Reflection: Discourse and Questioning Polymers and Physical Properties - Section 3: Mini Lesson: Polymer Properties and The Ladder of Discourse


The NGSS asks that students grow their scientific thinking to be able to identify and apply the common themes of science, which are called "Cross Cutting Concepts" (CCC).  When working with this "Ladder of Discourse" text strategy, it is a great opportunity to have students think about the CCC.  The most challenging piece of the ladder is the top rung which is called "Discourse".  When I first developed this strategy and began implementing it, I found it hard to describe to students what "Discourse" looks like.  I used phrases like "think beyond the text" and "could you design an experiment or solution based on these principles?".  These phrases helped some students, but many kept asking, "What does discourse look like?"  For me, I had initially taken the frame of mind that "I'll know it when I see it."  However, this doesn't help students visualize this important concept.

What I realized is that the NGSS had already done the thinking for me.  The Crosscutting Concepts are the connections students should be making in their discourse.  On the Ladder of Discourse document in the resource section, students are provided with questions students could be asking themselves as they read to connect to crosscutting concepts.  This has really helped my students with not only the "Ladder of Discourse", but with the real goal - making connections to the Crosscutting Concepts.

For example, when reading the polymer reading in this lesson, students see that the structure of the polymer molecule relates to their properties, or function (CCC - Structure and Function).  Some students played with the idea of scale and asked, "Would doubling the number of monomers double the flexibility of the polymer? (CCC - Scale, Proportion, Quantity).  Students also thought of different systems or models that they could design based on the properties of the polymers.  They wrote things such as, "I could develop an iPhone case that would absorb water and could be stretchy enough to fit any phone.  That way water wouldn't ruin it and I wouldn't have to get a new case for each phone." 

Now, students refer to these CCC's while they read; thus, they are making much deeper scientific connections as they interact with text.

  The Ladder of Discourse: An opportunity to connect to the Crosscutting Concepts
  Discourse and Questioning: The Ladder of Discourse: An opportunity to connect to the Crosscutting Concepts
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Polymers and Physical Properties

Unit 4: Physical Properties: Molecular Arrangement and Phase Changes
Lesson 7 of 12

Objective: Students will be able to identify physical and chemical properties of substances in a reaction and provide evidence that mass is conserved in reactions.

Big Idea: Students explore physical and chemical properties of polymers as they make slime, experiment with insta-snow polymer, and stick a skewer through a balloon without it popping!

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