Who doesn't love a water park? Other than the hydrophobes in our midst, middle school students are enthusiastic about roller coasters, water slides and giant water toilet bowls. The Float-a-Boat series of lessons is designed as a pre-assessment and introduction to planning and carrying out scientific investigations and engineering design processes (SP3 Planning and Carrying Out Investigations). From beginning to end, students are engaged in investigation and design process to ask questions and define problems (SP1) about "lazy river boats" at the waterpark; analyze and interpret data (SP4); use mathematics and computational thinking (SP5); construct explanations and design solutions (SP6); and engage in argument from evidence (SP7).
Additional connections to Common Core Mathematical Standards in Measurement and Data occur when students use measurement of mass to collect data and then analyze their data during Part 3 and Part 4 of the lesson. Students also access Common Core Language Arts Standards when writing arguments from evidence in Part 4 of the lesson.
While I use this series of lessons as an introduction and pre-assessment, the lessons can also be used or re-used to explore many different concepts including: mass, weight, displacement, forces and Newton's Laws of Motion (PS2.A: Forces and Motion). Rather than trying to teach all of these concepts at one time, I choose to concentrate on scientific practice learning objectives and tailor the activities, discussions and assessment to match the objectives.
This series of lessons also provides opportunities to make connections to several cross cutting concepts. The Float-a-Boat Investigation represents a system model in which students define the system and test ideas about the system (CCC4). Additionally, students test the stability of the system when changes are made (CCC7) by looking at cause and effect (CCC2) and structure and function (CCC6) of their boats.
The Float-a-Boat series of lessons is a scientific inquiry and engineering design investigation that including lessons taught over the span of 1 - 2 weeks. To help manage the magnitude of this activity, you will find the project split into 4 parts.
The EXPLAIN stage provides students with an opportunity to communicate what they have learned so far and figure out what it means. During this stage of the lesson, I use the checklist found on page 4 of the Float a Boat Design Plan to complete the second part of the investigation. This second part consists of a consultation with each design team. The design team not only pitches their boat idea, but explains their design plan. This video explains the consultation process using Float-a-Boat Design Plan Student Work.
Additional discussion of the consultation process can be found in this section's reflection: Conferencing with Students as a Form of Direct Instruction.
After the consultation phase, students complete the third part of the investigation. Using the feedback provided during the consultation, student groups modify or revise the design plan using a different color pen or a separate design plan. Depending on time, it may be beneficial for student groups to complete a final draft of their design plan to encourage Common Core Production and Distribution of Writing English Language Standards.
Upon final approval, students are able to move on to the build and test part of the investigation. There are several factors to consider during this fourth part of the investigation:
1) Do students have the necessary measurement skills to collect data about the mass of their passengers? If not, insert a lesson like the Measurement:Mass lesson. This lesson requires an additional two 50-minute lessons or equivalent block period.
2) Check pacing of the lesson. At this point, are student groups scattered throughout the process? Do you have the space, classroom management and patience to handle students using water and tools? If it is better for the class to have everyone testing their boats at the same time, give groups that are finished the opportunity to write final draft design plans or work on an extension (exploring displacement is a good core disciplinary idea connection).
As students build and test, remind students to follow the safety precautions identified in their design plans. Visuals of how to test the boats are shown here:
The EXTEND stage allows students to apply new knowledge to a novel situation. The novel situation in this case is included in the fifth part of the investigation: Exploring Variables. Students think of some factors they could change about the boat that might help it hold more passengers. Students describe what they will do to test one new variable below on the Float a Boat Design Plan.
As discussed earlier, if pacing is an issue, this stage can be considered a true extension and be completed only by groups who have time. There are several benefits for groups who complete this part of the investigation. One benefit is that the data analysis that occurs in Part 3 of this lesson series becomes richer. With multiple data sets, students can make more conclusions about the success of their boats. Secondly, by having students manipulate a variable, there is a departure point for discussions about controlled experiments and independent, dependent and controlled variables: Exploring Controlled Experiments.
Upon completion of the building and testing of additional boats, students move on to data analysis and evaluation of learning: