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Accidental Discoveries

Accidental Discoveries

Unit Summary

Accident or serendipity? The Essential Question: How can we benefit from our accidents? is explored by asking students to reflect on a time in their life when a mistake or accident reaped positive benefits; students analyze what skills and processes they used in their situation. To connect this understanding to the unit, students role-play scientists/inventors who have been hired to find a marketable use for a new substance that was created accidentally in a lab. Students research the question: How have scientists used their accidents or mistakes to make our world a better place? Students find answers to the question, In what ways can science methods help you accomplish a goal? by finding a marketable purpose for the new substance. Students must use their knowledge of properties of matter and experimentation processes to prove that their idea will work and eventually persuade people to buy their product. As a culminating project, students create labels for their products that synthesize all their learning for the purpose of marketing their product for consumers.

Curriculum-Framing Questions

  • Essential Question
    How can we benefit from our accidents?
  • Unit Questions
    How have scientists in the past used their accidents or mistakes to make our world a better place?
    In what ways can science methods help you accomplish a goal?
  • Content Questions
    What investigations are necessary to derive physical and chemical properties of a substance?
    What are the relationships among mass, volume, and density?
    How do you set up a scientific experiment?

Assessment Timeline

This timeline shows in chronological order the different types of formal and informal assessments that occur during the unit. The table below explains how each assessment is used and who uses it for what purpose.

Assessment Timeline

Before project
work begins
Students work on projects
and complete tasks
After project work
is complete

  • Discussion
  • Journal
  • Prediction and Observation Chart
  • Physical Properties Rubric
  • Data Management Chart
  • Conferences
  • Experiment Process Rubric
  • Experiment Checklist
  • Using Data to Persuade Rubric
  • Label Checklist
  • Reflection Journal
  • Performance-
    Based Assessment


Assessment Process and Purpose of Assessment
Prior Knowledge Journal Students use their journal entry to reflect on how they react when making a mistake or accident. The teacher uses the information the students share to facilitate a class discussion and adjust instruction based on students’ experiences.
Physical Properties Rubric (doc)
Students use the rubric to guide their thinking process during the slime lab and as a basis for peer feedback when assessing other members in their group. The teacher uses the rubric to assess organization and thinking skills and to adjust instruction on processing a lab and identifying and measuring physical properties. The rubric is adapted to match the adjustments made to the lab activity for different levels of learners: Slime Lab (doc), Adapted Lab One (doc), Adapted Lab Two (doc), or Adapted Lab Three (doc).
Data Management Chart The data management chart helps students construct meaningful interpretations from cumulative data and apply those interpretations in the final label project. The teacher uses the data table to highlight measurements that are outside the parameters of acceptable accuracy and discusses with the class. It provides a quick glance at how the class is doing as a whole and reveals to the teacher where students may need more instruction.
Experiment Process Rubric (doc)
Students use the rubric before, during, and after their experiments to monitor the quality of the experiments so they may be useful to the final project. The rubric is also used for students to assess other group member’s experiments and provide feedback that can be applied to the second round of experiments and ultimately the final project. The teacher uses the rubric to assess the relevancy of the experiment as compared to the group planning sheet, as a basis for questions in the second round of group conferences, and as a final assessment for the second round of experiments.
Experiment Checklist (doc)
Students use this to monitor their progress when constructing their experiment and to give other team member’s feedback.
Conference Questions (doc)
The teacher conferences with each group to provide feedback on investigation plans and ideas before their experiment to make sure interpretations of the task are correct; and after their experiment to validate or redirect. Students use the conference sheet for reflection, to ask specific questions, and to clarify procedures.
Using Data to Persuade Rubric (doc)
Groups use the rubric to guide their process in developing their final product label and later to assess each other’s individual label. The teacher uses the rubric to assess each student individually on their label and also the group’s overall product idea.
Label Checklist (doc)
Students use this to monitor their progress when designing their label and to give other team member’s feedback.
Reflection Journal The reflection allows students the chance to generalize how science processes and skills helped them in completing the tasks in the unit. The teacher assesses whether students were able to synthesize their learning and observes common errors and strengths of the unit so adjustments can be made if needed.
Performance- Based Assessment (doc)
A final assessment is used to assess student’s ability to transfer new learning to a new situation. The performance task allows the teacher one more opportunity to observe student’s ability to measure and derive properties of matter on an individual basis.


Theresa Maves participated in the Intel® Teach Program, which resulted in this idea for an assessment plan. A team of teachers expanded the plan into the example you see here.

Accidental Discoveries

At a Glance

Grade Level: 6-8

Subject: Physical Science

Topics: Properties of Matter, Science as a Human Endeavor, Scientific Inquiry Process

Higher-Order Thinking Skills: Analyze and Synthesize Information, Classify Information

Key Learnings: Mass, Volume, Density, Measurement, Physical and Chemical Properties of Matter, Experimental Design

Time Needed: Three weeks (90 minutes every other day or 45 minutes every day)