Writing in science is a great formative assessment. It provides students with an opportunity to reflect about what they have learned as they communicate their findings as one scientist to another scientist. When we add audience for student writing, we are authenticating their writing for a purpose. Students need to apply writing skills in all content areas. In this lesson students will be writing about their experiences and discoveries as the result of working as a scientist, making the task easier for most and relevant.
"To write well is to think clearly." That's why it's so hard." - David McCullough
Investigation Summary and Standards
This investigation was completed in Plate Movement Day 1 lesson. In today's lesson, students demonstrate their understanding of the previous day's activities by communicating their observations of plate movement to other scientists using domain specific vocabulary.
Students demonstrate in their written report how they evaluated scientific drawings and created models to identify plate movement. Students connect the creation of mountains, volcanoes and earthquakes with the movement of plates. (MS-ESS2-2 Construct an explanation based on evidence how geoscience processes have changed Earth's surface at varying time and spatial scales) (WHST.6-8.2.D Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to inform about or explain the topic).
Reflection about the learning helps students think deeply about what they are learning. Production of writing is a critical skill, and the only way to build stamina is to practice writing. Having students routinely write, as part of their scientific habits, is a critical element of instruction (WHST.6-8.10 Write routinely over extended time frames (time for reflection and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.)
Students in Action
I begin the lesson by reviewing the information students collected in the previous lesson - Plate Movement Day 1. Plate Movement Student Graphic Organizer is an example of a complete graphic organizer students will use as notes for the writing process today. The notes have the science vocabulary students are expected to use as they write as a scientists to other scientists reporting their findings. This refreshes the memories of the students present yesterday and provides an opportunity for those absent to create their own copy of the graphic organizer. (Materials List)
Today, the expectation is that students use scientific language to communicate as one scientist to another. In the prior lesson, we used a sandwich cookie to model the lithosphere - brittle outer layer consisting of the earth's crust and upper mantle and the asthenosphere - softer plastic layer of the upper mantle. Students also watched short videos with scientific explanations of divergent, convergent and transform boundaries. To check for student understanding, we create concise definitions of each type of boundary and modeled the boundaries using a sandwich cookie. I remind students today that they are working as scientists and their audience is other scientists so they must use the language of their audience.
I use a powerpoint to drive this instruction. There is a slide for each of the boxes on their graphic organizer. On the first click of the mouse, an empty box will appear. I ask students to share out their answers.
I start with a hook. What can we say at the beginning of our summary that will make out write-up a must read for other scientists? What were you thinking when we used the cookie to model plate movement?
As students are sharing, I remind those who may not have an answer to listen for ideas that they can use to develop their own hook. After several students have shared, a click of the mouse reveals a suggested answer. I do this because I have students who are English Language Learners and very low readers in my classroom. These students need a visual as well as an auditory example to help them complete the prompt.
We continue through each of the boxes. As students share out, I "notice", for discussion, that there are several ways to state a correct answer.
Proper use of domain specific vocabulary is very important in science. To help students see in a very concrete way how the use of vocabulary is important for accurate communication with other scientists I have highlighted these words in the power point.
Writing in the science classroom is a new experience for many of my students. At first they are a bit reluctant but I explain that we are scientists in this class and scientists share their work with colleagues in writing. Teaching writing in science is explained in greater depth in the this video. A power point is used to guide student writing and set expectations.
Our final product will be a paragraph with a hook, topic sentence, information is organized with transitions (first, second, then, last, for example) and a conclusion. We use another organizer to write the rough draft to insure that students include an introduction, topic sentence and a conclusion. A student learning outcome for our school is writing complete paragraphs. (SP8 Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information - Communicate scientific and/or technical information (e.g. about a proposed object, tool, process, system) in writing and/or through oral presentations.)
Students follow along with the power point to create a rough draft of their plate movement findings. Students write their findings as a polished piece of work in their science journal. I encourage students to add to their final piece. What we have written in the minimum expectation. Can you tell me more about what you observed about plate movement? Students are also encouraged to edit their rough draft as they write their polished piece. Did you vary the beginning of each sentence - so the sentences do not always begin with "The" for example?
In this lesson we review the procedures written in the previous lesson, update our graphic organizer as well listen to the ideas of other scientists and create a polished piece. These iterations allow students to fully process the new learning in multiple ways, so they are better able to remember what they learned.
Students are encouraged to double check their work to make certain that they have completed all the requirements using the rubric at the top of their rough draft.
Connecting the Learning
Our earth is an active planet. The surface goes through processes that continuously change the crust. We engage in a brief discussion to examine why it is important to learn about plate movement as well as connect back to an earlier lesson about Convection Currents to understand they why of plate movement.
Why is it important that we study plate movement? I am looking for students to make connections to earthquakes and volcanic activity. While we live in a part of the country where earthquake activity is extremely rare and volcanoes simply do not exist, it is important that students understand the process that shape our planet and plate movement can cause earthquakes and volcanic activity.
What conditions exist within the Earth's mantle that contribute to plate movement? I am looking for students to make the connection back to convection currents, how this convection currents cause the plates to move.
The lessons should build upon student understanding of earth process and not simply seen by students as a series of isolated lessons. Connecting the learning at the end of the lesson by asking questions where students activate knowledge gained from prior lessons helps me understand what connections are being made.