All New-Tons Of Fun Lab Stations: Day 1

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Students will be able to frame their discussion about the application of Newton’s Laws using the Crosscutting Concepts.

Big Idea

Want to get your students excited about literacy? This lesson provides an exciting context to work on scientific reading, writing, speaking, and designing. Students complete fun labs and discussion protocols with Gaussian Guns and Mystery Crashes!

Introduction and Connection to the NGSS and Common Core

This is the first lesson of a unit focusing on scientific and engineering literacy.  It sets up many protocols for students to follow as they navigate their learning over the next four days.  In this lesson, students work on discussion techniques as they apply Newton's Laws and the NGSS Crosscutting Concepts.  In the upcoming lessons, students practice the discussion strategies as well as work on generating questions and constructing written explanations.  Each lesson in this series builds on the previous lesson.

This lesson is designed to address the following NGSS and Common Core Standards:

MS-PS2-1      Apply Newton’s Third Law to design a solution to a problem involving the motion of two colliding objects.

MS-PS2-2      Plan an investigation to provide evidence that the change in an object’s motion depends on the sum of the forces on the object and the mass of the object

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.6-8.2     Determine the central ideas or conclusions of a text; provide an accurate summary of the text distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.9  Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Scientific and Engineering Practices:

1 Asking Questions and Defining Problems  Students at any grade level should be able to ask questions of each other about the texts they read, the features of the phenomena they observe, and the conclusions they draw from their models or scientific investigations.

2 Developing and Using Models     Students should be able to develop and/or use a model to predict and/or describe phenomena. 

7 Engaging in Argument from Evidence    Construct, use, and/or present an oral and written argument supported by empirical evidence and scientific reasoning to support or refute an explanation or a model for a phenomenon or a solution to a problem. 

Crosscutting Concepts:

Systems and System Models: A system is an organized group of related objects or components; models can be used for understanding and predicting the behavior of systems.

*While this lesson requires students to create models, the discussion in this lesson ask students to connects to all of the CCC's.

Connecting to the Essential Question: What are you supposed to learn today?

5 minutes

As this is the first lesson of the unit, I begin with introducing the Essential Question for the unit and breaking down the vocabulary in the question.  I ask the students to turn to their Literacy Unit Plan and read the Essential Question, "How can I demonstrate science and engineering literacy?".  

First, ask students to explain what they believe literacy to be.  Students often come up with reading, writing, and even speaking - however, it is important to instill that scientific literacy also includes designing.  Scientists design solutions to problems and design experiments that produce reliable data.  I also take the time to include that scientists often think about the same "themes" or topics as they read text and observe the world.  When thinking about science, scientists often think about these themes we have called the "Crosscutting Concepts".

Then, I have students rank themselves on each of the skills included in the unit plan.  Students rank themselves on a scale of 1 to 4 (4 being mastery).  Students will continue to update these scores over the course of the unit.  I emphasize to them that it is ok not to be at a "4".  Learning is about growth!  We will use this starting point to track the growth in their learning.

Notice in the student work below, that the student updates his scores over the course of the unit as he grows in his level of mastery.

Pulling Information From Text: Building Knowledge

25 minutes

Students read the How Do Rockets Relate to Newton's Laws article and climb the Ladder of Discourse. (Please realize that the reading is something I wrote. Feel free to use the reading; however, but you could also use text that you have referencing the Newton's Laws! It doesn't have to be the same text I use.) I use this article because the purpose of the All New-Tons of Fun Lab series is to prepare students with the knowledge and skills to design their own rockets as the culminating activity. I explain this to the students as well. They learn that the reading, labs, and discussions we will complete during this lab series is to prepare them for the creation of their bottle rockets. When students realize this, engagement increases!

