Saint Oswald's

Science Investigations

Plan for the day and approximate timings

9.15 - 10.30

  • Types of scientific enquiry.
  • Simple ice-breaker investigations using paper. Helicopters and fliers.
  • Making paper roll tubes and advanced helicopter.
  • Demo of roll tube shapes and structures.
  • ‘Materials properties’ as the starting point for a variety of investigations. Encouraging curiosity and questioning. ‘Awe and wonder’ moments.

10.50 - 12.00

  • Forces investigations using very simple and low cost practical equipment.
  • Familiar pictures as stimuli for setting the scene and introducing an investigation.
  • Focus on FORCES

1.30 - 3.15

  • Practical session ‘Forces Investigations’ with year 4 in the school hall.

3.15 - 3.30

  • Debrief

The focus for the 1 day session is


The intention is that all trainees leave with:

  • An increased knowledge in a variety of areas of science but with the main focus on Forces.
  • Knowledge of some simple but very effective ‘quick science activities’ which can lead to in-depth investigations.
  • Practical experience in planning and conducting whole class science investigations.
  • Experience of in-depth 1 to 1 discussion with pupils during a science investigation.
  • Experience of introducing the fair test concept into a practical science investigation and on the spot assessment of whether pupils understand the concept.
  • Experience classroom management of a large scale investigation.
  • Experience of making links between science and other curriculum areas eg. maths, DT.
  • Access to support materials via this website.


Following are the discussion notes and references to information on various pages on this website

Different types of Scientific Enquiry

(from one of the many reports on science teaching describing how teachers should be prepared to go beyond the usual ‘fair test’ type of investigation which normally takes place in a short time span and involves a practical activity in which data is recorded and analysed and extend their repertoire of types of investigation)

Fair testing

     Eg. relationships between variables. Cause and effect.

Surveys and patterns in data

  • Eg. where variables cannot readily be controlled by us.
  • Data relating to diet or tooth decay.


     Eg. materials, properties and related uses.

Exploring and observing over time

     Eg. changes in frog-spawn

Problem solving (D and T link!)

     Eg. Using properties of materials data to help design a type of  switch.

Investigating a model

  • Eg. reconciling real observations with the predictions from a scientific theory or model (this is a fascinating one because it gets at the heart of the scientist’s use of an imagined picture in our heads of a principle or theory which we can never actually see eg. the atom, or the molecules in a solid, liquid or gas during change of state, or the planets in their complex orbits). See orrery model example page on this website.


Making a paper flying fish and observing its motion as it falls under gravity

This is a fun way to investigate....what?

There are all sorts of paper shapes we can make and use them in investigations and design challenges. They’re great fun and full of good science which can be taken home and explained to parents (this is often neglected but should be very seriously considered since there are great opportunities for family learning and reinforcement as well as simple encouragement to learn more science. Children love to show and explain things to others!

More information:

  • This website. D and T projects / Helicopters and fliers.
  • You tube ‘technologytom channel’ 2 videos


Making a paper roll tube and using it to make a helicopter or a structure

Use the wooden dowel ‘mandrel’ to make a paper roll tube. A simple but very effective helicopter can be made by adding a paper strip to make ‘wings’. Allow to fall under gravity. It falls to the ground spinning slowly and gracefully!

Challenge task
Design and make a helicopter which falls to the ground in the longest possible time.

Use the mandrel to make 6 identical paper roll tubes. Punch holes in line at the ends of each tube. Use 6mm dowels or straws to connect the tubes in a variety of ways. This is a great way to investigate shapes, symmetry, 2d and 3d shapes and structures etc.

More information:

This website. In the D and T projects pages.....

  • roll tube structures.
  • bridges.
  • stadium project (roll tube strength test with an interesting balloon experiment at the end of the page!)

Investigating Materials

It is highly recommended that you build up a set of materials samples boxes! Shoe boxes of identical sizes are excellent! Put in samples of materials but not ‘objects’ if possible. Objects are very useful because we can discuss what they are made from and why but separate pieces of materials are better because we can focus on the properties of the materials first!

We find out about our world using our senses. This should be remembered when we investigate materials. All too often we use our eyes to find things out and we can miss things which can only be sensed by touch, smell or the sound they make.

