NASA Rocks (Part 1/2)

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SWBAT identify and categorize unknown objects based on characteristics of minerals.

Big Idea

Understanding characteristics & benefits of minerals & rocks, students work through a problem-based learning experience, collaborate with partners, use data to write a letter to a NASA scientist, and create a document showing observations & experiments.

Bell Ringer - NASA Glenn Research Center

5 minutes

Astronaut Karen Nyberg Visits NASA Glenn

Before viewing the video:

What are three (3) things you learned from the video?

I ask students to prepare their journal by writing the date and a title for their journal entry. Then I ask students to use their Science Journal (Notebook) to record record three (3) things they learned from the video. It's best practice to have student record thoughts, ideas, and questions in a Science Journal because it provides a space for students to write and draw while also keeping all information in one place. It's easy to refer back to notes and drawings when they are kept in a journal.

The purpose of showing this video is to provide some background knowledge about NASA, the NASA Glenn Research Center, and some information about scientists and astronauts.

After viewing the video:

I ask students to turn and talk with their partner for 1 minute to share what they learned. Then, I take 1-2 minutes to have students share with the class. Sharing ideas with the class provides opportunity for all students to hear other's thoughts. I use the Popsicle Sticks method to draw all students into the discussion.

According to "This discussion technique ensures that all students have an equal opportunity to participate and share their responses in class. The randomness of drawing a student’s name using the Popsicle Sticks method also helps with classroom management."

From the video, some students learned: 

  • NASA scientists use simulations to do experiments.
  • The Glenn Research Center is making prototypes for space ships.
  • They've developed ways to exercise in space.
  • People from NASA work at the Glenn Research Center.


NASA Rocks - A Letter From NASA

35 minutes

NASA Rocks

I want this problem-based learning experience to be authentic, real-world, and paperless. This learning experience should be student-centered and offer opportunities for them to use their skills and solve real-world challenges.

This lesson, Part 1, is a multi-day experience. I usually allow 3-4 days. You need a minimum of 3 days but can allow more than 4 days depending on your students level of understanding of the content and process (PBL). 

To be paperless, I use Google Classroom where all documents are distributed and submitted. To be authentic, I provide each student with a copy (on Google Classroom) of the Letter From A NASA Scientist which explain the problem-based learning experience and makes it real-world. I also provide (paperless) Guidelines for the learning experience. I ask students to access these documents, using their Chromebook, and then read the letter and guidelines with their partner. Then, as a class, take 2 minutes to answer any questions and clarify and misconceptions.

Option: If you don't have access to Chromebooks or computers, make paper copies for each student.

Next, I encourage students to use their Science Journal (Notebook) to write and records thoughts, ideas, questions, notes, diagrams, and other information. Students have also created a variety of other valuable resources throughout the unit such as Foldables, which are glued into their journal. I encourage students to access this information throughout the problem-based learning journey. I have a mix of resources available for students to use such as: textbooks, trade books, field guides, and hand lenses. To test the objects (rocks & minerals) I have other supplies available such as: black & white streak plates (shows true color), pennies (for hardness), beakers with water (for density), and vinegar (acid test). Students can use any/all of the testing supplies but I do not tell them or guide them to use any of them. I want student to discover the supplies and what they could be used for.

I have a Resource Cart available so students can look at, touch, and discover about rocks and minerals.

Teacher Tip: Prepare the "box of rocks" ahead of time. At your local hobby store, pick up a (plain) box for each group of students. Print a Label for each box and either glue or tape the label to the box. The label makes the box look official and authentic. You can order rocks and minerals online or through a catalog. Get a variety of rocks and minerals for students to test and discover. I ordered: calcite, rose quartz, magnetite, gneiss, sandstone, hornblende, shale, schist. Then use a paint pen to mark each object (rock/mineral) with a number so that each Box of Rocks had the same objects.

As student work through this PBL experience, their skills continue to grow and develop. A variety of standards are addresses in this lesson. SP#1 students ask questions during this experience. SP#3 students plan and carry out investigations as they seek to determine the characteristics of each object (rock/mineral). Students determine the objects color, luster, streak and perform tests for density, acid, and hardness. SP#4 students analyze each object and the data collected looking for patterns (CCC #1 Patterns) and structure and function (CCC #6 Structure and Function) which can be used as evidence. SP#6 students construct explanations of phenomena from testing rocks/minerals and then SP#7 write a letter to a NASA Scientist and engage in argument from evidence collected. Students answer essential questions by including data and evidence. SP#8 during the PBL process, students obtain and evaluate information with their peers and communicate that information by composing a letter to a NASA scientist documenting with evidence and information.