Part 1-How Does Physical Weathering Impact the Earth's Surface?

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SWBAT: explain how physical weathering slowly changes the Earth's surface.

Big Idea

Students will conduct a simulation to explain how physical weathering changes the Earth's surface.

Lesson Overview

5e Lesson Plan Model

Many of my science lessons are based upon and taught using the 5E lesson plan model: Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate. This lesson plan model allows me to incorporate a variety of learning opportunities and strategies for students.  With multiple learning experiences, students can gain new ideas, demonstrate thinking, draw conclusions, develop critical thinking skills, and interact with peers through discussions and hands-on activities.  With each stage in this lesson model, I select strategies that will serve students best for the concepts and content being delivered to them.  These strategies were selected for this lesson to facilitate peer discussions, participation in a group activity, reflective learning practices, and accountability for learning.

Unit Focus

The Earth's Changing Surface unit focuses on some processes that change Earth's surface slowly, over a long period of time, or abruptly. In order for students to develop an understanding that the surface is constantly changing, they take part in a variety of guided inquiries geared towards scaffolding this understanding.  In the first part of the unit, students explore the structure of the Earth and processes that cause changes to it. These lessons include earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides, physical and chemical weathering, erosion and deposition. They need to develop an understanding of these processes and how they change the Earth's surface for the second part of the unit which focuses primarily on minerals, rocks, and the rock cycle. Students apply their understanding of these processes as they investigate the formation of rocks and the cycle of changes they go through in a lifetime.

Lesson Synopsis

The How Does Physical Weathering Impact Earth's Surface lesson takes place over the course of two days (or two class periods.) It provides students opportunity to develop an understanding of how physical weathering affects rocks by conducting a simulation using a sugar cube to represent a rock and a shaking motion to illustrate wind.  After their simulation, students use the think-pair-share strategy with a set of questions I provide them to reflect on the activity.  This strategy allows them to do their own thinking, prepare a response to engage in a discussion with their peers, and get them ready to construct a scientific explanation tomorrow.

Next Generation Science Standards  

This lesson will address the following NGSS Standard(s): 

ESS2.A. Earth's Systems

Earth’s major systems are the geosphere (solid and molten rock, soil, and sediments), the hydrosphere (water and ice), the atmosphere (air), and the biosphere (living things, including humans). These systems interact in multiple ways to affect Earth’s surface materials and processes. The ocean supports a variety of ecosystems and organisms, shapes land forms, and influences climate. Winds and clouds in the atmosphere interact with the land forms to determine patterns of weather.

I address this standard in fifth grade because the elementary school's within my district do not formally teach science; therefore my students enter middle school (fifth grade) with a limited science background and I need to provide scaffolding activities to help them developing their scientific thinking for future lessons related to Earth's systems. In this lesson, students investigate how the geosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere interact by simulating wind's effect on Earth's materials. They illustrate this by shaking a sugar cube. (The sugar cube acts a rock while shaking simulates wind.)  This experience shows how winds in the atmosphere interact with land, affecting the overall surface of the Earth. By engaging students with activities to support this NGSS standard, I am providing with them experiences that will provide them a foundation to for later lessons involving minerals, rocks, soil, and plants. 

Why do I teach with this lesson?

I teach the part 1-How Does Physical Weathering Impact Earth's Surface lesson to help students develop a understanding that the Earth's surface, the crust, is shaped by different processes like physical weathering. Students examine the effects of wind by observing the the shaken sugar cube from the activity and respond to reflection questions that help process their experience and develop reasoning for changes made to the Earth's surface. Their observations and reflection are used in a guided discussion tomorrow on other physical forces that change the Earth's surface. I find it important to provide guided inquiries that build their vocabulary and understanding of concepts in order to facilitate scientific thinking for future inquiry lessons related to Earth's Changing Surface. These experiences provide them a foundation that will support their learning in later lessons involving processes that change the Earth slowly and rapidly. 

Scientific & Engineering Practices

Students are engaged in the following scientific and engineering Practices.

2.)  Developing and Using Models: Students use a sugar cube as a rock to test the cause and effect relationship of wind by shaking it in a container.  Students evaluate the outcome of the procedure to describe the effect of weathering on rocks or land.

Crosscutting Concepts

"How Does Physical Weathering Impact Earth's Surface" lesson will correlate to other interdisciplinary areas.  These Crosscutting Concepts include:

2.) Cause and Effect:  Students make observations of a sugar cube that has been shaken to identify and determine how wind causes rocks and land to be changed by a natural phenomena. While analyzing images, they provide evidence to explain changes that have occurred based on factors that create weathering to happen.

7.) Stability and Change: Students observe various changes to land and discover changes are based on certain factors wind, water, temperature, and ice. And while these factors do make changes, the process occurs over a long period of time; therefore making rocks and land appear stable. These factors actually make subtle changes over a long period of time. 

Disciplinary Core Ideas

Disciplinary Core Ideas within this lesson include:

ESS2.A Earth Materials and Systems


Classroom Management for Investigations

Importance of Modeling to Develop Student

Responsibility, Accountability, and Independence 

Depending upon the time of year, this lesson is taught, teachers should consider modeling how groups should work together; establish group norms for activities, class discussions, and partner talks.  In addition, it is important to model think aloud strategies.  This sets up students to be more expressive and develop thinking skills during an activity.  The first half of the year, I model what group work and/or talks “look like and sound like.”  I intervene the moment students are off task with reminders and redirecting.  By the second and last half of the year, I am able to ask students, “Who can give of three reminders for group activities to be successful?” Who can tell us two reminders for partner talks?”  Students take responsibility for becoming successful learners.  Again before teaching this lesson, consider the time of year, it may be necessary to do a lot of front loading to get students to eventually become more independent and transition through the lessons in a timely manner.


