Book a Call
Join a Training

Diffusion Investigation Activity - Tweaked to Consider Uncertainty More ;)

grades 6-8 math science strategies tweaked lesson plans vizualizations

Tweaked Lesson Plans 

This article is part of the “LP Tweaks” blog series showcasing how small adjustments to the questions, organization, and/or data moves within your existing curriculum can help align the learning to different data skills for your learners. This original lesson is strong, and the intention is not to communicate otherwise but rather to share how you could adjust things for a different desired outcome.

Written by: Naomi W



Your students are working on HS- LS1-1, “Construct an explanation based on evidence for how the structure of DNA determines the structure of proteins which carry out the essential functions of life through systems of specialized cells”. And you come across a great data-based lesson from Jessica Kohout around using scientific data on diffusion (“Diffusion Investigation” adapted from Texas Instruments’s Biology: Diffusion Data Collection Lab). Your students have been studying structure and function in this unit and you are always looking for more opportunities to get them collecting data and graphing to help the content pop. This lesson seems promising to help your students use the data also to more deeply understand rates of diffusion.

However, based on your student's performance in the last unit you are looking to give them more time to “Refer to uncertainty when reasoning about data” in a practiced way to deepen their “Articulating Uncertainty” skills (see Building Blocks for Data Literacy to explore the corresponding data skills of these areas more).

You are torn, you like the Diffusion Investigation lesson from Jessica Kohout, but you are worried the questions aren’t directly getting at the data skills your learners need to practice at this point in the year, but the content is. What can you do?

Let’s check out some easy optional tweaks to make the lesson more what you are looking for now for your students.

Here is an example of how we can add a few questions to the lesson to more directly help your current students practice data skills we know they are weaker on (or we are more interested in targeting this specific data interaction) at this point in the year.

First, let’s make sure students have a good amount of data to use to consider their certainty in claims. Thus, we can encourage them to collect data on more than one kind of concentration across their trials. Another option is to jigsaw this across the class so that each small group collects multiple trials on a specific concentration and then they need to use their own AND someone else’s data in their analysis. Even though they will be looking at one graph, they will be looking at a variety of solutions and their diffusion rates…and more data deepens what they can conclude. Each solution has its own distinct diffusion rate. 

And because it never hurts to drop reminders to include units of measurement throughout, we added that here ;)

Ok, so that sets us up for more success to practice this data skill. Now, let’s think about what we can add in the reasoning steps for our students.

We can shift up the order of the questions and add a few prompting questions to specifically help students “Refer to uncertainty when reasoning about data” in grades in high school appropriate ways. They do not add a large amount to the workload of the students, but they do provide more targeted practice of these skills. These new questions will help the students practice considering aspects of data collection that could influence their conclusions. This also helps them more deeply explore the data with a critical lens…which plants the seed for why we seemingly constantly remind them about following data protocols.

These added questions are explicitly designed to help the students dive deeper into how to consider their collected data to better understand phenomena or problems directly. Therefore, with the addition of a handful of new suggestions you can use this exciting new lesson you found while also better aligning it with your current learners' needs and/or your desired focus areas for your learners to practice data skills.

To me, that feels like a win-win…using a lesson that you like with a more strategic data focus to help learners build their skills :)

Will this exact tweak work for everyone or every lesson? Absolutely not!

In fact, the other suggested adjustments in this lesson would help students that are needing to work on their “Recognizing and Describing Variability” skills at this time of the year. They can use investigative strategies to handle and account for variability in the data collection, analysis, and interpretation of the different solutions and rates of diffusion.

Or if students are struggling to “Create data visualizations”, specifically the plotting of data values into the graph, you can use the suggested prompt about making a data table before making the graph. Be sure to remind students that they can look at the same multiple data points of the rates of diffusion in the T-Chart and the Graph. Each offers different possibilities of insights from the data. Students often make mistakes when converting data from a data table into a graph. This is why I have them make a T-Chart first. It is a math skill that they need to work on as well.