Lessons from Galileo

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Students will create a multimedia presentation that investigates the scientific legacy of Galileo.

Big Idea

Thought experiments are an essential tool utilized by physicists throughout history.


This lesson focuses on the scientific legacy of Galileo, since many of his experiments are the driving force behind most of the kinematics we study in this unit. This lesson addresses standards RST.11-12.7 because it asks students to synthesize information from multiple sources including videos with pause points, physical models, and a WebQest to investigate ideas that Galileo Galilei made famous. It also aligns with the NGSS Practices of Using Mathematical Reasoning (SP5) and Developing and Using Models (SP2) and Obtaining, Evaluating and Communicating Information (SP8) for Science because students use logic to create visuals that demonstrate their understanding of whether heavy objects fall faster than lighter ones

The concept of uniform acceleration is useful in constructing an explanation of concepts like free fall, projectile motion, and forces like weight and the normal force later on in the curriculum. This introductory lesson on Galileo's scientific legacy precedes lessons on Gravitational Filed Strength and Equations of Motion. Within this lesson, students obtain information for Galileo's scientific relevance from a set of video notes with pause points. Students then use a routine called Think, Puzzle, Explore to investigate one of Galileo's famous lessons and answer the question, "Do heavy objects fall faster than lighter ones?"  Finally, students work in pairs to use a WebQuest to gather more information about Galileo and his connection to modern mechanics. I assess student understanding throughout the lesson using informal check-ins, and will assess each student's work at the end of the school day.



5 minutes

At the beginning of each lesson, I have a quick bell-ringer to get students focused on the tasks for today's lesson.  I project a slide with the date, the objective and an additional prompt  on the interactive whiteboard with a red label that says "COPY THIS" in the top left-hand corner. Sometimes the additional prompt is a BIG IDEA for the lesson, or the Quote of the Day or a Quick Fact from current events that is related to the lesson. The red label helps my students easily interact with the information as soon as they enter the room and avoids losing transition time as students enter the classroom. 

Today's lesson has the big idea about the importance of logical thinking that I want students to consider and make connections to as we move toward interpreting kinematics in more than one dimension. I choose this big idea because I want students to learn that improving models over time when more information becomes available is a key part of the nature of science. 

Ed-Puzzle: Galileo in a Nutshell

10 minutes

Within this lesson, I include a set of notes in the form of an EDpuzzle that I project at the interactive whiteboard at the front of the room. This part of the lesson focuses on the scientific legacy of Galileo to modern physics. For the first ten minutes, I play the Edpuzzle at the front of the room for the entire class and pause at the pause points that have I embedded as green question marks in the video.

During the first ten minutes, students take notes in their notebooks. I ask students if they have any questions or concerns about the methods discussed in the video. We have a whole class discussion for 2-4 minutes. Some students ask, "Why did Galileo explain himself to the Church so much?" and "How did scientists respond when Galileo proved that Aristotle was wrong?". While other students comment that, "Galileo was really focused." and "I would have studied medicine instead." During the last minute of this section of the lesson, I post this video on our class Edmodo wall so that students can watch, pause and replay the video outside of class. During the next section, students are given a web driven assignment to complete in pairs.

Revisiting A Famous Thought Experiment

10 minutes

During the first five minutes of this section, I give students a writing prompt to complete in their notebooks. In this section of the lesson, I have chosen an introductory routine called think-puzzle-explore where students share their answers to the question "Do heavy objects fall faster than lighter ones?" in small groups. I give students a textbook and four sheets of printer paper to make observations and answer this question. I give four sheets because there are four students at each lab station. Students take turns making and testing hypotheses using the textbook and piece of paper to determine if heavy objects fall faster than lighter ones. Some students drop the paper and book from the same height at the same time to observe whether both objects hit the floor at the same time. Other students drop the objects one at a time and measure the time it takes for each object to hit the ground. Only a few students put the paper on top of the textbook and drop them from a height. 

First the students write their answers in their notebooks and then they share their answers with their station partners. Some student comments include, "Of course heavy objects fall faster than lighter ones.", and "Maybe lighter objects fall faster since the obvious answer is that heavy objects will fall faster than lighter ones." Click here to see an example of student work. 

After students talk to with their station partners, I take a piece of printer paper and a textbook and ask students, "Is there any way that these two objects will hit the floor at the same time?"  Many students answer, "No way". I then place the sheet of paper on top of the textbook and drop both objects. The students exhibit surprise that the objects fall at the same rate. Several students ask me to do it again and a few skeptical students are certain that I taped the paper to the book. I show students that both objects are not connected by tape.

Then, I ask students, "Is there any way that these two objects will hit the floor at the same time if they are not touching one another?" Some students suggest that "The paper will float and take a longer time than the book."  I then crumple the sheet of paper and drop both objects from separate hands. I tell students that this is one of the lessons that we learn from Galileo Galilei whose scientific legacy we will explore some more during the next section of the lesson. 

Investigating Galileo's Scientific Legacy

45 minutes

WebQuests are attributed to Bernie Dodge and are described as an inquiry-driven project where most of the information that students gather to complete a set of tasks is derived from credible web-based sources. Some of the top reasons to use WebQuests are to facilitate a student-as-researcher mode of learning within a classroom. I think WebQuests are useful when there is a wide spread of student levels of understanding within my classroom.  

I project the Lessons from Galileo WebQuest on the interactive whiteboard at the front of the room. Then I spend about five minutes showing students how to navigate the web quest while paying special attention the task and process task as well as the resources within the WebQuest.

Students spend the next 30 minutes working in pairs on the WebQuest using Chromebooks.  While students work in pairs, they take notes either in a shared document using Google drive or in their lab notebooks. This activity takes 1-2 days to complete and is technology heavy. If trying to adapt this activity with limited access to technology in the classroom, think about creating a set of resources for student pairs or quads to share using the information in the resource section of the WebQuest. 

While students work on this activity, I circulate to ensure that each team is able to work independently on the task. I remind the class that the work products are of their choice and are due in two days at the end of the school day. I limit the choices to the 5 P's (powerpoint, Prezi, Popplet, Powtoon, Padlet) because I want students to focus on using 21st-century tools for academic purposes. Students take the information they gather to answer the questions I pose on the WebQuest task and process tabs and create a visual on the scientific legacy of Galileo. Click here to see an example of student work.


10 minutes

I provide students with an Exit Slip with a set of writing prompts for a routine called a headlines, where students are tasked with creating a thesis statement about the lesson in 15 words or less. Some student responses include, "Galileo used logic to show that all objects fall at the same rate", and "Galileo proved that Aristotle did not know what he was talking about". Other student responses are, "WebQuests are cool and much better than understanding checks" and "Sometimes it does not pay to listen to what everyone else is sure is true."

This type of exit helps students to learn how to condense large amounts of information into easy to understand concepts as this is an essential skill for scientists. To wrap up the lesson, I remind students that I will return the exit slips at the beginning of the next lesson and we will go over the feedback from their exit slips during the beginning of our next class.