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Paper Towel Testing Lesson Plan:  Inquiry

Subject:  General Science

Grade Level:  7-8

Lesson Duration:  75 minutes


1B Scientific Inquiry:  Scientists differ greatly in what phenomena they study and how they go about their work.  Although there is no fixed set of steps that all scientists follow, scientific investigations usually involve the collection of relevant evidence, the use of logical reasoning, and the application of imagination in devising hypotheses and explanations to make sense of the collected evidence. 


1.      The students will be able to create a plan of action, using the materials provided, to investigate the question at hand (Which paper towel is the most absorbent? Which is the strongest?). 

2.      The students will be able to execute their plan during the class time. 

3.      The students will be able to analyze their results using logic and reasoning skills. 

4.      The students will be able to analyze and critique different ways to test the quality of the paper towels.   

Students Background: 

The students should have experience working in small groups.  They must be able to use common household and laboratory equipment like an eyedropper or a beaker.  They must understand how absorbency and strength relate to paper towels.  They must understand how to organize a series of tests that they design and how to record simple data.  They will also be required to give a very brief class presentation.

Materials Needed: 

Activity Overview: 

The lesson will be prefaced with a brief discussion of paper towels and the students’ interactions with paper towels.  A list of characteristics that make a good paper towel could be produced.  I will then introduce the problem.  “A paper towel company is trying out different paper towel designs.  You are hired to find out which type of paper towel is the best.  You are asked to find the absorbency and wet strength of each different towel design.  In your laboratory, you have unlimited materials.  You must devise a plan to test for these qualities in 3 different designs of paper towels.” 

Next, I will group the students and allow them to begin planning their tests.  Before they are allowed to begin experimenting, I will check their plans to make sure they are valid.  Then they are allowed to begin experimenting. 

Then, the groups will briefly present their data to the rest of the class.  After that, the class will discuss the results and more importantly the way they went about obtaining results.  The conversation should be geared to illustrate that what they just did was inquiry learning. 

Introduction (10 minutes): 

T (teacher):  Good morning.  I was wondering, how many of you use paper towels at home or here at school?  (watch almost everyone’s hand raise)  So what do you use these paper towels for?  (always allow wait time after a question)

S (student):  I use paper towels to clean up spills.

T:  Me too.  Any other uses?

S:  I use them to dry my hands. 

T:  Yes.  That’s a good use.  Any others?

S:  I use them to clean things in the kitchen like the table and the counter.

T:  Exactly.  I bet you have all used paper towels for many reasons.  So what do you think makes a paper towel a good paper towel?

S:  It needs to be strong. 

T:  Can you elaborate on that?

S:  You don’t want the paper towel to rip up or fall apart while you are trying to clean something up or wipe something up.

T:  Thanks.  That makes sense.  So what else make a paper towel good?

S:  It needs to be absorbent.  The more absorbent the towel is, the better it is. 

T:  Okay.  So you want the paper towel to be able to hold as much liquid as possible.  Why does that make it good?

S:  If it can hold more liquid, you don’t need to use as many paper towel sheets to clean up spills. 

T:  That sounds like a good reason.  The less paper towels I need to wipe up a spill, the less paper towels I have to buy!  Well, the reason that we are discussing paper towels is because I have received word from the ABC paper towel company that they need our help.  They are trying to make a new really high quality paper towel.  They have three different designs for their new brand and they want to know which is the best.  They would like you to find out which design has the best absorbency and which has the best strength when it is wet.  I have supplied many different materials to investigate this question.  You need to make up a plan to test the absorbency and wet strength of the three paper towel designs.  When you test you must record data about strength and absorbency of each different paper towel design.  Then, as a class, we will discuss the results and answer the ABC paper towel company’s question of which paper towel is the best for them to produce. 