For time management purposes, I use “lab rats” where each student has a number on the back of his or her chair, 1,2,3,4 (students sit in groups of 4)and displayed on the board.  For each explore activity, I switch up the roles randomly so students are experiencing different task responsibilities which include:  Director, Materials Manager, Reporter, and Technician.  It makes for smooth transitions and efficiency for set up, work, and clean-up. 



10 minutes

I begin today by recapping the main layers of the Earth: crust, mantle, outer core, and inner core from a previous lesson.  I remind the class that we studied these layers so we are aware how far people can dig when they are building structures in the ground, like foundations for houses or buildings and pipes for water or gas lines. Then I explain, "we also have to understand that these layers are constantly changing and how these changes impact structures and other natural parts features on the Earth."

I now bring their attention to the board where examples of weathering images and the question, What caused these rocks and land to form the way they appear here? are displayed through the projector.  I call on a few students to share their thoughts, but do not tell them if they are right or wrong, I only acknowledge their responses. 

After some shares, I ask students to take out their quick write notebook. I tell students to begin writing a response to the images and question displayed on the board.

Then, I direct students to start a turn and talk with their elbow partner, adhering to our turn and talk norms.  During this time I am walking around listening to conversations about the images displayed. Then the class reconvenes as a whole for a discussion. I use the quick pick bucket and call upon three to five people to share. To keep others as active listeners, I remind students to give a thumbs up if they agree and/or have similarities to the students sharing.


30 minutes

After sharing our quick write responses, I ask a student to read the standards board aloud to the class: "Today, we will examine how physical forces slowly change the earth's surface by conducting a simulation and observing the effects." I add on saying, "our goal is to determine the conditions or factors that change Earth's surface.  This will help us understand how and why rocks change when later in this unit."  Then, I instruct students to open their interactive notebook, take two pre-cut cards from the center of the table and paste the task card under on the (input page) and paste the output card on the outputpage in their notebook.  

I move on and review the procedure on the task card with the class and identify the lab rats roles for each part. Then explain, "we are using a sugar cube to represent a piece of the Earth, a rock, and you are simulating wind with a shaking motion for our simulation on physical weathering."  I selected a sugar cube because the shaking (wind) causes it to break into smaller pieces, but shows these smaller pieces are still made of the same material, which is what happens to rocks as they are physically weathered. This activity illustrates how wind can break down rocks into smaller pieces and provides a visual example of how Earth's surface changes.

I continue with directions "First, you are writing an observation about the sugar cube before you do anything to it. Be sure to examine its size, shape, texture etc. and record them on your output page table. Then, you are writing a prediction about what you think is going to happen with it is shaken.  Once your prediction is written, the lab rats' director assigns a person to place the sugar cubes in the jar and and monitors everyone in taking turns to shake it. (about 30 seconds each). The shaking motion is simulating wind on Earth. After each person has shaken the container, open the jar and carefully pour the contents of the jar on the plate, observe and record the changes you see on the sugar cube on the chart on your output page."  I ask for a thumbs up to check in for understanding of the task. 

Once we are clear, students begin writing a prediction on the output page about what they think will happen when it is shaken. I call a few students to share their predictions. Once predictions are written and shared, I have the director initiate the procedure and remind the technician to be ready for timing the sugar cube being shaken.

While students are following through the procedure and activity, I walk around and monitor groups and check in to see if the technician is completing the timing task. I am looking to see if students are noting observed changes to the sugar cube's shape and size. Students continue the physical weathering simulation until all steps in the procedure have been completed.


Reflect /Evaluate (Day 1)

20 minutes

After completing the procedure, I ask students to reflect on what they have learned during the simulation of weathering on the sugar cube by answering the output card questions: 

  1. How did the size, shape, texture change after being shaken in the jar?
  2. How are weathered sugar cubes similar to rocks?
  3. Using evidence from the activity in connection to land, make a claim about the effects of weathering on the land. (They are reminded use a sentence starter on the task card) 

I want them to use a sentence starter so they practice using good sentence structure and develop well-defined explanations. 

I tell them they are using the strategy think-pair-share for their written reflections. I have them think and write out their responses first before group discussions. Giving them time to think helps them be more confident and willing to participate as they have something to contribute to the group.  Through these questions, I want the students to make the connection to how rock pieces break off when wind or moving air takes place and that these rocks shape, size, and texture become smaller, less rigid, and smoother. 

When group members have finished writing responses, I ask the students to share and discuss their thinking with group members. I assure students, "it is ok to disagree with a group member as long as it is done in a respectful manner. As we have in the past, we begin our disagree statements with, I respectfully disagree with _____ because..." With that said, I remind them they need to provide relevant evidence from our investigation or previous lesson. In addition, I tell them to ask questions about the parts they disagree with as it might help them or other members find clarity.  

I bring attention to the lab rats reporter they are reporting out to the class at the end of their group discussion; therefore they need to keep in mind the information being shared by their group members. The lab ratsdirector gets the group started by asking one of their members to begin.  Once everyone, has started, I walk around the room monitoring students throughout the task and randomly stopping in at groups to listen to discussion.   

Once groups have finished discussions, I inform my students we will continue our investigation tomorrow by hearing from the reporters of each group.  I ask them to prepare for that by taking the last few minutes of class to wrap up group discussions. By informing them of what's ahead tomorrow, I am setting them up to be ready as a reporter or listener.