# 8th grader struggling to answer science questions

## Recommended Posts

My 8th grader is having a difficult time answering the questions in her science text (Rainbow Science).  She seems to have very little ability to infer (I think that's the right word) an answer if it's not explicitly stated in the text.  For example, today it asked the question, "On the basis of the rules of nature, would you predict that a rock would ever hop up on top of another by itself?"  Her answer was, "No."  I asked her to explain in complete sentences and she could not.  The answer they wanted was something along the lines of, "No.  It takes directed energy to place one rock on top of another.  The probability of one particular rock increasing its own potential energy to end up on top of another defeats the laws of nature."

To summarize the text....it basically said that energy is the price paid to do useful work and that any time there's a lift off the ground it takes a payment of energy.  It talked about if someone wanted to lift a 1,000 lb block of rock off the ground, it couldn't happen on it's own but would need a machine designed for the task that could be direction, fuel to do the task, and someone/something directing the machine to work the plan.

Should DD be able to come up with some variation of the desired response based on this text?  This has been an ongoing problem with this science.  If she should be able to come up with a reasonable explanation, what do I need to do to get her to that point?  I don't even know how to begin teaching her to reason and draw conclusions.  We've done some logic.  I've talked through my reasoning process for various things for years.  How do you teaching a kid to THINK?

##### Share on other sites

Honestly, yes, if the chapter is talking about kinetic and potential energy.  How that question would go in our house is to mount a defense of the answer using evidence.  Her answer is 'no'.  The question asks her to use the rules of nature to determine why or why not.  I would direct my child back to the text, make them find the rules given, tease them out and write down a summation of each one if not explicit, and then use that to create a full answer.

We do a lot of highlighting in our house.  A lot.  I give my kids the yellow pencils from their colored pencil sets for this specific sort of task because it doesn't bleed through the paper.  Middle schoolers tend to have brain fog brought on by puberty, but it's something that should be an "okay, we're going to work with this" and not "this is an excuse and I won't expect anything".

##### Share on other sites

I imagine the conversation would go:

No

Why not?

Cause

Cause why?

Because a rock can’t move itself

Why not? What rule explains it?

##### Share on other sites

See, my answer would be no because a rock is not alive and cannot move itself.  But I'm one of those non-science people that science people don't understand when everything is so obvious to them.  So I'm going to say some 8th graders could answer that, and some could not, and I am very smart with a math degree, and I could not give that answer.  So I don't know what to tell you other than that curriculum might not be a good fit for your dd.

##### Share on other sites

I would use any questions like this as the basis for further discussion.  I absolutely would not worry about an inability to articulate an answer independently.

##### Share on other sites

I tutor science, and in my experience most students require training to be able to write full written answers using scientific principles, how much training depends on the level of science and the complexity of the question.  Personally, in 8th grade, I would not be expecting a student to write that answer because the question is a bit inane. In that situation, I would just read the answer out loud and then discuss it, rather than expecting a student to produce it.

If you want me to, I can describe how I teach students to write complete scientific answers.

Ruth in NZ

##### Share on other sites

Honestly, answering those types of questions by writing complete sentences throughout late elementary and early middle school were what made me think I didn’t want to be a scientist, despite having lots of natural ability in the area and very strong math skills. Fortunately, my interest in science was saved by an amazing eighth grade teacher who had us doing college level experiments and didn’t use a textbook at all. It might be better to spend the time discussing the concepts and questions with her rather than having her write answers in complete sentences. It will also likely help you to better pinpoint the exact problem.

##### Share on other sites

21 minutes ago, lewelma said:

I tutor science, and in my experience most students require training to be able to write full written answers using scientific principles, how much training depends on the level of science and the complexity of the question.  Personally, in 8th grade, I would not be expecting a student to write that answer because the question is a bit inane. In that situation, I would just read the answer out loud and then discuss it, rather than expecting a student to produce it.

If you want me to, I can describe how I teach students to write complete scientific answers.

Ruth in NZ

Not the op, but I would really like to hear how you teach this skill!

##### Share on other sites

Rainbow Science doesn't have a lot of text for each concept. I liked it for that & how the experiments were meant to teach just as much as the words.

It is ok if she can't answer in complete sentences as long as she's getting the concepts correct. I'd read the answer & discuss it & then see if she could explain it in her own words. If yes, great. If no, move on. She'll see it again later.

