force and motion

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Some days don’t turn out as planned

Posted by on 08 Mar 2012 | Tagged as: force and motion, Gardens and Life, poverty, Uncategorized

On my way to one of my favorite classrooms this morning for a half day assignment, and not far from home…

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Wednesday Wonderings: Down to the Wire

Posted by on 23 Feb 2011 | Tagged as: force and motion, measurement, required journal, Uncategorized

This is the last weekly post I will make. I have learned a lot, and not enough. I am better informed, but far from expert.

Perhaps being “on the road” is a good model for my students. I can honestly model being a life-long learner as long as I continue to find areas in science that I can dig into more deeply (that is the easy part). I will however probably always struggle to know what depth my own students are ready to explore (that is the hard part, knowing what they are ready for).

I loved the ELL work we did Tuesday this week! I am thinking that the sort of scaffolding for language learners is similar to the sort of scaffolding for content area, and matches closely with science — which is a new “world” for students with a new vocabulary, some of which seems familiar (like a cognate) on the surface, but is slightly different, and some words being completely new. The writing system is unfamiliar. The processes for discussion are different.

The science readings for this coming Friday were… interesting. Some great information, some that I wonder about. More on that in my paper.

I have put off working on the unit overview because of the paper, will try to get to that tomorrow!

Sunday Synopsis: What I am thinking, doing, and learning

Posted by on 20 Feb 2011 | Tagged as: force and motion, Uncategorized

I am thinking that I would probably like to embed the ideas for this unit in other units, as well. These are fundamental principles, these Newtonian ideas… they cover many branches of science, and are actually somewhat difficult I find to really isolate.

I am looking over the ideas and resources that I have been collecting over these many weeks and wondering “now what?” I think that force requires the ideas of inertia and mass as well as motion. I haven’t even mentioned inertia before! I also think that measurement per se is probably going to be a real issue.

And another resource that just called me on the phone, my friend Chris R. (an artist and engineer), who offered some suggestions:

  • real life example, a swing (pendulum) variable mass, solid lever on the pendulum (Not a string) [me: croquet mallet and ball?]
  • soccer/kickball
  • kinetic energy is greater for a greater mass at same velocity; convert kinetic energy to force is higher mathematics
  • my question:
  • ?do children understand momentum more than acceleration?
  • distance + mass are two of the variables for force, missing only time

For the rest of this evening, I am getting the seminar prep out of the way. And ignoring the need to get the reference section of the paper pulled together properly.

Saturday Symposium: Still More Thoughts

Posted by on 19 Feb 2011 | Tagged as: force and motion, Uncategorized

Just finished attending a webinar (see the archive for February 19) on Universal Design for Learning and Assistive Technology. Much food for thought: how to make all lessons available to all students? Like Vaughn Chapter 9 where there is a pyramid to learning, the base of which is the set of practices and understandings that all students must learn, each lesson in a classroom really should have a baseline of learning that is accessible to all students.

Browsing through unread posts in the newsreader I use, I ran across this post from a teacher whose blog I have followed for a couple years: How do I set up the learning goals (targets and criteria as explained yesterday by Susy Watts of Arts Impact) in a way that the students can both understand them and make use of them to inform their own learning as they go along?

My goals this week are to re-work the master’s paper, dig in to the ideas behind the science website, revisit the assessment for differentiated instruction, and spend just a little bit of time outside if the weather isn’t too wet — I tend to sink to my ankles in mud the last couple weeks (the soil is definitely much to soggy to work). And thinking, thinking, thinking…

Watching the preteaching interview for the physics lesson, I had some revelations. Of course.

