In my attempt to do a lab resembling earth science, this week in my middle school science lab, we did a "Footprint and Tracking" lab This allowed me to play with various "fossil" dough recipes, but more about that in a minute. Here is a link to the student lab handout.
I wrote the prelab section as a way to get students thinking about evidence and to make sure they understand the difference between observations and inferences. Observations are what we can record about what we see, hear, smell, touch, and taste. (Usually taste doesn't apply.) Inferences are how we interpret our observations. During discussion I give statements and have students guess if it is an observation or an inference. Then they are ready to study the graphic below. It shows 2 sets of footprints and they are to list ONLY observations. I encourage them to state the obvious, without providing any inferences.
So our list looked like this. (I labeled the larger prints as subject A; and the smaller prints as subject B.)
a) There are 2 sets of animal tracks.
b) Both sets of prints come from the North moving in a southward direction; the larger came from the northwest, the smaller from the northeast.
c) Subject's A's prints are further apart just before the 2 paths cross.
d) Subject's B's prints are further apart just after the 2 paths cross.
e) The subjects tracks overlap in the center and move around in a circular pattern.
f) Animal A's prints leave the scene in a southwestern direction.
g) Animal B's prints disappear.
The next prelab question asks students, "Is there information missing? What other observations would you like to have to better analyze what happened at the scene?" The point here is to make sure students understand that the prints are only ONE piece of data that might be left at a scene. And interpreting the footprints in isolation without looking at any other data will mostly likely lead to incorrect conclusions. Student answers usually include: Out deep the prints are in the soil/sand/mud? More about the environment, trees? bushes? Is there evidence of a struggle, like feathers, blood, or a carcass? When were each of the prints made; at the same time or at different times? The last prelab question asks students to tell a story of what they think happened based on their observations.
The hands-on portion of the lab is intended to allow students to play. Their task is "to figure out it is you can determine about a subject by studying its footprint." I set out a bunch of supplies and just let them play. My materials were: