A Communication System

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SWBAT design and explain a way of using light to help humans communication.

Big Idea

Allow students to apply their knowledge to design a system and create a method of communicating with light.

Lesson Overview

Next Generation Science Standard Connection

This lesson is the last lesson in the unit on light. The students have studied how light can move through different materials, but they also learned that light does not pass through other material. They investigated how light can bend, and how the color of a material can determine how light passes through. They also learned that light can be used to communicate, and they have researched different systems of light. With all of this prior knowledge the students are going to plan, design, and create a method of communicating with light. 

Lesson Overview

This lesson could easily be divided into two lessons. The engage, explore, and explain section could be one day. Then the elaborate and evaluation sections could be the next day. 

We begin in the lounge or carpet area, so I excite the class. Then we move to the students desks for the explore, explain, and elaborate section. The lesson closes in the evaluate section, and we move back to the lounge. Transitions really seem to help keep my class stay on task, because they get to move around often. So, my students are basically getting frequent brain breaks as they transition.

The last thing I like to do is partner my students with a heterogeneous partner. The partners help each other read, write, and talk about their design. This makes sure everyone can participate, because they help each other. It also provides for a nice classroom environment. 


10 minutes

As the lesson begins I call the class to come join me on the lounge, and I attempt to accomplish three things in this part of the lesson. I want to connect todays lesson to the previous lessons, assess what my class remembers about the last few lessons, and share the plan for the lesson.

I start by activating my students thinking and assessing their prior knowledge. So,I begin by saying, "Will you please tell your partner one light system you learned about yesterday." Then I listen to see what they remember. If the students remember nothing then we will get out our science journals and take time to talk about some of the systems. But, this is such and engaging lesson I am sure they will have a lot to say.  (We learned airports use light to tell the pilots where to go. We also learned about traffic lights.) Then I share what I heard and I call on my students to share about any system they want. Basically, I am encouraging scientific discourse, and I am teaching the class to talk about what they learned. This helps students remember what happened, and they can connect to other things we learned in the previous lesson. It is important to take some time and allow students to really reflect about what happened, so they learn to make a habit of reflecting upon prior learning. It just develops more active learners who retain more information.

Last, I say, "Today is the culminating activity for our unit on light. You have studied how light travels through different materials, make shadows, rainbows, and how light can bend. Then we learned how light can help humans communicate. Yesterday, you explored how several light systems work, and you started to plan your design. Today you are going to add to your design for helping humans communicate by working with your partner. I made comments and put them in your science journal. After you make changes based on my comments you will actually explain and illustrate your design."


30 minutes

Now, I am going to give the class the time to add to their design. I say, "We need to add to the design you created yesterday to help humans communicate with light when the power is out. If you remember we had an ice storm and many of us were without power. How could we have still communicated with our neighbors? Take time to add to your plan, and you can illustrate your plan. You do need to record something, so you remember what you designed as we reflect upon our science journals. Also, adjust your design based on my comments. I have an anchor chart to help you think of ways to communicate: communication chart and when: when anchor chart."

Now, I walk around and stop to check in with my groups. First I just listen, but if I hear any confusion I redirect the students to their journal, and I offer any support necessary. I engage in conversation to help my students under stand what I am asking in my comments. One child is confused: talking it out and I allow a peer to share her ideas: student sharing to get her thinking. Then I resort to talking it out with others.


15 minutes

At this point the students share their design or plan with the group across the table, and they have a group discussion. This is when the students can learn from each other and add to or change their design any way they want.

First, I say, "Tell the group across the table what you designed or planned, and show them your design. The groups need to give feedback to help improve their peers work. Think about how they could make it better." Then I listen.

Last, we engage in a whole group discussion where students share their design or plan. Then the students offer suggestions to help them improve their work. I say, "Will somebody share their work." Then we listen, and I add, "How can they make this better?"



15 minutes

Next, each group writes two or three sentences explaining how their system works. This is time for the students to express their understanding of how a light system can help humans communicate during a time when the power is out. When students are asked to explain and justify their thinking they really engage in a higher order thinking opportunity. This activity is designed to really help stretch their thinking about how light can help humans solve a problem.

I say, "Here is a topic sentence. Now I want you to write two or three sentences that explain how your system works. Then we will share our systems and evaluate them."

Student Work A

Student Work B


15 minutes

Now, each group is going to present their design and the rest of the class is going to vote on which design is the most likely to work. But first I have to get the class seated and ready to listen by saying, "Criss cross apple sauce, pockets on the floor, hands in your laps talking no more." Then I add, "Our eyes are on the speaker. We are thinking about what they are saying, and we are prepared to give them feedback." I may give verbal feedback if no students is willing to comment after a students shares their explanation. It is a nice way to model what I expect. I find that my students are reluctant to talk when they don't know what to say, so offering a model helps them feel more comfortable with my expectations. 

After each child has explained their design I allow the class to vote on which explanation or plan seems to be most likely to work. I say, "We are going to vote to see which design you think will work best. I have consolidated your ideas. This is about which design do you think is going to work best if you had no power, and needed to communicate with your neighbor. If you want to vote for the "flashlight codes" raise your hand." Then I go through each design and the students put their sticky note beside their choice. I just give a mini description of the design, not the student. Then I say, "Okay now we know which one the most people think will work. Will a few volunteers tell me why this is the best?" Then we engage in a class discussion.