Teachers and families across the country are facing a new reality of providing opportunities for students to do science through distance and home learning. The Daily Do is one of the ways NSTA is supporting teachers and families with this endeavor. Each weekday, NSTA will share a sensemaking task teachers and families can use to engage their students in authentic, relevant science learning. We encourage families to make time for family science learning (science is a social process!) and are dedicated to helping students and their families find balance between learning science and the day-to-day responsibilities they have to stay healthy and safe.
Interested in learning about other ways NSTA is supporting teachers and families? Visit the NSTA homepage.
Sensemaking is actively trying to figure out how the world works (science) or how to design solutions to problems (engineering). Students do science and engineering through the science and engineering practices. Engaging in these practices necessitates students be part of a learning community to be able to share ideas, evaluate competing ideas, give and receive critique, and reach consensus. Whether this community of learners is made up of classmates or family members, students and adults build and refine science and engineering knowledge together.
No matter where you live, you've probably noticed plants growing in surprising places. You might think, "What is that plant doing here?" But in today's task, we ask, "What is that plant doing here?" How can plant, especially tiny plants we can accidentally crush with a misstep, break rocks apart?
Today's task, How can plants break rocks?, students and their families embark on a summer-long investigation and use the thinking tools of patterns and cause and effect to make sense of the science idea plants break rocks into smaller pieces and these smaller pieces can become part of the local soil or be transported someplace else (eroded).
Share the above photograph with students. Ask them to individually make and record observations. You might tell students if an observation makes them think of a question, write the question using a different color pen or pencil next to that observation. (Observations and questions different colors.)
Ask students to share their observations in small groups. You might use the following protocol:
As you walk from group to group, you might say, "We're interested in the what right now, not the why" if you students have moved from from observations to inferences.
Ask groups to share one common observation and one less common observations among the group members. Students might say,
Ask students to continue to record questions as they think of them. Don't ask them to share yet (but if a student does share, record it on a poster, whiteboard, etc. before moving on).
Ask students if they have observed/experienced a related phenomenon. Give them a minute or two to record their experience using words, pictures and/or symbols. Then give students an opportunity to share their experience with their group members. Students in the group might realize they've experienced similar phenomenon as their group members. Make sure to let them know they can add phenomena to their list even after the group has begun sharing (but wait until the speaker has finished sharing). Related phenomenon may include
Ask students, "Does this make you think of any new questions?" Ask them to record their questions on their observation list using the question-color pencil or pen.
Ask students to share their questions with a partner. Then ask each student to choose one question and write it on a sticky note or small square of paper. Create a space (question board) for students to post their questions. Invite one student to stand, share their question, and post it. Ask students with similar questions to post their questions next to it (or nearby). Invite a student who has a different question to stand, share and post it. Continue until all student questions are represented on the question board.
Many students will likely wonder if plants break rocks (as opposed to growing in the spaces between growing rocks). Say, "Many of us are wondering if the plants are breaking the rocks. Does it make sense to investigate this question first?"
cameras (if available)
pencils for drawing
If students are in school, you might identify an area where plants are growing in cracks in the playground, parking lot or sidewalks. Students working from home can work with their families to find an area to study.
Say to students, "I heard many groups talking about small plants they've seen growing in cracks in the sidewalk (playground, driveway, etc.). What data could we collect to find out if these plants are making the crack grow wider or breaking the sidewalk into smaller pieces like many of you observed in the picture of the tree between the rocks? Please turn and share your ideas with a partner."
Ask students to share ideas with the class. The types of data might include (teacher prompts)
As a class, decide what data you will collect. You might create a printed page for data collection that can be cut and pasted into a science notebook which students can use as a scaffold the first time you go out to collect data.
Take students outside to identify their "field areas". You might ask them to find an area as big as their open hand or you can create loops of string with a 15-cm diameter for students to lay on the ground to define the boundary of their field area. Encourage students to sketch their field area even if they are also taking photographs.
Ask students to think about how they will locate the their field area again. You might suggest counting the number of paces from a permanent structure.
Consider returning to the field areas once a week for four to six weeks. As students collect data on subsequent visits, you might ask
There are many ways you might transition from the investigation to students making sense of the data they collected.
Return to the question board and ask students which questions the class has answered so far. You could use this investigation to pivot students to questions about erosion (Why aren't the rock pieces here anymore?) and deposition (Where did the rock pieces end up?).
NSTA has created a How can plants break rocks? collection of resources to support teachers and families using this task. If you're an NSTA member, you can add this collection to your library by clicking ADD TO MY LIBRARY located near the top of the page (at right in the blue box).
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