Part One - Submersible Model: Soda Cup Lander

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SWBAT develop questions and use a diagram (schematic) to explain how 'soda cup lander' descends and ascends in water.

Big Idea

Engineers learn how a 'soda cup lander' works and collaborate and plan with peers to modify the 'soda cup lander' to address a selected challenge.

NGSS Connection and Lesson Preparation

30 minutes

NGSS Connections

Disciplinary Core Ideas

- K-2-ETS1-2

Students hypothesize how the parts of the Soda Cup Lander help it descend, land and ascend and record their ideas on a diagram of the Soda Cup Lander. Then decide how to test the parts of the Soda Cup Lander, writing observations and discussing conclusions on how the parts help the Soda Cup Lander system ascend, land and descend.

Crosscutting Concepts -

- Systems and system models (XC 4)

Students look at the parts of the 'soda cup lander' to help them determine how that helps the SCL design system work.

- Structure and Function (XC 6)

Students consider how the shape and design of the SCL help with its abiltiy to descend, land and ascend.

Science and Engineering Practices

- SP3 - Planning and Carrying Out Investigations

Students investigate the parts of the 'soda cup lander' SCL, and its design to make a conclusion about how it works.

- SP4 - Analyze and Interpret Data

Students record observations about the SCL and analyze whether the design works as it was intended.

- SP7 - Engage in Argument from Evidence

Students write a conclusion based on their observations about how the SCL components and / or SCL design help it descend, land and ascend.


Alka Seltzer and cup

Soda Cup Lander for demonstration

Clear container for Soda Cup Lander (SCL) demonstration. I use a small aquarium.

The SCL Design was modified so students could easily load the film canister. Magnets were used to connect the canister to the cup versus glue. A magnet was glued to the inside of the canister lid and to the outside of the cup. This makes it easier for the kiddos to remove the canister for observations and loading of the 'fuel cell' (alka seltzer).

Material for Teams:

- SCL Lab Book for each student

- container of water to test materials

- soda cup

- washers

- rubberbands

- some duct tape

- film canister with holes and pennies inside (I went to film processing/developing places and asked for film canisters)

- paperclips

- assembled 'soda cup lander' (students examine this after material evaluation)


Question for the Day - How do models help engineers?

10 minutes

Question for the Day: How do models help engineers, like the engineers that built the Deep Sea Challenger? I connect this question to our previous lesson, to help scaffold their thinking for possible answers. (link to lesson)

By starting science with a question, I am exposing students to today's topic before the lesson has officially begun. We start science on the rug together. Students know when they return from lunch, we meet on the rug to read our 'science question for the day'. I have established this routine with the kiddos to keep transition time short and effective and redirect student's attention back to content while allowing time for focused peer interaction.

"Let's read the question. Before we turn and share our answers, I want to make sure we understand what a model is. These are models," I point to a toy car, touch tank, globe, and sperm whale "and these are not models," I point to a chair, computer, book, and pen.

I make a T chart on the board and ask volunteers to compare the 2 sorts. "What are the attributes of this group?" As they give me answers I fill in the chart

Here is another lesson on the concept of models

"Now that we have a better idea of what a model is, please turn and share how a model may help an engineer."

After a couple of moments, I call on volunteers to share their answers. I write their ideas on the board. Later I will copy their answers on a chart that we will refer to and revise as students work on different engineering lessons through out the year.

I review their answers and connect the idea of a model to their schema for 'diagram'. Students worked with diagrams in our last unit on seeds.

"A model and diagram both help convey information in an efficient, accurate and quick, manner. A model can also help engineers test their designs before making them full scale."

Labeling the 'Soda Cup Lander'

10 minutes

I place the Soda Cup Lander, SCL, under the document camera.

"The Sea Cup Lander is a model of a submersible. What can a submersible do? What did the Deep Sea Challenger do?

Engineers today you will test the parts of the SCL to determine how it descends, lands and ascends. Engineers write observations when they run their tests. You will keep your observations of your tests in a log book."

I pass out the SCL engineering log book and direct students to look at the SCL diagram on the first page. For this lesson students will be using the lab pages from part 1 and the cover of the lab book.

I ask what is missing on their diagram. (the labels)

"Since you will be testing the different parts of the SCL today, I want to make sure we know the names for the parts of the Soda Cup Lander. Together we will label the parts on your lander schematic."

I point to specific parts on the model as volunteers provide the name. I model labeling labeling the parts on my diagram.

Labeling the diagram helps my students learn new terms, such a washers and film canister, while correctly identifying where those things are on their image. Next time I will ask students to use a marker when labeling, because pencil does not show up as well.


Parts and Design Investigation

40 minutes

Setting the Scenario

"I want to show you that this is a working model of a submersible, that it descends, lands and rises."