##### Share on other sites

23 minutes ago, TCB said:

Not the op, but I would really like to hear how you teach this skill!

Well, it is like teaching English.  First, it is about purpose and audience.  Your student must really understand that the purpose is to explain scientific principles and how they apply to a specific example. For audience, your kid needs to pick an actual person they know who is *interested* in science, but just completely uneducated or just needs to have things explained slowly and in detail.  Believe it or not, finding an real life person to write the answer *to* is critical, because otherwise the kids won't write the detail, because the answer is obvious to them so in their mind should be obvious to everyone.  They need to write to someone where the answer won't be obvious.  So like grandpa, who loves science but is a bit slower than he used to be and you have to really explain it well with every possible link.

Once you have the purpose and audience, then you have to study answers. What makes a good answer? How is it structured?  This is English skills again. So do the model answers use equations to explain? How many connections do they make? (connections between ideas are key to a good answer) Do they have a topic sentence, an explanation, and then an example?  Really depends on what science you are studying and at what level. But you and your kid must sit there, analyze answers, and identify a general approach to follow. This will take time - like an hour, and often has to be redone each week to build up understanding, because the more you know how to write a good answer, the more you see in the model answers when you study how they are written.

Next, you start writing answers. Typically, when you first start, you actually can't write anything. So you read the answer. Discuss it. And then you write it in your own words. As you get better (which can take weeks), you eventually have the language style of the science in mind, with all the 3 word phrases that go together and the vocabulary, and then you can start to write without having to read the answer first.

In my experience, the first time you do this (for the first unit of the first science), it takes the longest, and every time afterwards (for other units and other sciences) it takes less time.  BUT and here is the big but, you must continue to use this process for every. single. unit in every. single. science. you study.  Because scientific writing is tough, and each unit in each science is a slightly different genre.  So although you are becoming a better scientific writer, you still must study the how-to's for each unit.  It is kind of the equivalent of saying you are good at creative writing, but you have only written horror short stories, and now you plan to write a love story.  Yes you know a lot, but there is still more to learn, and reading and studying good models will help you a lot.

Keep in mind that I start this process in 10th grade. Before that, it is all about loving learning and loving science.

Hope this helps,

Ruth in NZ

Edited by lewelma
• 5
• 3
##### Share on other sites

This could have lead into a discussion of what they term as 'payment of energy'?

##### Share on other sites

16 hours ago, lewelma said:

Well, it is like teaching English.  First, it is about purpose and audience.  Your student must really understand that the purpose is to explain scientific principles and how they apply to a specific example. For audience, your kid needs to pick an actual person they know who is *interested* in science, but just completely uneducated or just needs to have things explained slowly and in detail.  Believe it or not, finding an real life person to write the answer *to* is critical, because otherwise the kids won't write the detail, because the answer is obvious to them so in their mind should be obvious to everyone.  They need to write to someone where the answer won't be obvious.  So like grandpa, who loves science but is a bit slower than he used to be and you have to really explain it well with every possible link.

Once you have the purpose and audience, then you have to study answers. What makes a good answer? How is it structured?  This is English skills again. So do the model answers use equations to explain? How many connections do they make? (connections between ideas are key to a good answer) Do they have a topic sentence, an explanation, and then an example?  Really depends on what science you are studying and at what level. But you and your kid must sit there, analyze answers, and identify a general approach to follow. This will take time - like an hour, and often has to be redone each week to build up understanding, because the more you know how to write a good answer, the more you see in the model answers when you study how they are written.

Next, you start writing answers. Typically, when you first start, you actually can't write anything. So you read the answer. Discuss it. And then you write it in your own words. As you get better (which can take weeks), you eventually have the language style of the science in mind, with all the 3 word phrases that go together and the vocabulary, and then you can start to write without having to read the answer first.

In my experience, the first time you do this (for the first unit of the first science), it takes the longest, and every time afterwards (for other units and other sciences) it takes less time.  BUT and here is the big but, you must continue to use this process for every. single. unit in every. single. science. you study.  Because scientific writing is tough, and each unit in each science is a slightly different genre.  So although you are becoming a better scientific writer, you still must study the how-to's for each unit.  It is kind of the equivalent of saying you are good at creative writing, but you have only written horror short stories, and now you plan to write a love story.  Yes you know a lot, but there is still more to learn, and reading and studying good models will help you a lot.