The Ladder of Discourse is a strategy I use in my class to help students think critically as they read. For middle school students, informational reading can just become words on a page. The Ladder of Discourse is a way to help students recognize what they should be thinking about as they read so that they can gain an understanding of the text. The levels of theLadder of Discourse are "Tweets" (text to self connections), "Huh?'s" (questions or concepts they do not understand), "Found It" (finding answers to questions through context clues or finding science answers), and "Discourse" (combining ideas to think beyond the text).  The resource Ladder of Discourse: Description of Rungs provides background about the "rungs" students use when reading.  

For middle school students, thinking critically during reading is a challenging task. However, being able to think beyond the text is key to real understanding of scientific concepts. This "thinking beyond the text" is what we call the rung "Discourse". I have found that the NGSS has provided us with an invaluable tool in the Crosscutting Concepts. These provide students with themes that can guide their critical thinking. When they read, students have out their Ladder of Discourse: Description of Rungs document so that they have a description of the Crosscutting Concepts next to them with the CCCs fresh in their mind. As they read, they try to make connections to the CCCs.  This could be in the form of a statement, idea for an experiment, a prediction, or a question. In order to do this, students have to slow down when they read. Every 2 - 3 sentences they stop and think about what connections they are making to the text and they document their thinking by "talking to the text".

I have found that with the implementation of this strategy, my students depth of understanding from reading has dramatically increased. As students read, they "talk to the text", to document what they are thinking.  

Notice in the picture below how the student wrote, or "talked", on her paper what she was thinking about as she read. (I know you can't quite read everything in this picture - I just wanted to give you a visual of what "talking to the text looks like. There are readable examples coming. Keep reading to see them!)

Below are some examples of connections my students made to some Crosscutting Concepts.  These insights allow each student to think beyond the text and take different paths in their thinking and reading.

Scale, Proportion, and Quantity:

Stability and Change:

Energy and Matter:


Structure and Function:


Mini Lesson: Discussion Protocol Fishbowl Activity

25 minutes

Provide the students with the All New Tons of Fun Student Document (Get it?  All New-Tons (Newtons) of Fun Labs?) and explain that they will be going through some demonstrations to model Newton's Laws. I tell them that following each demonstration they will use discussion protocols.

In order for students to utilize the protocols effectively, they need to see it modeled. To ensure effective discussions, I use a "Fishbowl". A group of students and I sit at a table and model the protocol as the other students observe our behavior by standing around us as if they are looking into a fishbowl. After we model, I have the observing students reflect on the successes and areas of improvements from the discussion.

Once I have identified a group of students to model this with, I show the Mystery Crash Demonstration:


Then, we review the first discussion protocol before we carry it out:

Discussion Protocol:

Follow these steps when answering the discussion questions. After each step, any student can add to or reflect on the comments that were made.

  1. Student cites text to explain the law.  (“The text states that….”)
  2. Student summarizes what was cited in the text. (“In other words, Newton’s ___ law means….”)
  3. Student discusses how the law connects to this specific model using the vocabulary from the law. (“This model connects to Newton’s ____ law because….”)
  4. Student explains how this concept can be seen in a real world scenario. (“This is similar to……” or “I have seen this in the real world when……”)

Discussion Questions:  You will answer the same discussion questions for each demonstration.

  1. How can this demonstration represent a model of  Newton’s 1st law?
  2. How can this demonstration represent a model of Newton’s 2nd law?
  3. How can this demonstration represent a model of Newton’s 3rd law?

Then, we model the protocol referring to the "Mystery Crash". Watch the video below to see one of these modeling discussions. You are going to notice in the video that there are times of silence and awkwardness. It is totally normal! Before modeling this, I prep the students for what it will feel like. We go into the discussion with the understanding that the "fishbowlers" are putting themselves out there in the name of science and so as an audience the class needs to respect that risk. Also, I let the "fishbowlers" know that silence is not a bad thing. If no one is prepared to respond, quiet time to search text and process connections is needed. It may be tempting to skip the "fishbowl". I can tell you from experience that without this modeling, the quality of student discussion will not be as high as they will be with this demonstration.


 ***You are going to notice that in the All New-Tons of Fun Lab Student Document and Directions Document that there are titles to labs and questions that are not addressed in this lesson.  This is a 5 day series of lessons that I do so I have made just one document for the entire series.  Check out the next lessons in this unit to learn more!

