Young Mountain or Old Mountain?

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SWBAT construct a theory about the age of a mountain then share that theory like a scientist.

Big Idea

Explaining your thinking takes practice and skill. This lesson offers students the chance to practice pulling their ideas together to share with others.

Setting the Stage

5 minutes

This lesson has three purposes.

The first purpose is to establish a connection to 2-ESS1-1.  The standard asks students to make observations from media to construct an evidence based-account that Earth events can occur quickly or slowly.  Understanding the effects of weathering and erosion are clear examples of this. 

The second is to elicit any ideas or preconceived thoughts the students may have about erosion. I use a probe that has been adapted and tweaked a bit from the Page Keely Uncovering Student Ideas in Science, Volume One. The probes are designed to be utilized in many ways.  I have chosen to use this one as a pre-assessment for my students. I want to gather any information I can about their understandings, or possible preconceived concepts about erosion and weathering.  

The last purpose is to practice speaking and communicating like a scientist. While giving the probe has a purpose for me to see what my students already know about erosion, I don't want to waste the opportunity.  So I am also using it teach the children how to distinguish between their opinion and evidence (SP7).


5 minutes

I ask the children to look out the classroom window and look at the mountains that surround our valley.  We are fortunate to live at the base of the Cascade Mountain Range.  Beautiful mountains are part of our natural scenery.  

Rather than use picture visuals for this imagery, I ask the children to look out the window and imagine they are on the top of the highest mountain they can see.  I ask them to tell me if they can tell the age of the mountain they are standing on.  I let the question float in the air for a few moments. I am watching for any reaction I may hear from the question. I am anticipating I will hear something. Typically, people do not associate the word 'age' with a mountain. I want to make sure I do not contribute to any misconceptions that could arise from the wording of the probe.  

My prediction is correct and some of the children are puzzled by the question. I hear answers like "The mountain doesn't have a life cycle, how can it be alive?" or "There are living plants and animals on the mountain, does that make it alive?" 

We address all these questions and I explain to the children that just because an object has living plants and animals within it's environment, does not meant that it is alive. I know that this is a hard concept for my little ones to grasp.  

This is the perfect opportunity to bring in the language of a geologist. The children are very accustomed to knowing now that there are many different types of scientists and they all have their own specialty.  We discuss that this unit will be giving us some chances to think like a geologist and make some discoveries about the mountains.  I also explain that we may learn that there are even many different types of geologists that have special roles in science as well. 


10 minutes

I pass out the Mountain Age Probe to the students and have them look at the picture.  I instruct them not to write anything until we have had a bit more conversation.  

I explain to the children that the directions are very simple, I want them to answer the question of which mountain is the oldest?  This is not the first probe we have attempted, so the children are familiar with the format. I remind them that the written response section asks them to explain their thinking. This phrase in itself, can be confusing.  

Much of the new terminology we are asking of our students these days is new not only to our students, but teachers as well.  In some cases, we are learning to reshape the way we phrase everything we say.  This is one of those times.  Explain your thinking is a new phrase that has come to be very important in science, math and reading.  Of course, it takes time for our little ones to wrap their minds around what this means.  My expectations are that the children will be able to write for me what they believe is the oldest mountain and give me at least one reason why.  In other curriculum areas, we have used these words and practiced this verbally a lot!!! 

Verbally sharing your thinking and writing it are two very different skills. I anticipate that this will take much longer to write because the children are still working on their writing skills. Writing these complex thoughts takes more time.  

I allow the children time to write and put all their ideas down on the paper.  I am circulating throughout the room while the children are writing.  


15 minutes

Because I am using this probe to tell me what the children know about erosion before we really dig into this unit, I do not want to teach much about the age of the mountain at this point.  However, I do want the children to have practice constructing an explanation from an observation that explains something in the natural world (SP6).

So I explain to the children that I will be taking their answers home with me to read and understand their thinking.  Because there is no clear answer to this probe, I will looking to see if the children write anything like:

  • the mountain could loose some of the top from wind blowing or snow runoff
  • the mountain can get bigger from uplift of other plates underneath (this is a very high level thinking process and I would not expect many children to say this, but it is possible).
  • the shape of the mountain could also be determined from movement of rocks or debris from erosion which could also change the shape or size

But before I do this, I want them to be able to practice sharing their thinking and constructing their "argument" or "rationale" for their thinking with each other.  

I explain that when scientists share their ideas or thoughts, they must do it in a very professional and courteous manner. They cannot just blurt out their ideas.  I then explain further that this can be difficult to do, so I have a sentence stem for them to use to practice their sharing.  I bring up the Sentence Stem on the screen in the front of the classroom for all the children to see and use.  

I tell the children that they will all have a turn to practice. They will be working with their shoulder buddy, the child sitting next to them. I remind them how we sit facing each other with our knees touching and heads together. I designate which child will go first, usually it is the child who's back is facing the Smart Board and the child who's back is to the reading table will go second.  I instruct them to use the stem to practice speaking and sharing their thinking with their partners.  

We also remind ourselves of how we respond when we are listening to another scientist share their thoughts. We look them in the eye, make eye contact and acknowledge them by shaking our head. We only shake our head in agreement, never in disagreement.