All New-Tons Of Fun Lab Stations: Day 3

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Students will be able to gather observations and data about Newton's Laws to apply when building rockets.

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 as they perform an "egg drop" and create Matchbook Rockets!

Introduction and Connection to the NGSS and Common Core

This lesson represents the third of a unit focusing on scientific and engineering literacy in the context of Newton's Laws. This lesson builds off of protocols that students learned in the Day 1 and Day 2 lessons. The previous lessons set the protocols for the activities here. In this lesson, students apply discussion protocols and work on writing a scientific explanation. To complete this lesson in its entirety, including the writing of the scientific paragraph and closure, this lesson may take 1.5 class periods.

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.6-8.1  Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.1.B  Support claim(s) with logical reasoning and relevant, accurate data and evidence that demonstrate an understanding of the topic or text, using credible sources.

Scientific and Engineering Practices:

Asking Questions    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.

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

Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions     Construct a scientific explanation based on valid and reliable evidence obtained from sources (including the students’ own experiments) and the assumption that theories and laws that describe the natural world operate today as they did in the past and will continue to do so in the future. 

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 deals with students creating models, the discussion in this lesson ask students to connect to all of the CCC's.

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

5 minutes

I begin every class by asking the students, "What are you going to learn today?". Students respond by referring to the Essential Question, "How can I demonstrate science and engineering literacy?"  This EQ is included on their Unit Plan and on the front board.  (For deeper insight into how this works and the impact it has on students, watch this video that shows this practice in action!)

I explain to the students that this lesson builds off of the Day 1 and Day 2 lessons and will help us gather knowledge that we will use in the end of the unit to design bottle rockets. In the previous lesson, students used models to engage in group discussions. The discussion protocols taught in that lesson will continue in this lesson. In addition, students followed a lab protocol in which they generated a testable question and brainstormed variables that would need to be held constant to produce reliable data if they were to design an experiment to test their question. I let students know that in this lesson they will complete one demonstration following the discussion protocols and one lab station following the lab protocol.

*This success of this lesson will hinge on knowledge of the previous lessons. Check out the Day 1 and Day 2 lessons !

As the previous lessons helped them to work on discussion techniques, thinking beyond the text, writing scientific explanations based on evidence and in connecting to the NGSS Crosscutting Concepts, I ask students to reevaluate their self assessments on the skills included in the unit plan. 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. (Want to see live action of my students completing this task along with detailed descriptions of this strategy?  Check out this video!)

Mini Lesson: Who would you want to pack your parachute?

15 minutes

I project the graph shown on this standards based reporting link on the screen. The graph shows different students that practiced packing parachutes for people to use when jumping out of a plane. I ask the students to analyze the graph in order to determine which of the students in the graph they would choose to pack their parachute if they were going to jump out of a plane. I provide each table group with time to discuss their ideas in a small group.  Then, we share out as a whole group.

Students usually choose "Student B". They explain that "Student B" may not have started out with the highest scores, they steadily improved and by the end they were consistently performing at a level of mastery. However, the other students may have started out high, but were inconsistent or even dropped in their level of mastery over time.

While this serves as an activity where students can analyze data, the purpose of this activity is to allow students to develop a growth mindset. I use this opportunity to explain to students that this graph shows what learning is all about - growth. It's not about getting it on the first try, it's about working towards mastery and growth. I emphasize that they all chose "Student B" even though they did not have the highest scores at the beginning. I explain that this will happen in life too - their focus shouldn't be "how fast can I learn it", but should be focused on "what work to I have to do to get myself to learn it". I explain that I often hear students confusing the word "smart" with "who 'gets it' first". However, they all just analyzed from this graph that the most effective learner was the student who improved and was able to show growth and consistency.

Having a growth mindset is key for learning.  Students have so many preconceived notion about the learning process that can prevent them from really embracing the process of learning.  They need help developing a growth mindset!

This video shows my introduction to this activity as well as student discussion and responses to who they would want to pack their parachute!

Discussion Protocol #1: Eggselent Egg Drop

15 minutes

Have students turn to their All New Tons of Fun Student Document (Get it?  All New-Tons (Newtons) of Fun Labs?) explain to the students that they will be going through some demonstrations that can model to Newton's Laws. Following each demonstration, I explain that students will go through one demonstration and complete the discussion protocols that we practiced in the previous lessons. (The protocols followed in this lesson are built upon Day 1 and Day 2 lessons in this unit.)

Have students complete the "Eggselent Egg Drop". For this station, I show the class the set up and provide them with tips for success.

The Set Up:

1.  Fill a beaker about 3/4 full of water. (You will need to be able to reach in and get the egg out. So, if you fill it too full, displacement will cause a mess!)

2.  Set a pie tin on top of the beaker.

3.  Set a paper towel/toilet paper roll vertical on top of the tin.  

4.  Set a hard boiled egg (horizontal) on the paper towel roll.

5.  Hit the tin with the heal of your hand.

Tips for Success:

1.  Hit with the heal of your hand.

2.  Do not "follow through". Hit the tin with the heal of your hand and pull your hand back as soon as you make contact with the tin. If the "over aggressive" student continues their hand motion forward, they can "follow through" and move the beaker causing a mess.