Mini Lesson Fishbowl Discussion Protocol #2: Crosscutting Concepts

10 minutes

Next we model the second of the protocols, the "Crosscutting Concept Discussion Protocol" in the same manner.

Crosscutting Concepts Discussion Protocol: 

  1. Choose 2 Crosscutting Concepts per model/demonstration.  Vary the concepts you choose so that all concepts are addressed at some point during the demonstrations.
  2. Locate the first Crosscutting Concept in the text.
  3. Assign a time keeper. Take 30 seconds of silent think time to find connections between the model and the current crosscutting concept (time keeper use device to time).  These could be connections, explanations or questions you generate based on the crosscutting concept and the demonstration.
  4. One student shares connection/question. 
  5. Another student summarizes what the first student shared. (“What I hear you saying is……”.)  The student that shared confirms that their idea was summarized accurately.
  6. A different student connects the idea to the text. (“This example connects to this concept because…(points to and reads from text)….”)
  7. Other students share their connections with the group.
  8. Group writes at least one connection/question that was shared on a sticky note and adds it to the appropriate Crosscutting Concept poster.

Check out the video below of one of my groups of students modeling this protocol for the first time.


Gaussian Guns Modeling and Discussion

25 minutes

Next, students use "Gaussian Gun" demonstration to model Newton's laws and then follow the discussion protocols.

A Gaussian Gun is similar to the Mystery Crash. Check out the video below to see what it can do:


Tip:  Don't have the resources to buy a Gaussian Gun or Mystery Crash? You could replace these with a Newtonian Pendulum (Newton's Cradle) and the always classic "marble on a ruler" demonstration (Place a line of 5 or 6 marbles in between two rulers that are securely taped to the table. Send 1 marble into the line and watch the results.  Send 2 marbles into the line and watch the results.)

Student Discussion Protocol #1: First, students follow the first discussion protocol. The video below shows students connecting to Newton's 1st law; however, students follow the protocol for all three laws.


Discussion Protocol #2:  After following the first protocol, students follow the second protocol of focusing on the Crosscutting Concepts. After following the discussion, students add a sticky note with their CCC connection to a poster in my classroom.

Below are some examples from the Gaussian Gun. I chose the examples below because they demonstrate a clear connection to the NGSS Crosscutting Concepts. It is important that students are connecting to the correct interpretation of the concept. Without connecting to the text, students interpret the concepts inaccurately. While the students connect to every concept, I chose two specific examples to show here because for each of these concepts the students chose to connect to a different part of the text.

Energy and Matter:  

Notice the direct connection this student made from the text, "The transfer of energy can be tracked as energy flows through a designed or natural system." to the Gaussian Gun.

The middle school unwrapped CCC "Energy and Matter" includes the statement that matter and energy are conserved during chemical and physical processes.  Notice the direct connection this student made from the text to the Gaussian Gun.

Systems and System Models:  

The middle school unwrapped CCC Systems and System Models includes the statement, "Models can be used to represent systems and their interactions—such as inputs, processes and outputs—and energy, matter, and information flows within systems." Notice the direct connection this student made from the text to the Gaussian Gun.

From Systems and System Models comes the statement, "A system is an organized group of related objects or components; models can be used for understanding and predicting the behavior of systems.  Systems may interact with other systems; they may have sub-systems and be a part of larger complex systems."  Notice the direct connection this student made from the text to the Gaussian Gun.


5 minutes

To close, make sure students are recognizing that the discussion protocol steps were chosen for a reason. They ask students to implement discussion techniques that are valuable in any discussion in any class or job.

Ask the class, "What aspects of the discussion protocols could be helpful strategies to use in any discussion you have?"

Students often brainstorm the following:

- Citing text as evidence

- Connecting the lab to the text

- Summarizing what other students say

- Applying the topic to the real world

- Looking for how themes connect to the topic/model (Crosscutting Concepts)