Inquiry Based Instructional Model
To intertwine scientific knowledge and practices and to empower students to learn through exploration, it is essential for scientific inquiry to be embedded in science education. While there are many types of inquiry-based models, one model that I've grown to appreciate and use is called the FERA Learning Cycle, developed by the National Science Resources Center (NSRC):
A framework for implementation can be found here.
I absolutely love how the Center for Inquiry Science at the Institute for Systems Biology explains that this is "not a locked-step method" but "rather a cyclical process," meaning that some lessons may start off at the focus phase while others may begin at the explore phase.
Finally, an amazing article found at Edudemic.com, How Inquiry-Based Learning Works with STEM, very clearly outlines how inquiry based learning "paves the way for effective learning in science" and supports College and Career Readiness, particularly in the area of STEM career choices.
In this unit, students will develop an understanding of gravity while focusing heavily on the 5th Grade Engineering and Design standards. In the first few lessons students will explore the relationships between gravity, weight, and mass. Then, students will apply their understanding of gravity to engineer and design parachutes and roller coasters.
Summary of Lesson
Yesterday, students examined the relationships between a planet's mass, radius, and surface gravity factor (gravity in relation to Earth). Then, they explored how much a pop can weighs on other celestial bodies in the Solar System. Today, students will construct and analyze a bar graph using their collected investigation data. Through this investigation, students will develop an understanding that gravity is a downward force that pulls objects toward the center of a planet's core.
Next Generation Science Standards
This lesson will address the following NGSS Standard(s): 5-PS2-1. Support an argument that the gravitational force exerted by Earth on objects is directed down.
Scientific & Engineering Practices
For this lesson, students are engaged in Science & Engineering Practices 2 and 5.
Science & Engineering Practice 2: Developing and Using Models - Students weigh pop cans that model the actual weight of a soda at different locations in the Solar System. They use these models to describe a scientific principal: The weight of an object changes on each celestial body as the gravitational pull changes.
Science & Engineering Practice 5: Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking - Students measure the estimated weight of soda cans and they calculate the actual weight of each soda can on different celestial bodies in the Solar System (Mars, Earth's Moon, Sun). After graphing the actual quantities, students analyze the set of data closer.
To relate content across disciplinary content, during this lesson I focus on Crosscutting Concept 1.
Crosscutting Concept 1: Patterns - Through questioning and observing, students will recognize patterns between the weight of a can of soda on various celestial bodies.
Disciplinary Core Ideas
In addition, this lesson also aligns with the Disciplinary Core Idea, PS2.B. Types of Interactions: The gravitational force of Earth acting on an object near Earth’s surface pulls that object toward the planet’s center. (5-PS2-1)
To add depth to student understanding, when I can, I'll often integrate ELA standards with science lessons. Today, students will work on meeting CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.5.2: Determine two or more main ideas of a text and explain how they are supported by key details; summarize the text. In this lesson, students will identify supporting details that support the main idea of the text, "Mass and weight are different."
Students will engage in Math Practice 2: Reason abstractly and quantitatively. As students construct a bar graph using data in decimal form, they will also be conceptualizing decimals and making sense of quantities and their relationships.
Choosing Science Teams
With science, it is often difficult to find a balance between providing students with as many hands-on experiences as possible, having plenty of science materials, and offering students a collaborative setting to solve problems. Any time groups have four or more students, the opportunities for individual students to speak and take part in the exploration process decreases. With groups of two, I often struggle to find enough science materials to go around. So this year, I chose to place students in teams of three! Picking science teams is always easy as I already have students placed in desk groups based upon behavior, abilities, and communication skills. Each desk group has about six kids, so I simply divide this larger group in half.
Gathering Supplies & Assigning Roles
To encourage a smooth running classroom, I ask students to decide who is a 1, 2, or 3 in their groups of three students (without talking). In no time, each student has a number in the air. I'll then ask the "threes" to get certain supplies, "ones" to grab their computers, and "twos" to hand out papers (or whatever is needed for the lesson). This management strategy has proven to be effective when cleaning up and returning supplies as well!
I begin the lesson by reviewing the investigation from yesterday's lesson: Yesterday, you were able to actually feel how heavy a full can of soda is on other planets and celestial bodies. You worked together with your science team to measure the weight of each can of pop in Newtons. I can't wait to discuss your results further!
I ask students to get out their data tables from yesterday's investigation. Most students had the time to measure and record the weight of a can of soda on each celestial body under the "Measured Weight in Newtons" column: Student Data Table (besides on the sun).
At this point, I provide students with the "Actual Weight in Newtons" and students recorded this amount in the last column:
Most students measured and recorded data from yesterday's investigation that was close to the above data, but not exact. Some students were disappointed that they were off by a fraction of a Newtons each time. We discussed how more precise tools would provide us with more precise data. Fifth grade level classroom spring and balance scales are not always the more accurate. As a side note, if I taught this lesson again, I would have randomly listed the above weights on the board (without the names of the celestial bodies). This way students could measure the weight of each pop can and then look up to find the closest decimal number to their measurement!
Making a Bar Graph
As part of the engineering process, it's important for students to take a closer look at data. Graphs often provide a unique opportunity to see the data set a s whole.
After students record the actual weights, I pass out a Bar Graph to each student. I model how to graph the first two bars on the bar graph, Mercury (1.27 N) and Venus (3.04 N). Then, students complete the bar graphs with their group members: Student Graph Example.
To encourage students to take a deeper look at their investigative experience and data, I ask students to share their overall observations or any questions they are left wondering. I make a list of observations and questions on the board during this time, Observations & Questions, and students record the collected student thoughts in their science journals as well: Observations & Questions in Student Journals.
I love listening to students draw conclusions based upon their collected data and apply this investigation to our prior conversation about astronauts jumping on the moon, "You could probably jump higher on Pluto than on other celestial bodies because there's less gravity."
I want to integrate today's lesson with reading by introducing an ELA goal: I can support the main idea with exact text details. I elaborate: The main idea is a sentence that explains what the whole text is about. When reading informational texts, it is important to be able to determine the main idea and to look for key supporting details that support the main idea.
So today, when you're looking for supporting details, where are you going to look? Are you going to look at our posters on the wall? (No...) Are you going to provide information that you have stored in your head? (No...) Or are you going to find EXACT details from the text? (Yes!)
Students write the goal at the top of a new page in their science journals. I also ask students to get out their reading handout from yesterday: pages 206-209 of the following link.
To help students determine the main idea of the text, I read the title of the article out loud, "Mass & Weight: What's the difference?" What do you suppose this science article is going to be about? What do you think will be the main idea of the article? (Mass and weight are different.)
I model how to write the following in student journals:
Main Idea: Mass and weight are different.
(I show students how to make a bulleted list.)
Today, as you read article with your team, I'd like for you to each make a bulleted list of supporting details that support the main idea, "Mass and weight are different."
Monitoring Student Understanding
Once students begin working, I conference with every group. My goal is to support students by asking guiding questions (listed below). I also want to encourage students to engage in Science & Engineering Practice 7: Engaging in Argument from Evidence.
During this conference, Finding Supporting Details, I guide students to find another detail from the text that supports the main idea, "Mass and weight are different." This is also a key scientific concept when studying weight and mass. Students need multiple exposures to science concepts (through teacher demonstrations, investigations, reading, etc.) to truly grasp the idea.
Here, Applying Research to the Moon, I encourage students to apply this research to the moon. This will help make the words not their page more meaningful and add depth to their understanding of gravity.
Here's an example of student notes during this time: Student Notes Example.