Title: Using product testing to incorporate media literacy into a middle school science classroom

Authors: John Heath and Sandy Stiles
Grade Level: Middle School Science 7/8

For additional free online lessons integrating media literacy and critical thinking into the curriculum, go to www.projectlooksharp.org.

Summary: This activity, ultimately leading to a science fair, is designed to enhance the physical science curriculum and further deepen understandings by focusing the experiments on product testing. Product testing allows the teachers to introduce media literacy skills while still allowing for the pursuit of initial curricular goals and certain motivating factors such as student choice, experiential learning and authentic audience. Further, product testing gives the students a chance to work on concrete projects on topics of interest to them. Students can test anything from waterproof mascara to toilet paper and compare their results to product claims. After the projects are completed, there are a variety of extensions and opportunities for student production (for example, PSA's, Environmental Impact Statements, product advertisements, and so forth.)


Curricular: Students will,
  • gain knowledge of the scientific method with an authentic project
  • development skills in writing a good hypothesis
  • learn how to write a procedure
  • learn how to design a controlled experiment
  • learn how to gather, organize and present data for an authentic audience
  • learn the concepts of independent, dependent and controlled variables
  • enhance skills in searching for appropriate and useful information
  • enhance skills in critical reading and analysis
  • enhance skills in creating platforms for communicating information.

Media Literacy: Students will understand the basic tenets of media literacy, specifically focusing on the points that all media are constructed and that all media have a message. Students will also understand what product claims are and learn how to analyze them.

Other: As teachers, our goal was to investigate the effects of using three motivational factors to foster deeper understanding of the curriculum and media literacy goals, namely, student choice, experiential learning and authentic audience. For the students, we were also interested in fostering the satisfaction that comes from working through problems with a long-term goal in mind.

NOTE: to view SMART notebook files that are attached below, you can download the software for free at http://smarttech.com/us/Support/Browse+Support/Download+Software

Lesson Steps
1. Pre-loading activity: During the weeks before the official launch, show students videos of middle school science fair projects to give them a general understanding of the concept. Some examples of actual experiments are given below.Glowing Water and Teaching Crickets
2. Introduce students to media literacy with some decoding activities.

3. Do a model mini-project with students involving testing three different wood glues. First show classes an Elmer's glue commercial and ask students to decode it. Then as a group, show classes 3 different wood glue websites and ask them to decode them: Gorilla Glue, Elemer's Glue and Sumo Glue.
For information about leading a decoding see , watch the short video: "Leading a Constructivist Media Decoding", and see and other resources at www.projectlooksharp.org.

4. Set up experiment and have the students follow the procedure to test the glues. (see attached.)
Brain-storm ideas for products students would be interested in testing and form partner / teams around common interests.

5. Once the product types are chosen, students investigate their backgrounds, usually by looking in Wikipedia, which works quite well.

6. Ask students to find the chemical make-up of each product. This is done in a variety of ways: When available, use Material Safety Data Sheets. The packaging itself may have information (but often it doesn't), and Wikipedia also has ingredients listed under general categories, such as "hairspray."
7. Ask students to find the product claims for each product and list them out.

8. Using the information gathered, students should work on phrasing the final question to be answered and creating a hypothesis.

9. With the help of teachers, students will write procedures to test the hypothesis and list materials needed. In some cases, procedures can be difficult to figure out, so further research may be necessary. Look in magazine databases (such as Electric Library) for sources such as "Consumer Reports" or Google the particulars. Each way can be effective for different products; no one way works in every situation.

10. Students buy the products (or have them purchased for them) and run the experiments in any venue that works, school or home. In practice, students have needed a lot of hands-on time with teachers. Because of this, mentors from the rest of the staff can be recruited to spread out the work involved.

11. Students record information in data tables.

12. Students are coached in creating the final documents prior to presentation: creating results tables on Word, graphing the data on "Create-a-graph" found online, writing an analysis of the data, and composing a conclusion statement. The conclusion statement should reflect the results of the experiments compared to the product claims. Writing sentence starters is often helpful. Here's ones that could help with the conclusion.

13. An opportunity for collaboration can enhance this project. ELA teachers can work with students to create a persuasive writing piece about their winning product. Posters on glogster.com would be interesting and reinforce what was learned through the experiments. PSA's can be written that reflect the impact that the winning product has on the environment, which can then be filmed if desired. Environmental Impact Statements can be written, using a format appropriate to middle school. Students can create videos of the science fair to show future students.

Additional Resources/Background Information:

To help students plan their projects and organize the information to be collected, workbooks can be created. Below are some sample pages which can be adapted as needed.

This lesson was produced during 2010-2011 as part of a collaboration between Project Look Sharp at Ithaca College and four NY State BOCES School Library Systems. The initiative brought together pairs of secondary science teachers and school librarians to develop models for integrating critical thinking and media literacy into secondary science content. The project was supported by federal LSTA funds awarded to the NY State Library by the Federal Institute of Museum and Library Services.
To view additional lessons from this series go to: www.projectlooksharp.org.