  • The idea of claim and evidence are useful in all areas of science, as well as in language arts, history and mathematics — and debate.
  • The idea that students already generally have VAST knowledge in a subject area, but it may be broad rather than deep. Also, many students already have vocabulary they use appropriately, but use of vocabulary alone is not clear evidence that a student understands the concepts and makes connections to other concepts and events.
  • The idea that it is completely appropriate at times to engage in direct teaching, for example, when there are conventions within the discipline that help with communications.
  • Not all students will have the same set of experiences, and even if they have been present at the same events they might have different explanations.
  • Tie it in to common experience when possible — what is out there in the real world? How does this lesson help me understand my life. Thinking it connects to yesterday: Susy Watts mentioned we need to be able to help the students see how this lesson today will be useful to them when they are in their thirties or forties — not just because they are all going to be engineers and doctors, but because when I am trying to move my car which is out of gas, I want to know how far I can get it off the road!

It will probably help me A LOT to look at what 4th graders and 5th graders are supposed to study in math, too!

Old way: vocabulary → concept
New way: concept → vocabulary

Wednesday Wonderings: What Works?

Posted by on 16 Feb 2011 | Tagged as: force and motion, measurement, optics, required journal, Uncategorized

I have been spending a lot of time cogitating, and basically spinning my wheels. I loved the way that Jana structured the final optics exploration: we self-assessed and then discussed our learning. Memorable for me was Jana’s description of how she decided to create shoebox cameras obscuras pretty much FIRST rather than last. The structure of Jana’s unit was to start with what we knew about light and then take it apart, and then at the end to look at how all the pieces went together, reviewing our learning. I am definitely thinking about this for the physics unit.

This week I added a page (see the top bar, far left) called A Unit Plan to hold my finished unit. It will be amended and updated as I have ideas.

I also received clarification that I need 25 resources all-together, not 25 websites plus additional. I pulled a lot of books off my home bookshelves and annotated them (Books on My Shelf) to go along with the web-based resources that I have annotated (Science Websites). Thus, this requirement is technically complete.

The unit needs to include interdisciplinary, differentiated and multicultural elements. I am still working on that piece. Today I remembered my text from the Math strand for elementary folks, and pulled that book out. It has a wealth of information that helps me see how to form some of the essential (big and transferable) ideas for the unit.

Sunday Synopsis: Where I am headed

Posted by on 13 Feb 2011 | Tagged as: force and motion, measurement, Uncategorized

Over the next two or three weeks, I am expected to pull together my thoughts on this unit to produce a rough outline of a unit on my topic. Which is measurement of force and motion. Right at this moment, I have to admit that I am not completely sure whether I have all the information I need.

I want to have a clear basis for evaluation: both formative and summative assessment.

I want to find a couple of videos or computer-based supplements because the students who are visual learners rather than kinesthetic would benefit.

I want to have a preponderance of hands-on and discourse-rich experiences for the students as well.

I want to be sure that I have adequate support for the students who experience learning or productive differences (who will need additional scaffolding or support to learn and demonstrate learning).

I want to be sure that at the end of the unit all students will have had an opportunity to learn or review:

  • appropriate science vocabulary
  • what measurement is about
  • what the concept of force means and awareness of force in real life
  • the dimensions of motion (direction, speed, acceleration) and awareness of how motion relates to force
  • mass (at this age, weight will be sufficient in concept) and how it relates to force

AND I am re-writing the Master’s paper.

Wednesday Wonderings: Old Fashioned Thinking

Posted by on 09 Feb 2011 | Tagged as: force and motion, measurement, required journal, Uncategorized

//final publish time at 7:30 pm Weds//

Please see my Saturday post for additional learning from this week!

Doug responded to the Saturday post, feel free to add more here if you want!

The “Big Idea Kit” from the Tools for Teaching Science website involves the following four steps:

  1. Identifying Inquiry-Worthy Ideas
  2. Attending to Students’ Initial and Unfolding Ideas
  3. Making Meaning of Science Phenomena
  4. Reasoning with Explanatory Models through Conversation

This is similar to the Understanding by Design idea formulated by Wiggins and McTighe. A model for UbD planning is available in PDF form from Wiggins at

The “Big Idea” according to the Washington State Standards (2009) is:

In prior grades students learned that forces work not only to push and pull objects, but also to affect objects when they are dropped or thrown. In grades 4-5 students learn how to use basic tools to measure the fundamental quantities of force, time, and distance. Force can be measured with a spring scale. Distance and time can be measured by a variety of methods, and the results can be used to compare the motion of two objects. Focusing on accuracy of measurement, recording of data and logical conclusions from the data provide the foundation for future years when students will undertake more complex investigations.

