Particle Play - Be the Particle Modeling Activity

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SWBAT kinesthetically model particles in different states of matter and during phase changes.

Big Idea

The particle model of matter helps students understand that particles behave in predictable ways.


25 minutes

Middle school students are always moving, and so are particles...unless we can somehow get to that theoretical absolute 0! To fully explore states of matter and phase changes, students become the particles in solids, liquids and gasses to show their understanding of the particle model of energy in a "Particle Play". This activity speaks directly to the MS-PS1 Matter and its Interactions performance indicator that asks students to: Develop a model that predicts and describes changes in particle motion, temperature, and state of a pure substance when thermal energy is added or removed (MS-PS1-4).

Additionally, this as students demonstrate their understanding of the particle model, they access important cross cutting concepts and science practices related to:

1) Energy and Matter: Energy may take different forms and he transfer of energy can be tracked as energy flows through a designed or natural system (CCC).

2) System and System Models: Models can be used to represent systems and their interactions—such as inputs, processes and outputs—and energy, matter, and information flows within systems (SP2 and CCC).

3) Patterns: Macroscopic patterns related to the nature of microscopic-level structure of matter (CCC).

4) Scale, Proportion, and Quantity: Time, space, and energy phenomena can be observed at various scales using models to study systems that are too large or too small (CCC).

At the conclusion of this lesson, students apply scientific reasoning to show why the data or evidence is adequate for the explanation or conclusion (SP6) by writing arguments using evidence (SP7).

This lesson can be used separately, but it also works as a creative assessment strategy to conclude a unit of study about states of matter. The sequence of these related lessons occurs as is follows:

1) Measurement: Temperature

2) States of Matter Simulation Investigation

3) States of Matter Goop Investigation

4) Hot and Cold Investigation

5) Particle Play: Be the Particle Activity (This lesson)

In order to ENGAGE students in this lesson, students view this video while considering the prompt:

What factors make a great performance?

Students respond to the video by choosing one word to add to a class graffiti wall. Challenge students to choose a word that hasn't been written yet! Conduct a short discussion about the factors of a great performance that they generated. Then, surprise them with the introduction to the activity:

You too will act in a great play today! It may not be Shakespeare's Hamlet, but it is close. You will star in the Particle Play, and you will all play the role of particle. Just like in Hamlet, you will convey your character through actions rather than words.


20 minutes

The EXPLORE stage of the lesson is to get students involved in the topic so that they start to build their own understanding. To help students explore, create student groups of four to six students and distribute one copy of the Particle Play "Script" to each group. To help the practice time run smoothly, consider the following:

1) Review the Particle Play Rubric, so students understand expectations.

2) Model an example of an accurate portrayal of one state of matter. Remind students to show particle energy, spacing, attraction and shape.

3) Encourage students to use their notes to help them practice: States of Matter Frayer Model Notes or Change of State Notes.

4) Explain how the performance will work. Students dance to the song "Particle Man" by They Might be Giants. The song is available on YouTube accompanied by fun homemade videos. Stop the song and announce a state of matter or phase change from the script. Repeat several times. For fun, try a "best dance move" at the end!

5) Remind students of emotional and physical safety. Dancing and acting are not comfortable for everyone, but by reiterating that the activity is fun and everyone is "in the same boat", most students will buy in.

6) Offer "dress rehearsals" by visiting groups as they practice to preview their modeling. Offer feedback, so they are confident when they get on stage

Student groups practice for 15 - 20 minutes.


10 minutes

The EVALUATION stage is for both students and teachers to determine how much learning and understanding has taken place. Each group performs their play. Using the Particle Play Rubric, the "audience" assesses the group performing the Particle Play. Students hold up the number of fingers that represents the level of proficiency.

Setting norms about respectful assessment is important, since some students try to sabotage other groups. For this reason, ignore outlier scores and scan the audience for an average score. If there is an obvious "mis-grade" by the audience, reserve a veto vote or point out examples from the performance that support a different score. Additionally, if a group struggles, ask them to practice more (with some additional support like a student who can act as an "expert particle" mentor or notes) in order to do a "retake" later. 

This video shows a student Particle Play: