MESMERIZED: Bringing the Scientific Method to Life
Written by: Shea Payne
With an additional blog post link from Chandra Verbic of C. Jayne Teach
Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin solved a Mystery that Baffled All of France
Written by: Mara Rockliff Illustrated by: Iacopo Bruno
The day Ben Franklin first set foot in Paris, France, he found the city all abuzz. Everyone was talking about something new. Something remarkable, thrilling and strange. Something called Science!
But soon, the straightforward American inventor Benjamin Franklin is upstaged by a compelling and enigmatic figure: Dr. Mesmer. In elaborately staged shows, Mesmer, wearing a fancy coat of purple silk and carrying an iron wand, convinces the people of Paris that he controls a magic force that can make water taste like a hundred different things, cure illness, and control thoughts! But Ben Franklin is not convinced. Will his practical approach of observing, hypothesizing, and testing get to the bottom of the mysterious Mesmer’s tricks? A rip-roaring, lavishly illustrated peek into a fascinating moment in history shows the development and practice of the scientific method—and reveals the amazing power of the human mind. (Via Good Reads)
Teaching students the scientific method is a way of bringing critical thinking and problem solving into your science curriculum. It sparks the interest of budding inventors, curious questioners and kids who just want to know how things work! The scientific method is found in every curriculum in every state and can be easily incorporated into any grade level curriculum by using this wonderfully creative and beautifully illustrated picture book.
In my 4th grade class we used this book to guide a project based lesson on using the scientific method where we created inventions that might be used to solve common problems in everyday life. The students kept and inventor’s “notebook” (we used a section of our interactive science notebooks) , where they recorded their steps through the scientific method, their data, experiments, ideas, drawings and anything else they found useful to help them complete their task. That information was then used to design a final writing piece where the student walked the reader through his/her scientific process from start to finish.
We began our lesson by reading the book and discussing how and why Franklin felt compelled to prove Dr. Mesmer wrong. The book is beautifully illustrated and very interesting, so my students loved it! As we went through the book, we paid special attention to how Franklin went through the scientific method to answer his own questions about Dr. Mesmer’s powers.
For homework that evening, the students were to come up with two common problems that either they or their family faced. The next day, we went through each student’s problems and we discussed if there was already an inexpensive solution, if there was a way to solve the problem and how might we go about coming up with a solution. This took a little time, and in fact, I broke this up into two days. We narrowed it down to four problems that we thought we could solve. Our problems were…
- How to keep your cats from eating dangerous houseplants
- How to keep your ear buds from getting tangled up in your backpack
- Fly repellant
- How to keep rugs from rolling up on the corners
The students then chose a problem that they wanted to work on to create a solution or invention that would solve the issue. They were all given the option to work alone or work with a partner or group. Every student chose to work with a partner or a group. From there, we progressed through each step of the scientific method, one step at a time, recording everything as we went along.
When it came to conducting an experiment, the students brought in their materials and conducted the majority of their experiment at school. The only exception was trying the spray on a plant and testing it with a real cat. That was done at home.
After the projects were created, the students took their notes and wrote a final project draft from the first question to the end product. They included a drawing and diagram of their final product. In two of the projects, we had actual prototypes!
From the day we read the book to the day we presented our projects, this activity took seven days. The students LOVED the creative problem solving and I will definitely be using this lesson again!
About the Author: Shea Payne is a 4th grade teacher at The Discovery School @ Bellwood in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. She enjoys spending time with her family, sewing and looking for exciting new ways to teach her students.
Since this book was such a hit, another friend of mine also blogged about using Mesmerized in the classroom. Visit C. Jayne Teach to view Chandra Verbic's extensively thorough blog post titled: Mesmerized: Collliding Science and Social Studies through PBL