Inquiry Based Instructional Model
To intertwine scientific knowledge and practices and to empower students to learn through exploration, it is essential for scientific inquiry to be embedded in science education. While there are many types of inquiry-based models, one model that I've grown to appreciate and use is called the FERA Learning Cycle, developed by the National Science Resources Center (NSRC):
A framework for implementation can be found here.
I absolutely love how the Center for Inquiry Science at the Institute for Systems Biology explains that this is "not a locked-step method" but "rather a cyclical process," meaning that some lessons may start off at the focus phase will others may begin at the explore phase.
Finally, an amazing article found at Edudemic.com, How Inquiry-Based Learning Works with STEM, very clearly outlines how inquiry based learning "paves the way for effective learning in science" and supports College and Career Readiness, particularly in the area of STEM career choices.
In this unit, students will study each of Earth's major systems: biosphere, geosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere. In addition, students will investigate how these systems interact in multiple ways to affect Earth's materials and processes by conducting research, constructing graphs, creating models, carrying out scientific investigations, and analyzing real-world applications.
Summary of Lesson
Today, I open the lesson by showing a video on the water cycle. Each student team then chooses a water cycle research topic and, using online resources, becomes experts on a single topic. After researching their topics, each group shares out information as the rest of the class takes notes to complete a water cycle diagram poster. At the end of the lesson, students reflect and apply their new understanding of the water cycle by examining how the Earth's systems interact during this process.
Next Generation Science Standards
This lesson will support the following NGSS Standard(s):'
5-ESS2-1. Develop a model using an example to describe ways the geosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and/or atmosphere interact.
Scientific & Engineering Practices
For this lesson, students are engaged in Science & Engineering Practice:
Science & Engineering Practice 8: Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information
Student teams read and comprehend online resources to obtain ideas. Later, students will communicate informational orally to the class.
To relate ideas across disciplinary content, during this lesson I focus on the following Crosscutting Concept:
Crosscutting Concept 4: Systems and System Models
Students study the water cycle model using a diagram. They will also analyzed the water cycle components as a group of related and interacting parts (steps) that make up a whole water cycle.
Disciplinary Core Ideas
In addition, this lesson also aligns with the following Disciplinary Core Ideas:
ESS2.A: Earth Materials and 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 landforms, and influences climate. Winds and clouds in the atmosphere interact with the landforms to determine patterns of weather. (5-ESS2-1)
To add depth to student understanding, when I can, I'll often integrate ELA standards with science lessons. Today, students will work on meeting CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.5.7: Draw on information from multiple print or digital sources, demonstrating the ability to locate an answer to a question quickly or to solve a problem efficiently. In this lesson, the class will be using multiple resources to locate key information involving the water cycle.
Choosing Science Teams
With science, it is often difficult to find a balance between providing students with as many hands-on experiences as possible, having plenty of science materials, and offering students a collaborative setting to solve problems. Any time groups have four or more students, the opportunities for individual students to speak and take part in the exploration process decreases. With groups of two, I often struggle to find enough science materials to go around. So this year, I chose to place students in teams of two or three! Picking science teams is always easy as I already have students placed in desk groups based upon behavior, abilities, and communication skills. Each desk group has about six kids, so I simply divide this larger group in half or thirds.
Gathering Supplies & Assigning Roles
To encourage a smooth running classroom, I ask students to decide who is a 1, 2, or 3 in their groups of three students (without talking). In no time, each student has a number in the air. I'll then ask the "threes" to get certain supplies, "ones" to grab their computers, and "twos" to hand out papers (or whatever is needed for the lesson). This management strategy has proven to be effective when cleaning up and returning supplies as well!
When planning this unit, I found that NGSS standard, 5-ESS2-1 was quite complex: Develop a model using an example to describe ways the geosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and/or atmosphere interact. In past years, I would have taught an entire unit on just one of the spheres.
Therefore, constructing lessons that would provide students with an in-depth understanding of all four systems within a single unit was the main objective. For this reason, I chose to use teacher anchor charts throughout the unit to immediately provide students with background knowledge on each of the spheres. This way, students could then build upon this knowledge base as they explored each sphere further (and deeper) on their own. The posters remained up throughout the unit so that students could continually refer to and apply their knowledge of the spheres when studying real-world applications later on.
For this lesson, we will begin creating a classroom anchor chart on the water cycle as a class. Instead of providing students with information on the water cycle, I will release the research responsibility to students. After listing key terms involving the water cycle on the poster, student teams will then chose a topic to research. Then, students will proudly share out their research (teaching the rest of the class) and we will complete the water cycle diagram together.
Lesson Introduction & Goal
I introduce today's learning goal: I can construct a water cycle diagram to describe the water cycle and explain how the Earth's systems interact during this process. I explain: Yesterday, we began studying the water cycle by investigating the condensation process.
Today, we are going to look at the entire water cycle process. While studying the cycle of water on Earth, I'd like for you to continue thinking about how all the spheres on Earth are interacting.
I want to inspire interest in today's lesson and capitalize on student curiosity, so I show the following video on the water cycle.
Throughout the video, I pause and ask students to turn and talk. This aids comprehension and encoruages active engagement:
2:20 - Turn and talk: What would happen to water cycle if we didn't have the sun's energy?
4:33 - Turn and talk: How can a single water droplet travel through the water cycle and one day return to the ocean?
