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Firstborns get the brains?

  • GCSE
  • Popular Activity
  • Topical

Type: Activity
Learning Strategy: Imaginative inquiry
Topic: Variation

New research shows that the child raised as the eldest in a family is likely to have a higher IQ than their siblings. The reasons for this advantage are not yet clear. In this activity students come up with creative explanations and plan how to collect evidence to test them. They then pitch their explanation to 'Dragons' Den' to win funding for their research.

This activity is designed to be used with upd8's forthcoming SciQ 'Dragons' Den' Tool, but can also be used independently.

14-16 How Science Works:
Data, evidence, theories and explanations
1b how interpretation of data, using creative thought, provides evidence to test ideas and develop theories.

Published: 31st January 2008
Reviews & Comments: 6

Learning objectives

Students will
• Use creative thought to come up with explanations for observations.
• They also continue with this creative process in order to plan ways of testing their ideas, which must result in the collection of reliable and valid data.

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How Science Works

Data, evidence, theories and explanations
1b how interpretation of data, using creative thought, provides evidence to test ideas and develop theories.

GCSE specifications
For details of links to individual GCSE specifications, please see downloadable teachers notes.

Running the activity

NOTE – page 1 is deliberately presented emotively. Please ensure that students realise that the actual IQ difference is in fact very small, and that there are many, many ways of overcoming the slight IQ disadvantage of not being a firstborn! Research suggests that younger siblings are often more creative, risk-taking and adventurous than their more conforming elders.

Show the class page 1 and start a class discussion based on the following:
• Do you think birth order can affect IQ? What is your 'gut feeling'?
• Think about your own family – or do a quick class survey – are firstborns more intelligent?
• What other variables might make some people more intelligent than others. Are these variables due to inherited or environmental factors?
• The finding is based on scientific evidence. Can you think of any reasons why firstborns are more intelligent?
Explain that scientists often come up with evidence before they find an explanation for it.

Main activity A ('Call my Bluff')
• Divide the class into 5 groups and give each group a hypothesis/creative explanation card cut from page 2.
You could assign group roles here, including:
o Chairperson – moderates discussions, keeps the group on task, ensures work is done by all, and makes sure all have opportunity to participate and learn.
o Communicator – gives the final speech to the class
o Organiser - monitors time and moves group along so that they complete the task in time, gets materials, makes sure that all understand the concepts.
o Recorder - takes notes of the group's discussion and prepares final feedback.
• The groups have 10 minutes to prepare a 45 second speech to the rest of the class to creatively explain their hypothesis and why they think it's true. They need to be as convincing as they can.
• After each speech the rest of the class hold up coloured cards – green if they think that the hypothesis/explanation is possibly true and worth investigating, red if they think there is no truth in it. Teacher records the top 3 hypothesises.

Main activity B ('Dragons' Den')
• Choose 6 students to act as Dragons (this will be the most challenging role so you might like to choose the most able students in the class). Allocate students from the groups whose hypotheses/explanations were not chosen to the 3 winning groups. They take on the role of research assistants.
o Give each group a copy of page 3, ideally enlarged to A3. Each group now has another 10 minutes to come up with a way of investigating the hypothesis/explanation which they will present to the Dragons in order to secure funding. The Research assistants can ask for some 'guiding questions' from you (page 4). You can also print off information from the links below to give groups for extra guidance.
o The group of dragons must think of what they are looking for in a good pitch and come up with some kind of checklist that they can tick off when listening to the pitch. They can also come up with a list of questions to ask the groups.
o Each group then gives their pitch. The dragons can ask questions at the end of the pitch.

Criteria for a successful investigation:
- The hypothesis is scientifically sound
- The experiment is doable
- The evidence collected will be reliable and valid
- The experiment will prove whether the hypothesis is right or wrong
(Valid and reliable evidence means: No bias is involved in the investigation, it is a fair test, the sample size is large enough, the experiment is repeatable)
The chairperson of the dragons says who will get the funding and why.

News links

BBC news
The story
New Scientist
The story in slightly more detail.
New York Times
Article from The New York Times with a nice graph to show findings.
National Institute of Science Education, USA
More information on group roles
Science (US journal)
More able students could look at the actual article written by the scientists who did the research and discuss the validity of their data.

Reviews & Comments

Write your online review to share your feedback and classroom tips with other teachers. How well does it work, how engaging is it, how did you use it, and how could it be improved?

Firstborns get the brains? review

Jun 20th, 2012

5 Star

Fantastic lesson. Pupils (top set Year 8) really into it, and loved the Dragon's Den bit. It took 2 lessons though, but worth doing.

Reviewer: Eileen Knowles


Jun 20th, 2012

5 Star

Very interesting

Reviewer: Alastair Hilton

catastrophe, hobbit

May 25th, 2012

1 Star

I cannot access any of the omnline resources to use with my pupils, the supposedly interactive links do not work, and searching for them on the website = no results. I'm stuck can you help?

Reviewer: angela craig


Feb 28th, 2010

5 Star

Loved this, it upset a lot of my y9s who were obviously not first bornes, we got an hours worth of group discussion out of it.

Reviewer: Deborah Bradley

Firstborns get the brains? review

Jun 24th, 2009

5 Star

worked really well with year 8s as a starter

Reviewer: habiba khanom

Inheritance and selection

Oct 13th, 2008

5 Star

I used this activity with my top set year 9 class - it opened up a debate on scientific research and how you determine results. WHat is fact as opposed to opinion and what determines 'brains'.
It was a fantastic lesson.

Reviewer: Melissa Baines