Welcome to ON(line)SC's Virtual Learning!
Writing Like a Scientist
Good morning, Naturalists!
The past few weeks, we've had a chance to learn a lot about science in nature. We've listened, watched, and participated in many different parts of these topics, but let's turn our attention to what we've done the most-reading! In today's activities, we'll have a chance to practice writing like a scientist!
How is writing like a scientist different from other sorts of writing? Do animals talk and wear clothes in scientific writing? Fictional works can beautifully describe nature, but they can also add make-believe or include exaggerations. Scientific writing must be as accurate as possible. Precise details are often needed. Instead of saying something is big or small, careful measurements are given. Sometimes graphs are used to help the reader better understand what the writer is trying to say. Often before writing a scientific paper, scientists must gather information discovered by other people. Any source of information that helps us make discoveries is called a resource. What (or who) are some resources you can use to help you write?
Some of the most fun and easily-found resources are online, where there are many amazing discoveries to be made. But are all resources reliable? Unfortunately, you must be careful to make sure that the resources you're looking at are giving you accurate information. The most reliable websites can be those ending in “.gov” or “.edu”, and we recommend that you check any information you find with multiple sources. If you have access to them, books and magazines are other resources; but remember to fact-check those as well!
Often when you find one source, it leads you to others. Before many scientists begin a project, we gather all the information we can in just this way. When writing an article, be careful to include in your paper all the sources of information you used. This is called citing; it is how scientists give credit to papers or books that have helped them. It also allows other readers to check which resources those scientists used. The most basic citations include the author's names and the title of their works, but might include other information such as the year the work was published, as well as page numbers.
Here's an example of a nature quote with a citation. This gives the author credit and allows readers to find the resources the writer used. This can be a way to find even more interesting information!
Another great way to learn about nature is with your own senses. Nature is right outside your window, ready to be observed. Outside, you might sit quietly to see what happens, or you could investigate plants or small animals by looking closely, with or without a magnifying lens. You can also view nature from indoors. If you have a backyard, bird feeders can be a great addition to attract these beautiful and interesting animals. And even if you don’t have a backyard, there are feeders that can be attached to windows. That being said, you do not need feeders or other tools to make discoveries about nature from inside your house. For example, at night you may see beautiful moths at your windows. Taking notes and photographs are great ways to record your discoveries. Once you start looking, it's easy to find a specimen, which is anything you can study.
A very important way that scientists gather information is with experiments and formal investigations. These may take just a short while, months, or even years. In an experiment, the scientist will have some variable that he wants to test. For example, it may be about how much nitrogen a plant needs to grow. The scientist will carefully plan his experiment. He will test different levels of nitrogen on a set of plants. He has to control the other variables. What does this mean? It means that everything about the plants must be exactly the same, except for the nitrogen. The age of all the plants must be the same, all the other nutrients added must be the same for each plant, the amount of light, the amount of water – everything except nitrogen levels must be the same. Then all these identical plants are given different amounts of nitrogen, carefully measured and recorded. Throughout the experiment, measurements are made such as the size of the plant, how well it flowers, and finally, how much fruit does it bear and how big are they. Then the scientist will analyze his data, using mathematics. All this information will help the scientist come to a conclusion. Is that everything? Not quite. To be sure of accuracy, scientists repeat experiments many times to see if they get the same results.
Scientists use tools-instruments that help us gather information about specimens- to make discoveries. What are some tools you have in your home? Remember that not all tools are high-tech!
Today, we will practice taking notes about what we notice when we are looking at nature. This is one way to gather information. To do this, you will want to choose a natural specimen. Perhaps you choose a bird, insect, flower, or even a rock you've found in your yard. Before we look at resources to learn about this specimen, take some time to use tools to describe your specimen. Pretend that you are the first person to ever discover this specimen-what information would you want to share with other scientists? In your journal, make a drawing or include a photograph of your specimen, with labels for things such as size, colors, shapes, and the location and time you made your discovery.
From there, use this information to look at resources to identify your specimen. If you don't know what it is, a good way to start is to use a search engine and search for “Online field guide to (birds/rocks/butterflies/whatever you found) of (state/region)”. You can also use apps like Seek or iNaturalist to help. Of course, you should only do these things with your parents' permission!
Field guides can tell you a lot about what lives in an area.
After you have identified your specimen (or not-sometimes you can't identify a specimen entirely, and it's okay if the most you can say is that your specimen is “a small, brown moth” or “an unknown sparrow”), take some time to look at some resources that tell you more information about it. Imagine you are writing a short article for a magazine or book-what do you want your readers to know about your specimen?
Most writings of this type include a title, an introduction (where you tell them your main focus and give a summary of your writing), a main body (several paragraphs that contain most of your information-remember to include both the observations you made and the research you did!), and a conclusion (where you give another summary of what you wrote and tell your audience why they should care about your topic). Like we did yesterday, creating an outline before you start writing is very helpful!
If you think your discoveries are really exciting, you can submit your article to your school newspaper or even to a kid-focused magazine. Of course, we always love seeing all of your creative work here at ONSC, if you want to share it with us at Socialmedia@onsc.us or on Facebook!
In fact, if you are interested in creating a more in-depth article to share, we will be hosting the “Naturalist Grab Bag” week in two weeks-the perfect time to share what you know about a favorite topic in nature! We will be taking submissions for this week until Friday May 8th, at 12pm CST. If you are submitting a piece of writing for this, make sure you include the words “grab bag week” in your email or message! We only ask that all the work, including pictures, are created by you.
We hope you discover amazing science in your own yard! Happy exploring!
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