3.  Don't be timid. The messes that result often result from students who are hesitant. You have to hit the tin with some force. If you don't, the paper towel roll just wobbles and drops the egg on the counter.

Using short, yet impactful stations is a great strategy to improve learning and engagement.  Check to this video to see more!

After completing the demonstration, the students follow the discussion protocol as it relates to the egg drop.

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?

Discussion protocols can dramatically improve your student's discussion after completing labs.  This video shows students following this protocol as well as me describing the benefits of this strategy.

Discussion Protocol #2: Eggselent Egg Drop

10 minutes

Students then complete 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.

Below is a video of a group of students following the protocol. These students are just beginning in mastering this process, it is not perfect. Here are some things to note that you might see with your students as well:

1.  First, I started filming after the 30 second wait time. Students will try to skip that time, but it is so important. Make sure students use the wait time!

2.  After the student summarizes, the student who is "being summarized" should confirm if the "summarizer" accurately described the connection. I found that students will just nod their head "yes" even if the "summarizer" did not paraphrase/summarize correctly. What students who are paraphrasing tend to do is simply say their own idea. Emphasize that the "summarizer" is not giving their own idea, they are simply restating what the other student shared. In addition, the students that are "being summarized" need practice at being able to say, "Actually, what I was saying was...." or "You've got part of what I was saying.  It was also important that I said....".  

3.  The last step is connection to the text. In this video, the student does a nice job connecting to a bullet point that is included in the text.  It is important that students actually connect to the words in the text.  Otherwise, students make their own meaning of the CCC's that aren't necessarily scientific. For example, students take "cause and effect" to be as simple as identifying a cause and effect; however, it is so much more.  It is about identifying if causes are correlational or causational and that they can be used to make predictions about systems. Simply identifying a cause and effect does not meet the rigor of the CCC.

4.   It is important to emphasize to students that they must use different crosscutting concepts than they did in the previous lesson.  This way, students will have to connect to all of the concepts by the end of this lab series. Without this requirement, students find a comfort zone and repeat their favorite crosscutting concept over and over. For example, if students did not have to choose a different CCC with each station, you would end up with a poster filled with "Cause and Effect" ideas but no "Stability and Change" connections.


Having students connect to the Cross Cutting Concepts is one of the most challenging aspects of implementing the NGSS.  In this video I describe why this strategy has been so successful with my students.

Following the discussion protocol, students write their crosscutting connections on a sticky note and place it on the appropriate poster in my classroom:


Students connect to more Crosscutting Concepts than I show below. I just wanted to give you a few examples for some insight into the ideas students can generate. 

Stability and Change:  Notice that students can connect in different ways to the same crosscutting concept.  Each of these students is connecting to a different part of the text authored by the NSTA that is included in the resource section.

This student is connecting to the text of the unwrapped middle school CCC's that states"Small changes in one part of a system might cause large changes in another part."

This student is connecting to the text that states, "Systems in dynamic equilibrium are stable due to a balance of feedback mechanisms."

Scale, Proportion, and Quantity:  

Students here are connecting to the idea that "The observed function of natural and designed systems may change with scale."


This student is connecting to the idea that "Patterns can be used to identify cause and effect relationships."

Energy and Matter: 

These students are connecting to the portion of the CCC that states "The transfer of energy can be tracked as energy flows through a designed or natural system. "

This student also tracks the energy but is also beginning to connect to the idea that "energy may take different forms".

Generating Questions and Identifying Constraints: Matchbook Rockets

35 minutes

After practicing the discussion protocols independently for Eggselent Egg Drop, explain to the students that they will be completing the Matchbook Rocket Lab. The protocol for this lab will be different than the previous demonstrations, instead this lab will be focused on generating a testable question/identifying constants and constructing a written explanation, just as they did in the previous lesson.  

Review the protocol with them. One key to this protocol is that students must generate a question that includes both an independent and dependent variable. For example, students could not simply write, "How does mass affect it?" This type of sentence is missing a measurable dependent variable. I explain to the students that they will generate this question that they could design an experiment to test based on the idea of the Marble Flip. After generating the question, I explain that they need to generate a list of constants that would be required in order to collect reliable data. They create this question and list on a sticky note and place it on my board labeled, "Generating Questions and Identifying Constraints/Constants".  

Lab Protocol:

  1. Read and follow the lab procedure.
  2. Generate a question you could design an experiment about that includes both an independent and dependent variable. 
  3. Brainstorm as many variables as you can that will need to be held constant in order to produce reliable data if you were to design an experiment based on your question.
  4. Write your question and the constants that you brainstormed on a large sticky note and add it to the designated board. (Be sure to add your names on the back of the sticky note.)
  5. Answer written response question (s).

I ask, "If you were deigning an experiment that would produce reliable data, why would it be important to consider the constants?". Students should respond with ideas such as, "You should only have one independent variable in the experiment. If there are more, you won't know which variable will affect the results."  

