (the kids like this one the best of course!)


Once you have defined what observation is then you will want to ask the class to tell you what they can observe happening in the picture.  Make sure to steer them towards only what is visible.  They will initially want to get into predictions right off the bat!  I often would model in the first few weeks by giving them one observation of my own.  Let's use the picture above of the Otter as an example for explanation purposes.  An observation could be anything like:  he's an otter, he has teeth, he is in the water, there are rocks in the background, it's daytime, etc.  You get the point.  Don't let them get off into inferences or predictions.  Just keep to what they can observe from the picture that is fact.  Observation is a key skill that scientist must develop to be excellent in their field.


Inference is probably the hardest thing to teach your students initially.  Inference is what you can logically conclude from the facts.  My experience is that younger students especially, tend to want to jump right to predictions from the get go!  It takes patience and continual reminders of the definition of inference to help them hone this skill.  As they throw out answers that are more along the lines of predictions, I would restate the definition and ask them to try again.  If we use our Otter example above; a logical conclusion could be something like "The Otter is eating a fish".


This is where the kids have fun and imaginations run wild!  The students enjoyed coming up with outlandish explanations for what they saw.  Pretty much anything can go with this particular one.  If we  continue with our Otter it might be something like; "The Otter will finish eating the fishes head and then he will take it and jump across the rocks to bring the other half to his wife, who is waiting for him on the other side."  The students really get excited with this one since they can elaborate and imagine beyond the immediate action at hand.  Encourage them to have fun with it, while still sticking to the task at hand.  Allow some silly as well as more probable predictions.  It helps to build the fun into this exercise and make the students look forward to the next picture of the day exercise.


While a picture of the day can be done at any time during the class, I have found doing them to start the class not only creates anticipation and excitement to come to class, but it also sets the tone for contemplation and classroom discussion for the day.

A few different ways you can use the picture of the day are:

  • Classroom Activity - Have everyone look at the picture together and then raise their hands to answer the questions as you go through the three steps and discuss it as a group.  We used this method last year in our Schole' group for all classes.  
  • Science Notebooks - Have them each keep a science notebook and write three to five answers for each question.  Discuss the answers as a class.
  • Worksheet - Provide a worksheet with a small picture of the day on it, have them write three to five answers for each question.  Turn them in and grade/comment on them.
  • Paragraph Format - Have the students write a paragraph describing what they observe, infer and predict about the picture of the day.  Have them share or turn in.
  • Classroom Assignment - Assign older students the task of finding a picture of the day (reading the story behind it and writing it up in brief format to bring to class along with the photograph) then have them lead the class activity.
  • Not Science - Use as an activity to teach inferring reading skills instead of science!
I hope you will consider using a picture of the day in your classes this year!  It's lots of fun!

1 comment:

  1. Great idea! We've done lots of observing pictures, but never put the prediction element into it before. Thanks for sharing!