Tag: science

A Book that is Out of This World!

In my current position, I teach 5th grade at a school where the focus is to drive the curriculum through the lens of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Honestly, it’s a dream job and I work with a great team (taking a moment to count my blessings…). One of our greatest challenges, however, (and our ultimate goal) is to develop thematic units that are based on the NGSS and adequately cover all other standards in a relatable way.  Obviously, this won’t always happen, but we’ve made a good go at it none-the-less. One of the things that bothered me when I joined the team, however, was the fictional literature tie-ins that were being utilized. At the time, we had one fantastic novel that synced beautifully with our curriculum (Flush by Carl Hiaasen) and another that only sort of fit (Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell). I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love the novel, but it was a stretch to say it tied in to any of our 5th grade science curriculum.

Well, over Thanksgiving break I was doing my usual wonder through the library (the one where I check out way too many books… my eyes are bigger than my brain, and my break, apparently).  I was in the children’s section, hoping to spot some new literature that might interested my students who don’t particularly like reading, when all the sudden the book Space Case by Stuart Gibbs caught my eye. I had no idea what I might be in for but I decided to go ahead and judge the book by it’s cover… I nabbed it and added it to my extensive pile.

It took me less than a day to read (which says more about the book than my reading speed).

Space Case is a fast-paced mystery about 12-year old Dashiell Gibson and his life as one of the first humans to live on the moon.  In this futuristic novel, NASA has developed an outpost on the moon, host to scientists and their families. While the prospect of being amongst the first humans to live on the moon may seem intriguing, Dashiell informs us that it most definitely is not all it’s cracked up to be… until the first ever murder on the moon occurs and Dashiell finds himself smack in the middle of the investigation.

Dashiell’s 12-year-old perspective of life on the moon is both humorous and honest.  Gibbs did a fantastic job weaving in the science we might not think about (such as visiting the toilet in a low gravity environment) with the raw honesty of a child narrator.  Additionally, the plot carries twists and intrigue suitable for young readers, giving them an opportunity to use deductive reasoning skills as they attempt to solve the mystery of the murder alongside Dashiell.

Not only is this a great literary piece for young readers, it also captures quite nicely several of the NGSS objectives we focus on in 5th grade, specifically the effects of gravitational force as well as the effects of Earth’s atmosphere.  While reading this book, we have the opportunity to discuss the reasons why gravity would be different on different celestial bodies and how different levels of gravitational force might affect us humans.  The book also touches on the effects of living without an atmosphere, leading us back to Earth’s own atmosphere and what significance it has on our lives. We can also delve into topics such as what resources are required to support life and what would be required to make another planet our home.

Each year, as part of our solar system unit, I ask my students to write a fictional narrative imagining that they have been chosen to colonize another planet. In the writing piece they reflect on the science we have learned while creatively developing a short story. Stuart Gibbs’s novel, Space Case, is a wonderful literary model of that assignment.  I highly recommend this novel as a literature tie-in for anyone teaching about the solar system.

Book Stats:

Pages – 337

Lexile – 750L

Accelerated Reader Grade level – 5.3

Grade Level interest – 4-8

{ Add a Comment }

I See Race Cars…

I have a confession. I collect bottle caps.  Small, large, from all sorts of bottles, everything from Gatorade to milk. In the summer, when my collection reaches mammoth proportions and I can be seen begging bottle caps off strangers and relatives alike, this obsession seems undecidedly bad.  But in the winter, when the first race of the season is underway, and my collection has been put to good use, it’s easy to see this was never an obsession at all.  Because in that moment it’s finally clear, I never saw bottle caps, I saw race cars!

There is growing research to support the use of hands-on, inquiry lessons in the science classroom (Kauble & Wise, 2015).  In fact, the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) adapted by most states puts a great deal of focus and emphasis on collaboration and student-led discovery.  But how does all this research and theory translate to the day-to-day of the classroom?

When I first started building race cars with my 8th grade students, pre-NGSS, I used it as a culminating activity. It was an active, engaging way for students to summarize and evaluate 4 weeks’ worth of Newton’s Law knowledge about how things move on Earth.  Powered by balloons, students had to engineer a car that could move fastest and furthest down the raceway.  Each of Newton’s three laws must be put into action for students to experience success and though the task sounded easy to most students at the beginning, a lot of hard work and critical thinking is needed in the end.  Race day was always a well-remembered highlight of the year and the students walked away with a much better understanding of motion after experiencing the hands-on engineering project.

But two years ago, when I started to evaluate my teaching in light of the new standards, I started to wonder… what if I didn’t teach Newton’s Laws?  What if students built the cars first?  Would they make connections and ask questions that would lead to a self-discovery of the laws of motions?  Or would my classroom devolve into a not-so-glorious mess of recycled boxes, glue, and, yes, bottle caps?  I decided to take my chances… we would build without knowledge of Newton or his laws.

When I first posed the question (Who can build the fastest race car made only from recycled materials and powered only by balloon?) there was a lot of excitement in the room.  But after the first build session, excitement turned to frustration… quickly.  A pack of frustrated middle schoolers can be a little scary, so it was important to channel this energy, thus the debriefing, an important strategy I discovered as I was making my transition to student-led inquiry.  I learned that it’s important to take time (10-15 minutes) to stop and generate questions when using this style of teaching.  Why are you frustrated? (The wheels don’t turn; the car won’t move.)  Responses from that first question turned into new questions.  (Why don’t the wheels turn?  Why is it important for the wheels to turn? (Newton’s Law #1!) How do wheels turn on actual cars?) And these questions became topics for research.  At this point, building stopped and research began but more importantly an atmospheric shift occurred in my classroom.  Suddenly the classroom atmosphere had shifted from ‘I want my students to know why’ to ‘my students want to know why.’  There was deliberate purpose behind their search for knowledge.  They had a mission to accomplish!

So, how did my quasi-experiment on the use of student-led science projects fair?  Well, as I would tell my students, more data and research would be needed to fully gage the impact of this method (they would roll their eyes too, don’t worry) but here is a bit of qualitative data I found… my students were far more engaged and present in the lessons.  The truth is, there is still direct instruction needed here.  The difference is instead of me saying “today we will learn about Newton’s second law of motion which involves the math formula force = mass x acceleration” the students are asking “why does my car stop moving when I add decorations?” and I am responding with a lesson. Additionally, students are assigning themselves homework, a phenomenon I find hilarious!  I am not a big advocate of homework and I don’t often assign it but in this situation, I found that most students would go home and do something related to their project.  Whether it was asking someone for advice, taking to the internet, or reading a book, the majority of students were considering the science well outside of the classroom.  And finally, the students were turning to each other for help and advice (collaboration anyone?).  Discussions about why wheels that turn are better than wheels that don’t turn supported by information from Newton’s laws and a few tests we did on friction were happening all around me.  It was enough to bring this curriculum nerd to tears.

So, the next time you see a bottlecap, or an old box, or even a scrap of paper, ask yourself what possibilities it might hold.  What could a little science, a little engineering and lot of middle school creativity bring to life from that simple recyclable?

Check out the complete balloon powered race car lesson here!

Reference:

Kauble, A., & Wise, D. (2015). Leading Instructional Practices in a Performance-Based System. Education Leadership Review of Doctoral Research, 2(2), 88-104.

{ Add a Comment }