Students follow the procedure to complete the Matchbook Rockets Lab:

The procedure for matchbook rockets is so detailed, I find it best to show students how to create one. I model this for the entire class. Keep in mind that the Matchbook Rockets are going to be inconsistent. There are going to be "duds". However, it serves as a fabulous model that can connect to Newton's Laws. Check out the video below to hear how to create a Matchbook Rocket:


Below is a student rocket taking off!

After creating multiple matchbook rockets, students generate a testable question and brainstorm a list of variables they would have to keep constant to produce reliable data. Below, the student asks "How does the amount of tin foil affect the distance of the rocket?". Notice that this group goes one step further and clearly describes the independent and independent variables in their question.


This is a list of constants that a different group developed based on the question "How does the number of matches in the rocket affect the distance the rocket travels?". I have found that the key to students being able to design their own experiments is being able to construct a testable question and then isolating one variable. Having an awareness of all of the variables that must be held constant is the first step to being able to develop a procedure that can produce reliable data.

Check out this video for more insight into how this strategy can be applied in your classroom!

Constructing Explanations: Matchbook Rockets

20 minutes

After completing the Marble Flip Lab, students must construct a diagram and a written explanation. First, students draw a diagram explaining how the matchbook rocket was able to launch.


The student here ties the matchbook rocket launching to Newton's 3rd Law. Notice that they include a title, labels, and a caption. In addition, their caption clearly ties the vocabulary from Newton's 3rd law (equal and opposite reaction) to the rocket.  

In my class, we use the format "ABCDE". Below I include a description of each part as well as a connection to the student work shown below.

A - Assertion: Make a claim. ("Wrapping the matchbook rocket as tightly as possible and using as little tinfoil as possible will cause the matchbook rocket to accelerate more quickly.")

B - Background: Provide the reader with background they will need to understand the arguments you are going to present. ("In the lab, students students wrapped a match with tin foil and poked a hole in it. Then, the lit a match and held it under the hole and the rocket launched.")

C - Citation: Cite text. (According to page 2, Newton's 2nd law states that the acceleration of an object increases with increased force and decreases with increased mass.)

D - Discussion: Explain how your citations support your claim.  ("Wrapping the matchbook rocket as tight as possible relates to Newton's 2nd law because when it is wrapped tightly it increased the pressure which increases the force. Using as little tin foil as possible relates to Newton's 2nd law because it decreases the mass. Both of these will increase acceleration.")

**The discussion tends to be the most challenging piece in this explanation.  Here are some things to look for in student work:

- The student connects to both why is it important to wrap the tin foil as tightly as possible and use as little tin foil as possible. Students tend to only address one.

- Wrapping the tin foil tightly and using little tin foil help the rocket accelerate for different reasons. Students will say things like, "Wrapping the tin foil as tightly as possible and using as little tin foil as possible will decrease the mass" when wrapping the tin foil as tight as possible adds force (not decreases mass).

- To make a strong connection to the law for the reader, students need to use vocabulary from the law.  For example, students will write, "Wrapping the tin foil as tightly as possible increases the pressure."  While this is true, the reader can see a clearer connection if the student writes, "when it is wrapped tightly it increased the pressure which increases the force".  

E - End: Conclusion sentence. ("In conclusion, wrapping the matchbook rocket in tin foil as tight as possible and using as little tin foil as possible will cause the matchbook rocket to accelerate more quickly.")

For more detailed information about ABCDE paragraphs, check out the Quick Guide to the ABCDE Paragraph included in the resources.

Have students that struggle with organizing a paragraph even with the ABCDE format? I have included an adapted version that I have created for students like this. I use it as a scaffold. Students use this "shell" until they grasp the pattern of the ABCDE paragraph, then they can write paragraphs on their own as they progress. The purpose of this is to build their understanding of how to organize a paragraph, not to make this a "fill in the blank" sheet. As students use the adapted version, meet/conference with them and help them connect to how the "shell" connects to the ABCDE paragraph. After practice, students can remove this scaffold and write the paragraphs on their own!

Closure: Connecting to the Crosscutting Concepts

10 minutes

In Day 1 of this lab series, students read a text and try to make connections to the NGSS Crosscutting Concepts. Over the course of the last two days of lessos, the students have had many discussions and have practiced making connections to the concepts.  In a previous lesson, I collected a formative assessment in which students talked to the text and demonstrated their ability to connect to the Crosscutting Concepts while reading.  During the lab portion of this lesson, I conference with a group of students that was still working towards mastering this concept.  This video demonstrates the process I took as I conferenced with the students.

To close, I ask the students to pull out the same text they made connections on before, reread the text, and add new connections that they make to the CCC's now that they have had more experience with them.  

In this video, I explain how this strategy has dramatically improved my students' abilities to read scientific text.

I find many benefits to this. First, students can learn the importance of returning to a text to reread. A great realization that students can find is that returning to a text they have already read can bring new meaning and understanding. Second, this is a chance for students and myself to clearly see growth. The second time through this text, students can add many new connections and are more confident with the text. As I begin this lesson by promoting a growth mindset, this allows me to end the lesson with students clearly seeing their growth over the week.