This first-grade unit on light starts out with students exploring how many shapes they can see on different pieces of paper at various locations around their classroom when the lights are turned off. They are surprised to find that some of the shapes are not visible in these conditions This leads students to start wondering about other phenomena related to seeing in the dark, which in turn leads to new questions and design problems related to how they can make their room completely dark.
WHAT STUDENTS INVESTIGATE
Students investigate dozens of phenomena over the unit, and design multiple engineering solutions to help them uncover important pieces of the puzzle. Each piece of the puzzle they figure out helps them incrementally develop a model to explain their anchoring phenomena and answer their original questions. Here are just a few of these investigations...
We could easily count the number of shapes on a piece of paper when the ceiling lights were turned on inside of our room. But after we turned the lights off, some spots in the room became really hard for us to accurately count the number of shapes on a paper. This led us to recall other experiences we've had when it was hard to see what was there in the dark. And this, in turn raised a question, "What could we see in our room if we no we let no light in it?"
We claimed that we need to block the light coming through the windows in our classroom to make our room as dark as possible. We wanted to test some different types of materials to see which would block the light best. While this led to some important discoveries about which materials block all the light, which block some of the light, and which block none, it will also raised a new design challenge related to the size of our windows and the limited amount of material we have for covering them.
We built a smaller window on a smaller wall to continue testing our materials. We discovered some materials, like cardboard can block all the light coming through a window. We thought that if we had enough cardboard we could make a room that let no light into it from outside. This raised a new design challenge for us, "What materials could we use to make our small window on a wall more like a small room?"
We built a smaller room, out of cardboard with a smaller window and door in it in order to keep investigating some of the questions we still have. After building smaller rooms out of cardboard boxes, we explored what we can see inside of them. Some of us claimed that we couldn't see anything. Others weren't so sure. This led to another design challenge for us, "What technologies could we use to help all look into the same box at the same time?"
What students figure out
By the end of the unit, students develop powerful ideas about the interaction of different materials with light, and its effects on what we see. These ideas include:
- Objects can be seen if light is available to illuminate them or if they give off their own light; very hot objects give off light.
- Some materials allow light to pass through them, others allow only some light through and others block all the light and create a dark shadow on any surface beyond them, where the light cannot reach.
- People can use light to communicate (send and receive information) over long distances.
- A situation that people want to change or create can be approached as a problem to be solved through engineering.
Gretchen Brinza is currently teaching 5th and 6th-grade science at Alcott College Prep in Chicago, IL. She has spent her teaching career in various science and engineering teaching positions in grades K-8th. She is always willing to learn more about three-dimensional learning and the positive impact it has on student learning in science. Gretchen participated in the MSU-Urban STEM and Leadership Fellowship. And, she was a recipient of the 2017 Illinois STEM Educator Award.
Katy Fattaleh is a K-8 Instructional Technology Coach at South Park School in Deerfield, IL. As a former classroom teacher, she shares her passion for educational technology across the content areas to elevate teaching and learning in grades K-8.
Michael Novak is a 2014 Golden Apple Fellow and National Board Certified teacher. He has authored instructional units and computational models for the Center for Connected Learning at NU and has worked with partnerships in multiple states to develop NGSS-designed storyline based curriculum materials. Novak is also a facilitator and member of the design team for the Next Generation Science Exemplar System for Professional Development (NGSX), a web-based professional development system designed to help educators grow in their understanding of three-dimensional learning.
Dan Voss teaches science at Boone High School, in Boone IA. He is a 2016 Knowles Science Teaching Foundation Fellow. He holds a materials engineering degree from Iowa State University, where he was selected as the College of Engineering's student marshal. Since earning his B.S., he served as president for the Engineers Without Borders-USA Midwest Steering Committee, earned a Master's of Science in Education degree at Northwestern University, and worked as a Curriculum Development Assistant for the Storylines Team. Dan is looking forward to teaching physical science and chemistry at Boone (Iowa) High School in the 2016-2017 school year.
Patty Whitehouse teaches 1st through 6th grade science and engineering at Goudy Technical Academy in Chicago, IL. She has been an educator for 25 years. Her classroom lab is also the site of the practicum experience for graduate and undergraduate students in Loyola University’s Science Methods classes. She holds Masters Degrees in both Administration and Education, and double majored as an undergraduate in Biology and English. Patty is an adjunct professor at Northwestern University, teaching Science Methods for Elementary Teachers, and is also a member of the Development and Implementation team at Northwestern University’s Science in Society Science Summer Camp. Patty has provided professional development for FOSS, STC, NGSS, and the Next Generation Science Exemplar System (NGSX) and has presented at National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and International Reading Association (IRA) conferences. Her writing credits include curriculum guides for several publishers and CPS, as well as over 100 books that introduce science and engineering to elementary school readers.