I place the SCL in an aquarium to demonstrate that the submersible, descends, lands and rises. Turn and talk with your team about what you think helps it descend, land and rise? I listen to conversations and then signal students' attention. 

"This model acts like a submersible, but it does not have any scientific instruments. Later you will test and choose scientific instruments to add to your submersible, but for you to make good decisions about which instruments to add to your submersible, you need to know how the SCL works without the instruments."

"Today you will test the parts of the submersible to understand what makes it descend, land and rise safely."

I send teams to their tables.

Students Hypotheses on Which Parts Help the SCL Descend, Land and Ascend 

"What do you think helps it descend, land and rise?

"Look at your diagram of the SCL on pg. 2 in your lab, and discuss this with your engineering team what parts you think help it descend. Let's share your ideas and I will show you how we can note this on your SCL diagram."

I direct students to select 3 different colored markers, to help them distinguish on the SCL diagram the parts that help it descend, land and ascend.

Using the 3 colors helped students distinguish which parts helped with the 3 functions of the SCL.

I model how students could note their hypothesis on which parts of the SCL help it descend. Then I give them time discuss and note which parts help it land and ascend.

I ask questions about the role of the submersible, that it can sink, so there should be parts that help it sink, it can land without rolling, what helps with this, and it rises what could help with this.

I want students to consider how the parts work together to create a system, (soda cup lander that can descend, land and ascend).

I observed that students were not clear as to how the SCL ascends, they thought it had something to do with the magnets. This will be a misconception that I will address when we look closer at the alka seltzer (fuel cell).

Investigating the SCL Parts

When I see the teams finish their hypothesizes. I direct teams to turn to page 3 in their lab book.

"In each team's box are all the parts that were used to build the submersible. Your job is to test what these parts do when you place them in water, to help you better understand how the parts help the submersible descend, land and rise. The submersible model is in your box too, but it does not have have a 'fuel cell'. Use the model to help you understand how the parts work. "

"With your team discuss how you will test the parts, how will you place them in the water. Each of you is responsible to write the results in you log book. The parts you test are listed on page 3 in your log book. You will fill out how you tested the parts and what happened, your observations."

"On the back table are the items and containers for water. The designated person from each team picks up the items. I walk around with a pitcher to pour water in the containers."

When I see teams have completed their observations for the SCL items. I signal students to meet me on the rug.

Observations on Launching the SCL

Time was running short so I did this as a whole class, with students sitting around the aquarium. In the lab book, this is the lower section of page 3.

"Do you think we need to test how to release the SCL in the water so that it has a safe journey? Describe with your team how you think the SCL should be released in the water. Then we will try out different ways to launch the SCL and describe the best way to launch the SCL so that is lands safely."

I call on different teams to give suggestions on how we should launch the SCL. After we agree on how to release the SCL, we discuss the 'fuel cell'.

Before students launch their SCL in part 3, it helps to remind them of this demonstration, because it will make a difference for how well their SCL descends.

"There is one more part of the system that we need to observe to help you understand how the SCL ascends. We need to observe how the 'alka seltzer fuel cell' works."

I drop an alka seltzer in water and direct teams to discuss what they observe. Next, I place a film canister with holes, and that holds pennies and an alka seltzer, in water and ask teams to discuss what is happening. I have pointed out that there are holes in the SCL canister

I am using this demonstration to help scaffold student observations that the bubbles coming out of the canister help create an air bubble in the cup, which will help it ascend.  

I do not feel like there was much time for this demonstration. Next time I will move the alka seltzer demonstration to the next lesson when students take SCL Base Line Data.

Explaining the SCL Design

20 minutes

Parts to Whole - Summarizing How the SCL Ascends, Descends and Lands

I did not get to this section, but it is important for me to see if the students are grappling with how the parts of the SCL system support how the SCL performs its tasks of descend, land, ascend.

Next time I plan on incorporating this section, as an exit ticket on a form I hand out.

I ask a team to demonstrate what they know now about how the SCL parts helps it descend, land, ascend. I encourage students to place their observation notes or SCL diagram under the document camera or use the SLC, to support their explanation.

"Your classmates gave ideas on how the parts of the SCL do their job. They used observations from their tests, to help them conclude how the SCL works. Scientists and engineers base their conclusions on observations and testing, just like we did with the blue boxes."

"Now it is your teams's turn to write your conclusion about what helps the SCL descend, land and ascend. Remember to use your observations to help your team write it's conclusion.

"There are sentence frames to help you write your conclusion." I project the form and point out the sentence frames under the document camera.

"Your sentences may start like this, I think the ... help it sink or land because when we tested it, this is what happened. The ... design on the SCL helped it land because I observed ...

After you have finished writing your conclusion, everyone on your team writes their name and turn in the form."