5:22 - Turn and talk: How does the biosphere interact with the hydrosphere during the water cycle?
I also copy the Water Cycle Diagram for each student (blown up on a 11 x 17 paper to ensure students have ample space for note-taking). At the end of today's lesson, student posters will look like this:
At this time, I invite students to move closer to the front board with their posters as well as a black marker.
Presenting Key Terms
Today, you and your science team will be researching one of ten key terms that have to do with the water cycle. While I write each key term on the poster, one at a time (Water Cycle Key Terms), students also write the key terms on their own posters. I continue: Your group could research the water cycle. Or your group might choose to research the forms of water on Earth. Students also write each of the key terms on their own posters (writing small enough that they can add notes below each heading).
I purposefully introduce ten topics as I have ten science teams of three students each. Immediately, students begin discussing their favorite research options with their group members! When all ten topics have been introduced, I randomly pull "glitter sticks" (colored popsicle sticks with glitter glue and student names) so that each team of students can choose which topic is most interesting to them.
Google Documents & Links to Resources
Each of my students has a google email account, so sharing documents that can be edited by students is quick and easy! At this time, I share the following document, Water Cycle Hunt (in Google Document format). Each of the key terms are listed in the table and are linked to an online resource so that students can simply click on the link to find the answer to each question. Instead of recording notes on the computer, I ask students to take notes directly on their chosen research topic directly on their Water Cycle Diagram Posters.
I ask the group members on each team to silently show me which partner is a #1, #2, and #3 using their fingers. Students know that I expect them to do this quickly and without talking. Setting this expectation ahead of time saves instructional time.
Today, partner #3 will be in charge of getting his/her computer and clicking on the appropriate research link to access an online resource on your group's chosen water cycle topic. The other two students will huddle around this student's computer in order to read, discuss, share their thinking, and record notes. (This encourages students to take part in a collaborative research process.)
Students eagerly get right to work as they are familiar with this sort of research process from past lessons.
Monitoring Student Understanding
Once students begin working, I conference with every group. My goal is to support students by asking guiding questions (listed below). I also want to encourage students to engage in Science & Engineering Practice 7: Engaging in Argument from Evidence.
Here, Conferencing with Students about the Water Cycle, this group explains why they chose to research the water cycle. They then share the facts they thought were most important.
During this conference, Conferencing with Students about Evaporation, I try to add meaning to these students' research by asking them to share one of their own experiences. Now looking back at their body language, I can tell that their connection and interest in this science topic increased the moment they began applying it to their own lives. I keep asking probing questions to inspire this group to think about the facts: Is all water always moving? What would it be like without the water cycle? Do you think we would have rivers? What water do we drink? How do we get fresh water?
Similar to the last conference, I ask these students about evaporation of salt water: Conferencing with Students about Groundwater. The reason I want students to begin thinking about this is because it is important for them to eventually understand the distribution of water on Earth (NGSS Standard Standard: 5-ESS2-2) and why some water is salty while other water is fresh.
Water Cycle Diagram Posters
After about 20 minutes of student research time, we come back together to complete the class anchor chart and individual posters as well. Here's what the class anchor chart will look like when completed: Water Cycle Poster. I invite students to come up closer to the board with their posters so they can comfortably see the anchor chart poster. Some students sit on the carpet with a hard surface (white board) while others gather around nearby desks.
Starting with the Water Cycle, the student team that researched this topic provided key information for the rest of the students. Without my asking, all teams naturally made sure that each group member was able to share a fact on their research topic! One student from the water cycle research team shared, "The water on Earth is always moving." Another added, "In the water cycle, water changes from a liquid, to a vapor, to ice and back again." The third student on the team added, "There's no stopping point with the water cycle. It just keeps going and going." As these students present information on their topic, the rest of the class and I take notes on our posters. This works out beautifully!
Teacher Note: Prior to this lesson, I read the student sources to be sure that I was familiar with all of the terms. This way, I could be sure to guide students if key information was missing in their research.
For the next 40 minutes, we move on to discussing student team notes on the other water cycle topics in the following order. Once in a while, I would add to the teams' notes (such as the fact that 10% of the moisture in the air is from transpiration.) In addition, due to constraints on time and poster space, students would often share more research than what we recorded on our posters.
Now that students have built meaning and understanding by observing, questioning, and exploring, it is important to provide students with the opportunity to apply and share their findings. For this reason, I invite students to observe how the spheres interact in the water cycle using the picture at this link.
Teacher Note: This activity supports NGSS standard, 5-ESS2-1: Develop a model using an example to describe ways the geosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and/or atmosphere interact.
Each of my students has a google email account, so sharing documents that can be edited by students is quick and easy! At this time, I share the document, Water Cycle & Spheres Response (in Google Documents). At this time, students grab their laptop computers from the cart and copy the document to make it their own editable version.
To get students started, I ask: Can anyone explain how the geosphere interacts with other spheres in the water cycle? One student explains that the ground (geosphere) holds water (hydrosphere). Another student points out that the slope of the mountains (geosphere) encourages surface runoff (hydrosphere). Students were now ready to continue working with their elbow partners.
Monitoring Student Understanding
Once students begin working, I conference with every group possible. My goal is to support students by asking guiding questions (listed below). I also want to encourage students to engage in Science & Engineering Practice 7: Engaging in Argument from Evidence.
Here are a few examples of student work during this time: