A Community of Rocket Scientists

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SWBAT: problem solve in a group setting, building on each other's ideas to create a solution.

Big Idea

Students become rocket scientists, as they collaboratively solve how to get from a moon mishap to their mothership.

Guiding Question

5 minutes

I give my students a Guiding Question that is connected to the lesson every day. When they walk in the door, the agenda and GQ are on the overhead, so I don't get that inevitable question, "What are we doing today?" Students answer the question in a few, short sentences in their Writer's Notebooks. I think it's important to have the question serve as both a jumping off place for the lesson, and as a sort of pre-assessment. For example, the GQ for this lesson asks the students what it means to be a part of a community. Of course, I was hoping they'd understand that a classroom community is the same as any other community--with a set of expectations, collaboration, and roles. When my students began responding that "being a part of a community means that you have police and firemen," I knew that I needed to show them that our classroom can be considered a community, even without the public servants! The GQ served as a pre-assessment in that way--I knew that from their responses that the term "community" wasn't transferring to their worlds.

Independent Work Time

20 minutes

This lesson is great for teaching the importance of group thinking and problem-solving. Most of the time, students score better when they problem-solve as a group, rather than individually.

In this NASA Exercise, students are asked to independently rank space travel supplies in order of importance. The scenario has them imagine they have crash landed on the moon and have to get back to the mother ship.

I really take some time to stress the importance of individual work time here, while promising them that they'll get plenty of group time in a few minutes. I circulate the room, making sure that students are ranking 1-15. Sometimes students get confused and may rank several items as a "1," so circulating can catch these mistakes.

I also tell them that it may be easier to do, say, 1-5 first (determine the most important supplies), then do 10-15 (determine the least important supplies), then do the middle 5 supplies last. They are quick to rank what they think is useless first!

Group Work Time

30 minutes

Because group work is valued in the CCSS, it's important that my students are aware of its benefits early on in my classroom. We will spend a lot of time this year working on thinking through texts, writing, and discourse collaboratively. This chuck of the lesson has the kids not only make claims as to the importance of their opinions when it comes to their rankings, but they have to be able to support those claims with reasons.

After every student is finished, I let them work in table groups. I have 4 tables of 8 students, but I'd say that a group of four or more will work.

This is where it gets interesting! The students have to come to an agreement on their ranking as a group. It may be different than their individual ranking, and not all members may agree, but they have to make a case for it. For instance, one group in my class was convinced that the self-inflating life raft was completely useless. One member thought that it wouldn't have been included on a space mission if it didn't have a use. He re-read the scenario to his members to clarify and ended up convincing them that it had some use. 

I give this part of the lesson the largest chunk of time, because the discussions can become intense! 

Students should record their group responses separately than their individual rankings.


10 minutes

Although I usually have my mini-lesson first, it was important that the students did the work first for this lesson. Since the object of the lesson was to collaborate with each other, it's important that they have the background of how that looks.

On the projector or document camera, I show them the NASA answers and rationales from NASA scientists and have them figure out the difference in both their individual answers and group answers. At this point, students are beginning to see that they did better in a group than individually. 

Finally, I like to show a visual representation of the power of group collaboration, so I have the students who scored better individually raise their hands (usually 3 or 4). Then I have the students who scored better after working collaboratively raise their hands (the rest), and I make a big point about the power of group work.

Lastly, I show them the clip from Apollo 13, about how although the scientists disagreed, they had the same goal ultimately. I connect this to Language Arts (because at this point they are looking at their schedules to make sure that they didn't mistakenly walk into their Science class) by saying that working together may challenge our thinking, but we all have the same goals--to grow as readers and writers!


5 minutes

Lastly, I have students reflect on their contribution to the group. Was their voice heard? Why or why not? Did they score better as a group, or individually? What did they learn about themselves in the process?

They put this reflection in their Writer's Notebook, and then share out their responses.