NASA Rocks (Part 2/2)

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SWBAT create a way to present data collected from observations and experiments on unknown objects.

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.

NASA Rocks: Problem-Based Learning

40 minutes

Creating The Final Product

I ask students to refer to the Guidelines for the NASA Rocks Problem-Based Learning (PBL) experience to guide their work. At this time, I share a teacher-created Rubric so that students will understand the expectations and can be successful creating their final product. I allow two (2) days for part 2 of the NASA Rocks lesson, but you could allow more or less time depending on your students level of understanding.

First, students create a document with a data table to record and communicate observations and findings from their experiments with rocks and minerals. This is an opportunity for students to learn to create a data table in a google doc.

Optional: You can have students create a hard copy of their data table using any size paper, from 8 1/2" x 11" to large poster paper. Choose the best size for your students to communicate their information.

Next, discuss with students "What could be added to a data table to make the information more clear?" Some examples could be: a title, student names, a key, description of key terms, and pictures.

Then, students write a Letter to a NASA Scientist and use the evidence collected to answer the three (3) important essential questions (EQ). I provide a template of the letter for students to use. A template is especially helpful to ELL and Special Education students and will also be useful to strengthen all student writing skills. The three essential questions (EQ) are:

  • What are the benefits of rocks and minerals?
  • How can I create a detailed classification system to identify miscellaneous objects?
  • How can I identify rocks from the three main rock groups?


In a whole class discussion, I review the important parts of a letter by asking "What are the parts of the body of a letter?" Some examples I am looking for include: an introduction paragraph (with a hook) explaining why students are doing this project, restating each of the three (3) questions including answers with evidence (because....), a closing statement, and student signatures.

As student work through this PBL experience, their critical thinking 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 or mineral). Students determine the objects color, luster, streak and perform tests for density, acid, and hardness. SP#4 student analyze each object and the data collected looking for patterns (CCC #1 Patterns) and structure and function (CCC #6 Structure and Function). SP#6 with their peers, students construct explanations of phenomena 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, evaluate, and communicate information by composing a letter to a NASA scientist that includes data, information, and evidence collected.

Students Talking About NASA Rocks Project

Student Reflection

10 minutes

An important piece after any Summative Assessment is for students to reflect on their work. I grade each final product (letter & data table) using a teacher-created Rubric. Then, I return the graded rubric to students and ask each student to complete the Student Reflection sheet. For this process to be successful, students should quietly reflect on their work, looking at the rubric and reflection questions at the same time. This process provides valuable feedback about student questions, concerns, and accomplishments and helps to guide implementation of this unit next time. It's an important part of the PBL process.