I put in bold the parts that I think are the most important to focus on. In earlier grades, students should have engaged in some of the idea about what constitutes force, but a review of this may be necessary for students who missed it or who have forgotten.

According to the webpage on children’s misconceptions, some of the limiting factors children might have for this unit could include:

  • measurement is dependent on a pre-determined physical object
  • measurement is linear only
  • objects are in motion only when something is acting on them
  • mass is the same thing as size or weight
  • acceleration = speed
  • force is a property of an object (#13 in the first list for the link) — inherent in the object
  • force is related to size

I think that since 4th and 5th graders are so much in Piaget’s “Concrete Operational” stage (generally – for now I’ll focus on average for planning and differentiate later), that considering measurement and seriation is appropriate for this unit, as is asking them the age-old “why” and “how” questions; but asking students to engage in the same level of abstraction to derive actual formulas might be too difficult. However, I think many will be able to make the connection that if mass is held constant then force changes with acceleration/velocity, and that if acceleration/velocity is constant then force changes in proportion to the mass of an object. Would they also then make the connection to how changing both mass and acceleration affects outcome?

So I think the thing to do is to set up experiments for exploring how “measurement” works, what the variables in “force” are, and ways to represent our work graphically. All of these things will lend themselves to groupwork, all will be tasks that are worthy of discussion, and all will be adaptable for multiple entry points and ways of making meaning.

At least, that’s where it stands right now. Always open to feedback, extension, and new information!

Friday Fiddling (a day late): Everyday language

Posted by on 04 Feb 2011 | Tagged as: force and motion, measurement, Uncategorized

I am actually writing this on Saturday, but “posting” to Friday to keep things consistent in the online world.

I just finished watching a video on the use of everyday language by students to describe their scientific thinking. Titled “Discourse Primer” this 30+ minute video shows what appears to be a 5th grade teacher asking students to think about the concept of acceleration in the context of a unit on force.

Student language reveals both misunderstandings (or “naive understandings”) as well as some pretty sophisticated reasoning. At the beginning of the video the teacher asks students to fill out a Venn diagram to demonstrate how they have heard or understood the term “acceleration” in their home lives as well as in science use. Later, the students are asked to draw, discuss and then think about how to represent in a graph the “speed” of rollerbladers they have observed.

Through all of it the teacher is working with them to reflect back their thinking (“So you’re saying that…” or “I heard…”) as well as to rephrase concepts using scientific terminology.

Makes me think that probably I want to make space in the unit for children to bridge home language and academic language. Actually, come to think of it, that’s just good practice in any instructional setting!

So: I want to ask students to talk about how various words are used. Here are the core words and some of the ideas I think the students might come up with.

Measurement (how big? how much? how far?) and units used (do children use inches and feet at home or centimeters and meters? Miles or kilometers? Fahrenheit or Celcius — do they know which “degrees” are are referred to when they talk about the weather?)

Force (be prepared for criminologists to talk about forcible entry and use of force — what are the common threads between those uses and other uses?)

Acceleration (going faster, moving, getting going — accelerator=gas pedal on a car, what is the connection?)

Speed/Velocity (is there a difference? what is it?)

Motion words (what is the language of motion at home — walk, run, went, came, stayed; and in science?)

Mass (some children might think of religious services when they hear this word; it is often confused with “weight” — not a complete misunderstanding…)

As usual, additional feedback is welcome!

Friday Fiddling: Challenger, Force and Motion

Posted by on 28 Jan 2011 | Tagged as: force and motion, Uncategorized

Today was the 25th anniversary of what is called the “Challenger Disaster.” I was standing in a line outside a chow hall in Orlando, Florida when the launch took place. I had my back to it, so didn’t notice it. I was devastated later when I heard — I have always been intrigued by the space program, ever since I watched the first moon landing, and even when busy with life in general I kept up with news of every rocket launch. We tend to think about our usually reliable rockets as completely safe. But, clearly, they aren’t.

