Reflection: Developing a Conceptual Understanding Mystery Substances: Properties of Matter Investigation (Part 1/2) - Section 3: Explore/Explain


Differentiating and understanding the difference between physical and chemical properties of matter is a sticky concept for middle school students. Physical description of objects is a concrete practice that we, as humans, use as a learning tool from early on in our development. While the "let's see what happens when we do this" practice of learning about the world is a practice used from a young age too, the idea of a chemical property of matter as a property that can be observed only in the process of chemically reacting (thus changing the matter into a new type of matter) is sneakingly difficult and abstract for many middle school minds. In order to try to achieve an understanding of physical versus chemical properties, the following strategies can help:

1) Probing questions: Some probing questions that help students differentiate between physical and chemical properties are:

How do physical and chemical properties differ?

How does matter change when you observe a physical property of matter?

How does matter change when you observe a chemical property of matter?

What happens when you observe an object's ____________________(insert physical property or chemical property of matter here).

If you change a physical property of matter, what happens to the type of matter?

If you want to observe a chemical property of matter, what happens to the type of matter?

2) Repetition of terms and concepts: since physical and chemical properties of matter are "close confusers", it is important to use the terms and reiterate the concepts at every opportunity. Using the above probing questions and encouraging students to use the terms to verbalize their understanding repetitively helps build conceptual understanding and retention.

3) Make connections between physical properties and changes versus chemical properties and changes: students make more sense of physical and chemical properties when they experience how matter changes physically and chemically. Demonstrations, videos and experimentation are methods through which students can contextualize properties of matter within changes of matter. This contextualization helps build conceptual understanding because chemical properties are defined by whether they undergo a chemical change.

4) Multiple opportunities to practice and apply understanding: properties of matter and changes in matter are fundamental to the understanding of the physical world. Therefore, this concept is perfect for spiraling through the curriculum. Spiraling means that this concept can be interwoven throughout different investigations and referred back to in those investigations to promote deeper understanding and retention.

  Conceptual Sticky Points - Resolving Difficult Concepts
  Developing a Conceptual Understanding: Conceptual Sticky Points - Resolving Difficult Concepts
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Mystery Substances: Properties of Matter Investigation (Part 1/2)

Unit 6: Properties of Matter
Lesson 5 of 14

Objective: SWBAT describe, identify and quantify matter using physical and chemical properties.

Big Idea: Mystery liquids and powders to identify? Toxic? Flammable? Who knows until you test and identify matter samples of unknown composition.

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Science, Physical Science, Properties of Matter, chemical change (Chem), Matter and its Properties, chemical properties, physical properties, physical change, matter
  90 minutes
properties of matter
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