Keep in mind that I start this process in 10th grade. Before that, it is all about loving learning and loving science.

Hope this helps,

Ruth in NZ

Thank you! That is very interesting and very helpful!  My dd is in 10th grade now, so very timely for us.

##### Share on other sites

I'm having my eldest work through a workbook titled "Constructing Responses to Open-Ended Questions" to learn how to answer those types of questions.  It has really helped him figure out what exactly they are asking for and what he should be including in his answer.

It has units on:
- Rules for Writing Good Answers (spoiler, the first rule is always to use complete sentences)
- Main Ideas and Supporting Details
- Fact and Opinion
- Understanding Characters (making inferences about character motivation in fiction)
- Reading What is on the Page
- Reading Between the Lines
- Reading Beyond the Lines

There are plenty of examples and practice for both fiction and nonfiction passages.

##### Share on other sites

22 hours ago, lewelma said:

I tutor science, and in my experience most students require training to be able to write full written answers using scientific principles, how much training depends on the level of science and the complexity of the question.  Personally, in 8th grade, I would not be expecting a student to write that answer because the question is a bit inane. In that situation, I would just read the answer out loud and then discuss it, rather than expecting a student to produce it.

If you want me to, I can describe how I teach students to write complete scientific answers.

Ruth in NZ

I totally agree!

##### Share on other sites

My boys are very good thinkers and infer'ers, and they would have just laughed at that question. As a pp said, they would have first responded that it's pretty insulting to be asked, as an eighth grader, whether a rock is alive. Then they would have probably quoted the text regarding types of energy, because they've been somewhat trained to answer academic questions from the perspective of a student who was supposed to get the point of a text. "What does the author want you to think," is a very common question around here.

If Rainbow Science puts forth information and then poses questions like this as a regular approach, it would not be a good fit for my family. But if I were determined to use the program, I would tackle it this way:

Actively teach the information. Take the small amount of text, and the particular way of expressing the principles, and expand. Conversations, demonstrations, diagrams, definitions on the chalkboard, anything to open it up. I would have spent some significant time on definitions of energy, the phrase "payment of energy..."

Then, if I chose to ask the inane question, I would move past the laughter and annoyance to ask some more leading questions, until they had articulated known principles. (And I wouldn't have cared if they never used the phrase "defeats the law of nature" because I think that sounds dumb.)

"Well, if I'm asking you whether the rock is alive, is it? How do you know? What are the characteristics of living things? So having established that it's inanimate, can you tell me how's it getting itself up there? It can't get itself up there? Aside from not having living initiative and capabilities inherent to being alive, what sort of energy does it lack, then? What sort of energy is required, if someone wants that rock up there? What if the "someone" was a person, could they lift it by themselves? No? Then how could they get that rock moved? Good. Now explain that whole thing to me again, frequently using the word "energy" with adjectives afore - let's circle back to what today's lesson was about..."

Please note that this has been about logical discussions and reasoning, not about scientific writing.

##### Share on other sites

My ds 13 is also doing Rainbow Science this year, and he has also had trouble coming up with answers to some of the questions. What we do is answer the questions together like a discussion, then he writes down the answers on his own afterwards. I do use the TM to help with some of the answers while we are discussing, and I will even read some of them out to him.

Basically, I am having write the answers in his own words (as much as he can remember) after we have talked about it.

##### Share on other sites

Reading nonfiction is also a skill.  You could teach textmapping and then use materials such as this.

##### Share on other sites

On 10/4/2019 at 5:27 AM, arctic_bunny said:

I imagine the conversation would go:

No

Why not?

Cause

Cause why?

Because a rock can’t move itself

Why not? What rule explains it?

This is how it would go with my 8th grader, with added eye rolling and 'duh's...

##### Share on other sites

On 10/4/2019 at 8:21 AM, lewelma said:

Well, it is like teaching English.  First, it is about purpose and audience.  Your student must really understand that the purpose is to explain scientific principles and how they apply to a specific example. For audience, your kid needs to pick an actual person they know who is *interested* in science, but just completely uneducated or just needs to have things explained slowly and in detail.  Believe it or not, finding an real life person to write the answer *to* is critical, because otherwise the kids won't write the detail, because the answer is obvious to them so in their mind should be obvious to everyone.  They need to write to someone where the answer won't be obvious.  So like grandpa, who loves science but is a bit slower than he used to be and you have to really explain it well with every possible link.

