Distinguishing evidence from all the data is a tough skill to learn
One of the hardest skills for a 6th grade to learn is scientific argumentation....and a big part of that skill is knowing what is the evidence to support your conclusion. We worked on that when we did the "Does Air Have Mass" lab. Sadly as I read student conclusions, I realized they were not consistently using what they had learned from their experimentation. They were relying on what they believed or what they thought would happen.
Reading professional journals and learning from other teacher's experience helps
Fortunately I had just read "Data Versus Evidence" in the most recent Science Scope magazine by Mary Grace Viillanueva and Brian Hand. They did an excellent job of finding an analogous situation that would make sense for a 6th grader. The authors suggested using the student's familiarity with police shows where detectives must take an abundance of information and figure out which pieces of evidence help find the criminal. The article has a wonderful suggested activity which I will incorporate the next time I start this process, but I was able to shorten and do the whole thing in about 3-4 minutes. (This is an image from my SmartBoard that I was able to export as an image file...something I find incredibly helpful when sending copies of notes to special ed teachers or to help a student that is return from an absence.)
Quickly students were able to use this graphic organizer to sort through their information....break it into data and evidence. I scribed their thinking in a blog post for the science class. I think it helped them to write this post....one sentence at a time they would describe and then we'd figure out how to write it down. We're not there but we are on the way.
Taking a good idea, customizing it and making it even better for my students and my classroom
This article was a huge help and it reinforced my existing belief that it's the processing you do after the lab that is most critical to building science understanding. I was able to take what I'd learned from a previous lesson outcome and use that to create a better learning experience this time.
The other thing I realized was that students didn't know how to write a conclusion sentence. To help them out, I wrote a "frame" to help them learn where and how to use the evidence. This was still hard for them.