So, what is it about rockets that fascinates? The sheer power they exude, I think. What a HUGE amount of force it takes to escape Earth’s pull. What an amazing display of vectors as the rockets arc over the hemispheres. Wow. Math, physics, a good bit of chemistry (solid fuel rockets, anyone?), anatomy… I think there is a link to nearly every branch of science in today’s space programs.

Today, feeling nostalgic for the young woman who dreamed of going into space (that would have been me) and for more optimistic times about the space program, I looked up NASA and Christa McAuliffe and found that her lesson plans are still available!

With some minor updating, here are ideas relating to science that she was excited about sharing with students all around the world. Ideas that teachers are still excited about sharing.

Wednesday Wonderings: Thinking about Thinking

Posted by on 26 Jan 2011 | Tagged as: force and motion, measurement, required journal, Uncategorized

This last week I have been thinking very carefully about the camera obscura we made last Friday and how it allowed even those of us who have some experience and knowledge about optics to engage in the process; to be able to observe things that formerly were “known” only through books and thought experiments. Rather like the connaitre and savoir of the French language, the process and engagement allowed deeper learning.

Side note: we are looking at a two-week (or thereabouts) length for this unit. I am going to assume 40 minutes’ work-time and ignore ideas such as set-up, clean-up and transition times, though I am aware those will need to be built into our science routines.

Back to the ideas. I was so excited, I took my camera home. I shared it with my kids, my husband, my parents. Would have shared it with my dog if I could, and with friends if any had been brave enough to visit. It has had me thinking all week long about light and vision — and, since I use magnifiers of various types, how do lenses work? I understand the physics of light, but I continue to find prisms and the magic of color fascinating. And that is what I want to set up for my own students in the unit I am planning, something that is so compelling and interesting that they continue to think about it and work on it in unexpected ways later on.

I want to provide my students with experiences that make them think about force and motion — and at the 4th/5th grade level more specifically measurement of force and motion — in similar ways. I have done some additional looking around on the internet and on my own bookshelves. I know that there are many resources both online and in libraries that can help me find materials, projects and ideas.

Here is a brief outline. Again, each “day” is 40 minutes long; if I have two hour-long blocks each week there would be some shuffling and condensing or an extension into the third week.

Day 1: playing with measurements: What can be used to measure what? (hands-on, journaling)
Day 2: What is force? What is motion? (hands-on, journaling)
Day 3: How do we communicate our ideas about science? (hands-on, books/video, journaling)
Day 4: History and science: who said what about force and motion, when? (books, video) How does it compare to our work this week? (journaling)
Day 5: Week summary — in pairs or small groups students will create posters or blogs or ?? about their own learning. Need to set this up and work on it a little bit each day; part of normal science routine is to document everything!

Week Two is about deepening the sophistication.
Day 6: Review — share what was learned last week, preview of next three days. Whole-group sharing.
Day 7: Math and science — communicating with symbols (introduce the idea that there may be formulas that can be used to job the memory). (hands-on — how?)
Day 8: What do we use to measure force and motion, how do we represent this? (hands-on, paper and pencil, journaling)
Day 9: A world of movement: When an irresistible force meets and immovable object? (books/video, hands-on, journaling).
Day 10: Wrap-up. What do we know and how do we know it? Blogging, whole-group presentation, or … ??

Extensions or things that we can trade out: force and motion in the real world. On earth, in space? How do I experience force and motion in my own life (self-to-content connection)?

Things to consider: vocabulary development, reading levels, writing levels, organizational support for creating posters and pages, behavioral or movement issues.

Quality Questions:

  • Can there be “negative force?”
  • “How can I measure the ‘size’ of something in a way that helps me understand the force used to move it?”
  • “Is there a relationship between time and force? Motion? — What is the link between force and motion?”

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