Once you have the purpose and audience, then you have to study answers. What makes a good answer? How is it structured?  This is English skills again. So do the model answers use equations to explain? How many connections do they make? (connections between ideas are key to a good answer) Do they have a topic sentence, an explanation, and then an example?  Really depends on what science you are studying and at what level. But you and your kid must sit there, analyze answers, and identify a general approach to follow. This will take time - like an hour, and often has to be redone each week to build up understanding, because the more you know how to write a good answer, the more you see in the model answers when you study how they are written.

Next, you start writing answers. Typically, when you first start, you actually can't write anything. So you read the answer. Discuss it. And then you write it in your own words. As you get better (which can take weeks), you eventually have the language style of the science in mind, with all the 3 word phrases that go together and the vocabulary, and then you can start to write without having to read the answer first.

In my experience, the first time you do this (for the first unit of the first science), it takes the longest, and every time afterwards (for other units and other sciences) it takes less time.  BUT and here is the big but, you must continue to use this process for every. single. unit in every. single. science. you study.  Because scientific writing is tough, and each unit in each science is a slightly different genre.  So although you are becoming a better scientific writer, you still must study the how-to's for each unit.  It is kind of the equivalent of saying you are good at creative writing, but you have only written horror short stories, and now you plan to write a love story.  Yes you know a lot, but there is still more to learn, and reading and studying good models will help you a lot.

Keep in mind that I start this process in 10th grade. Before that, it is all about loving learning and loving science.

Hope this helps,

Ruth in NZ

This is so helpful, like everything you post, thanks Ruth!

I do have one question, if your resource doesn't have (inane) questions like this, how do you come up with questions to answer? My 8th grader is self studying interest based science, mainly through narrative sources and clinical books, but I'm stuck at how to get that next level output - so far it's mostly discussion and notebooking/summary pages.

I have one of your older posts about science fair project process bookmarked - off to re-read it now!

##### Share on other sites

On 10/3/2019 at 3:23 PM, perkybunch said:

See, my answer would be no because a rock is not alive and cannot move itself.  But I'm one of those non-science people that science people don't understand when everything is so obvious to them.  So I'm going to say some 8th graders could answer that, and some could not, and I am very smart with a math degree, and I could not give that answer.

But you presumably have not just read a lesson involving the specifics of energy. Out of context, 'it's not alive' would be my first answer as well (and most people's, I would imagine). And it would be a much better answer from the student in question than simply 'no.' It makes sense and would allow you to help them make connections to the specifics of the lesson.

##### Share on other sites

On 10/12/2019 at 9:49 AM, LMD said:

This is so helpful, like everything you post, thanks Ruth!

I do have one question, if your resource doesn't have (inane) questions like this, how do you come up with questions to answer? My 8th grader is self studying interest based science, mainly through narrative sources and clinical books, but I'm stuck at how to get that next level output - so far it's mostly discussion and notebooking/summary pages.

I have one of your older posts about science fair project process bookmarked - off to re-read it now!

For 8th grade, I would just focus on loving science. If she is reading scientific text, discussing ideas, and making summaries that is great!

By 10th grade, I'm looking for materials that have good high-end questions with quality answers.  I really like Biozone for Biology and all the related fields (ecology, environmental science, physiology, evolution, etc.) All the books are subject specific so you can just buy one topic at a time.  We have also had great luck with the Scipad.  Excellent high-end questions, excellent answers to study and learn from.  Scipads cover Bio, Chem, and Physics for 9th through 12th grade.

Both have full versions of the text available online so you can see if you like their approach.

Ruth in NZ

##### Share on other sites

16 minutes ago, lewelma said:

For 8th grade, I would just focus on loving science. If she is reading scientific text, discussing ideas, and making summaries that is great!

By 10th grade, I'm looking for materials that have good high-end questions with quality answers.  I really like Biozone for Biology and all the related fields (ecology, environmental science, physiology, evolution, etc.) All the books are subject specific so you can just buy one topic at a time.  We have also had great luck with the Scipad.  Excellent high-end questions, excellent answers to study and learn from.  Scipads cover Bio, Chem, and Physics for 9th through 12th grade.

Both have full versions of the text available online so you can see if you like their approach.

Ruth in NZ

Thanks so much! 💜

## Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

Only 75 emoji are allowed.