Body of Lesson: 

Creating a Plan and Investigation of Problem (45 minutes):

T:  All right, we are going to work in groups of 4.  The following people are in group one: (I will have made up the groups the day before.  I will make sure that the groups are heterogeneous both ethnically and by ability to promote more of the students teaching each other.  I also hope to get many different approaches to the questions illustrating that inquiry can have many different approaches by having a mixture of diverse students in each group.  I will finish saying which students are in each group.)  I would like group one at this table, group two at this table (and so on to tell the students where to go in their groups). 

As you can see, you have a variety of materials to use to find out the strength and absorbency of the paper towels.  Before you begin experimenting with the actual paper towels, I would like for each group to write up a plan of action.  I want you to talk about how you will go about testing the paper towels for strength and absorbency and then write down how you will actually perform the tests.  You must do this before you start working with the paper towels.  When you done with your plan, raise your hand and I will come over and check it.  I will let you know if your group can proceed from here.  Billy, what are you going to do first in your group?

S:  We are going to make up a plan of action before we start working with the paper towels.

T:  Right and when can you begin experimenting on the towels?

S:  After you have okayed our plan.

T:  Exactly.  I will be walking around the groups if you have any questions or problems.  Please begin working on your plans. 

*** Observe the groups and intervene where necessary.  When a group says that the are ready, check their plan.  If it seems legitimate, give them permission to proceed to the actual experimentation.  If you have questions about it or if the plan is completely off, work with the students.  Ask leading questions and have them think about what they are doing in each of the tests. 

*** Observe the students while they are working with the paper towels.   Be available to troubleshoot and answer questions.  Keep an eye on the time.  If it seems that a lot of students are finished, have them discuss in their groups which paper towel design is the best in each category and which is best overall.  After about 45 minutes, try and have all the groups wrap up clean up their stations.

T:  Please have a seat in your groups and we will begin a discussion of our findings. 

Class Discussion (15 minutes):

T:  Okay.  Now that we have all had a chance to work with the paper towels we are going to discuss our results.  Lets have each group stand up and tell us about their how they went about their testing and their results.  Who would like to go first?

*** Allow each group to discuss their procedure and their results for both wet strength and absorbency of each paper towel design.  Have each group tell which paper towel they think is the best of the three designs.

T:  So it seems that most of the groups got similar results about which paper towel is the most absorbent and has the best wet strength.  You all did a really good job.  So did anyone notice anything about each group went about testing for absorbency and wet strength?

S:  Most of us did it the same way. 

T:  Most of you did use very similar techniques, but some groups had different procedures to test the paper towels.  So was there a “right” way to go about answering this question of which paper towel is the best?

S:  No.  You can use many different ways to test the paper towels. 

T:  That’s right!  There is no set way to go about answering this question.  This is actually the case in many scientific questions.  Scientists are faced with problems or questions and they have to use their imagination and creativity to come up with a plan of action to answer the question.  There may be two, three or even more ways that will give a valid result to answer a scientific question or problem.  When they are done collecting evidence, they use logic and reasoning to solve the problem at hand. 

Closure (5 minutes): 

T: Do you all feel like we found out which paper towel is the best design for the ABC paper towel company today?

S:  Yes.  I think that the groups did a good job of collecting information in all different ways. 

T:  I agree.  Do you think that one way of going about this problem is better than another?

S:  Well, there is probably one plan that is a little easier that another, but they all give the same result in the end. 

T:  That’s very true.  There could be 100 ways to go about solving a problem, but one way may be a little simpler or easier than the other 99.  It is still important to realize that there is more than one way to figure out the answer to the question. 

You all did a great job today.  You all designed useful ways to test the paper towels and your data and discussion of the paper towels quality will surely help out the ABC paper towel company.


For a formative assessment, I will collect their plan and data sheets.  I will look at their data that they collected and review the plan that they chose to use to get the data.  I will give them a grade on their effort and accuracy. 

In a future class I will use inquiry to serve as a basis for a specific scientific lesson in the class.   I will also have questions about inquiry on a test in the future. 


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