Standards Addressed: The lessons in this unit meet NGSS standard MS-ETS1 - Engineering Design because they require students to consider a real world problem and then design a solution for the problem.
Students are asked to find a way to safely help frogs cross a road which requires them to take into account "relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions." Students present their projects to the class and "evaluate competing design solutions." At the end of the project we discuss the positive attributes of all of the projects to determine an optimal design.
This lesson also meets:
NGSS MS-LS2 - Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics as we review interdependent relationships in ecosystems and "evaluate competing design solutions for maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services."
Reading a scientific article during the lesson helps to meet CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.6-8.4 and CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.6-8.10 as students examine scientific terms in context.
Students are asked to present and discuss their ideas with the class, helping to meet CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.8.1.
The written portion of the assignment meets CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.8.4.
I turn my SMARTBoard Frogger Presentation* on before my students enter the room, so the Frogger picture catches their attention. Before the bell rings the students ask what we are working on and I ask them to think about what it could be instead of telling them right away. This helps build suspense and interest in the lesson. After the bell, I ask for a show of hands of the students who are familiar with the game**. I typically have several who have heard of or played the game and a few who have not. I ask for a volunteer to explain the idea behind the game. I then show the students screen shots of the early version of the game and the newer version of the game in order to briefly discuss technological advancements, which ties into a prior lesson on technology.
Prior to this lesson we have discussed using basic processes in science, so I ask them to use the basic process of predicting to predict how we could use Frogger in the classroom. The student answers tend to include topics related to technology and they ask if we will be playing the game in class.
**This is a brief video example of someone playing Frogger.
After listening to the student predictions for the day's lesson, I read them an AP article about frogs causing traffic accidents. At this point in the lesson, I have had some students ask why it matters if frogs are killed. I first ask the students to try to answer the question, and I write their answers on the board. This provides me with the opportunity to review with them the interdependence of organisms in an ecosystem (MS-LS2.A). During this time I also introduce the idea of frogs as biological indicators. We read aloud key portions of a scientific journal article describing the ways in which frogs are biological indicators and briefly discuss the main ideas (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.6-8.10).
I explain to the students that several different countries have had issues with frogs causing accidents as they migrate across roads, and that the countries have dealt with the problem in a variety of ways. Of course, it is also not good for the frogs!
I am careful not to tell the students the solutions used by the different countries, though I have had students that have researched the information on their own. I then tell the students that they will be required to find a cost effective and humane way to help frogs cross the road. Placing the constraints of requiring the project to be cost effective and humane, helps to meet NGSS MS-ETS1-2 where students will later evaluate their projects based on how well they meet their constraints. These requirements also help the students construct realistic projects. I hand out the assignment guidelines and go over them with the students. I tell the students that they have the rest of class brainstorm and the following two class periods will be spent building a prototype of their design. The students will then spend one class period explaining their design to their classmates (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.8.1). The projects will also displayed for parents and other students to view.
I generally use a note card review game* to have students "find" a partner. Each student is given a note card. Some students have a note card with a key word on it, while other students have definitions or examples of the key words. Since this lesson plan reviews the science process skills we use throughout the year, each card contains information about one of the processes. Once each student has a card, they begin walking around the room looking for their partner. After a partnership has been established, the students check in with me and then begin brainstorming.
The students work on step one of the worksheet, brainstorming their projects, while I walk around and ask them questions about their ideas. Because we will narrow down their ideas later, I ask the students to write down any idea they come up with. I want the students to generate several ideas as a way to begin thinking creatively. Some of their ideas are silly, but those ideas will be teased out when the students more carefully examine their ideas based on the project guidelines. The students write their ideas on the guideline sheet. I ask the students questions to help them narrow down the ideas they brainstormed. I do this by asking them questions like: What would happen if....? Can you tell me why.....? What is the function of.....?
Most students finish the brainstorming section before the end of class and are able to select the materials they want to use for the project. I have a supply of recycled materials that the students are able to use to create their models. In order to gain entrance to the science lab to acquire materials, I require the students to show me their completed brainstorming section. At the conclusion of class I remind the students that we will spend the next day building their projects.
By the end of class, I expect students to have completed the first two steps of the project, as identified in this student work example. In this work sample, the student's reasons listed in step two are not as developed as what I was looking for, so I followed up with the student by asking her to explain why she thought that idea was better than her other ideas.
*Using a note card review game not only gets students thinking, and up and moving around, it is also a tool to assess my teaching and to differentiate the student experience. This is explained further in the Differentiating While Checking for Understanding Reflection.