Throughout September and into mid-October we began an inquiry into the question "How do equal and unequal forces on an object affect its motion?" In our STEM Lab questions are encouraged, and students are taught ways to engage their thinking and "follow the question" by:
- Posing a focus question
- Predicting with a reason ("I predict that....because...")
- Planning, including how they will organize their data
- Gathering data (aka the actual "experiment" or investigation)
- Making a claim with evidence (What did you find out? What is your evidence?)
- Drawing conclusions (What do you think? Why do you think that? What is your reason?)
- Next question/reflection/idea
This is just one process scientists use, of course. The students work in teams and use their Science and Engineering Notebooks to keep track of their inquiry. So woven into many of the lessons is a scaffolded process of learning to use the notebooks independently.
This is a series of lessons borrowed from Picture-Perfect Science Lessons: Using Children's Books to Guide Inquiry. The lessons engage students in the question "How do equal and unequal forces on an object affect its motion?" Through team investigations students come to understand contact forces of push and pull and the non-contact force of gravity, and that these various forces cause different motion. They then explore friction as a phenomenon as well as the tendency for objects in motion to stay in motion until something changes the motion (inertia).
We began by reading the picture book Sheep in a Jeep as a way to get students thinking about different forces and motions. Investigative teams then used toy trucks, farm animals, ramps, calculators, and various measuring devices to explore questions such as:
- If we change the height of the ramp, how will it affect the distance the toy truck travels?
- If we change the surface the truck rolls on (floor, sandpaper, rug), how will it affect the distance the truck travels?
There are so many skills that need to be modeled and scaffolded during these investigations! Following directions, sharing the work, accuracy in data collection. The Math part of STEM absolutely permeates these activities: measuring accurately, organizing, gathering, and then interpreting data, providing the data as evidence for a claim, adding numbers, finding the average are some of the math skills being applied during these activities.
The Science Notebooks:
Modeling and scaffolding are crucial when getting started with science notebooks - lots of teaching needed here, so it's good to introduce the notebooks gradually throughout multiple inquiries so that the notebook does not consume too much of the lab time. But when students begin to use the notebooks to spark their thinking, support their reasoning, or activate questions, surprises, confusion, or any new thinking, the time invested is worth it. The notebook becomes an integral part of the inquiry. Indispensable, actually, when you're working over time on connected inquiries.
Examples of Student Thinking:
" I was surprised by how far the jeep went on the rug ... I thought it would go farther than the sandpaper but it didn't."
"The car pushes against the tiny rocks in the sandpaper. The tile is smooth and there are no bumps to slow it down."
"The rug was bumpy. When the car goes up and down it slows it down, and the tile is smooth so it goes faster."
"The rough surface usually slows it down because it's kind of like a wall at the end of the ramp."
" I think the carpet is rough like little trees, and the wheels hit the little trees and it slows the truck down."