Use your senses to find out as much as you can about the materials in the box and generate ideas for the development of science investigations based upon your findings. The possibilities are endless!

Following are some notes/ideas/comments about using materials samples as ways into science investigations and as the starting points for specific science topic areas such as heat, light etc. There is a lot more detail in several of the website pages referenced at the end.


Properties and uses of material

Describing materials and building up vocabulary
Appropriate science words
I spy materials
Observations (using our senses) - careful or you’ll miss it!
Unusual properties
Investigation starting points
Developing an investigation for your science class


Is paper a weak or strong material?
Strength testing
Stretchy materials
Rough or smooth?
Magnetic strength

Magnetic materials

Selecting appropriate materials for a magnetic game - eg.’fishing’.


Investigating optical properties of materials
Transparent, translucent, opaque materials and their uses
Selection of appropriate materials based on properties
Design and make a shadow puppet theatre


Components and circuits
Testing materials for conduction/insulation
Design of a switch based upon results from above
A fun spelling test (in Morse code)


Sonorous materials
Sound effects
pitch - cause and effect


More information about materials.

This website. Science Investigations /

  • materials families.
  • materials
  • properties
  • vocabulary
  • I spy materials
  • investigating materials

Forces Investigations

Conducting a whole class investigation on the topic of forces can be problematic because most schools don’t have complete sets of ‘weights’ (masses!). This can be overcome using simple equipment as follows:

  • Plastic screw capped lid jars of marbles as storage.
  • Small plastic milk cartons as containers into which the marbles can be counted so as to achieve a Force.
  • String and paper clips to attach the plastic milk carton.

Note: Force meters are often hailed as the best way to apply and measure force but they can also introduce problems. They have their place but not in these simple but very effective Forces investigations. Counting marbles is much better!

The Forces investigations cover the following

  • Stretching materials (elastic bands).
  • Friction between a wooden block (rubber on one side) and the desk top.
  • Strength of attraction between magnets.
  • Strength of paper roll tubes.

There is a case for simply ‘finding things out’! It can be fun and we can learn a lot about the investigative process. It’s more meaningful if we have a context for an investigation in which there is a clear reason for wanting to find out the answer to a question. The contexts are as follows

  • Stretching. Certain sports clothing must be stretchy. How do we get the balance right between stretchiness and strength of cloth used in sports clothing eg. cycling shorts.
  • Friction. Many accidents in the home are due to people slipping on various floor surfaces. How can we find out about the sfaety of various types of flooring?
  • Magnetism. Magnets are used in all sorts of applications from fridge magnets to scrapyard cranes. How can we measure the strength of a magnet so that we know it can do a certain job eg. hold the weight of a message pad on a fridge door?
  • Strength. Buildings must be strong enough to hold themselves up! A bridge must hold a road up above a river plus the cars and lorries traveling over it. How can we test a structure or part of a structure eg. a girder, so that we know how strong it is?

More information about the Forces investigations.

This website: Science Investigations /

  • Forces.
  • Friction.
  • Stretching

D and T projects /

  • Roll tube structures.
  • Stadium project.


PM session with year 4 students

4 different FORCES investigations running simultaneously with groups changing periodically






Your challenge:

Make an assessment of the ability of as many students as possible to understand the ‘fair test’ concept.

Further work if time permits or as follow up if deemed useful:

Develop one of the investigations further and write a lesson plan for delivery.


Debrief session

Has the day been useful? Did the children enjoy the activity? What was the response from the children? How could we improve the forces investigations? Would you do all four activities at the same time and rotate as we did? What age group could the investigations be used with? Any specific findings which are useful and can be taken further? If more time was available what more could we have done. Specific issues with practical activities on your current teaching practice. Ideas to share with the group eg. activities which you have observed or tried out which worked well and you would recommend to the group.


Tom Mulholland


[Technology Tom] [Boxed Kits for sale] [Resources for sale] [INSET] [SLC Plan] [Toner Avenue Primary School] [SLC Science and DT] [SLC 2010 intro] [Saint Oswald's] [DT Network] [Science shows] [Science Investigations] [D and T Projects] [New Projects] [Try this] [Basic vehicle assembly] [MPD Diploma]