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Daily Do

How can we protect fragile cargo?


Is Lesson Plan Physical Science


Middle School


4 5 6-8 9-12

Welcome to NSTA's Daily Do

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.

What is sensemaking?

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.


You might have heard the expression it's not the fall that kills you, it's the landing. But you've probably also heard stories of people surviving falls from great heights and wondered, "How is that possible?!" Well, let's find out!

In today's task, How can we protect fragile cargo?, students engage in science and engineering practices and use the thinking tools of patterns and scale, proportion and quantity (crosscutting concepts) to make sense of Newton's second law of motion and more specifically the idea of impulse to explain how fragile objects (like us humans) can survive "the landing".

How can we protect fragile cargo? builds on science ideas students develop in the Daily Do Why don't the dishes move?

Falling into the net: Twist to back
30+ foot highfall into a stunt airbag
Experiencing the Phenomenon

Tell students you want to share two short video clips of a puzzling phenomenon - people falling from great heights and safely landing. Ask students to make and record observations as well as any questions that arise while watching the video clips.

Play the Falling into the Net video. You might play it once or twice and ask students to just observe. Then play once or twice more while students make and record observations and any questions that arise.

Next, play the first 10 or 15 second of the 30+ foot-high Fall into a Stunt Airbag video. Again, allow students to observe the clip once or twice before recording observations and questions that come up.

Ask students to create a t-chart. Tell students to independently compare their observations of the phenomenon in the two videos and record observations that are similar on one side of the chart and differences in the other. Students might notice these similarities:

  • The people fell from similar heights.
  • The people lived.
  • They fell in the middle of the net/airbag.
  • The people "sunk into" the net and airbag.
  • They landed on their backs.

Some differences might include:

  • The person who fell into the airbag was bigger than the person who fell into the net.
  • The person who fell into the airbag did a flip on the way down.
  • The airbag was "padded" or "cushioned" and the net was not.

Assign students to small groups. Ask students to create a group t-chart of similarities and differences and identify any patterns in their observations (data). Then, ask each group to share with the class one pattern they identified. Continue calling on groups until all patterns have been shared. If more than one group noticed the same pattern, you might note that on the class record. Make a record of the patterns the class identifies. Record any questions students ask when sharing the patterns they noticed.

Ask students to use the class observations and patterns to independently create a model to explain how a person can fall from a great height and survive without injury. As you move around the room, you might ask questions such as:

  • What are the components of your model?
  • What is the interaction between this component (point to a component of the model) and this component (point to another component)? How might you represent this interaction?
  • What would change if you made the person heavier/lighter?
  • What would change if you made the airbag thicker/thinner? The net stretchier/less stretchy?
  • Why does the airbag/net move the way you are showing in the model?
  • (If students are talking about forces) What forces do you think need to be represented in your model? How might you represent these forces? How might you represent different sizes of forces? Forces in different directions?
  • (If students are talking about energy) How is energy represented on your model? How is energy being transferred? How might you represent the transfer of energy?

Then, put students back in small groups and ask them to compare their models; students should identify similarities and differences between their models and their group members' models.

Create a class consensus model on a large sheet of poster paper, whiteboard, etc. Begin by asking groups to share similarities between their models. As each group shares, add their thinking to to the consensus model. If student groups disagree, you might ask if you can put a question mark on the model to represent what students disagree on (students might disagree on components that need to be included and how certain components interact).

You might say to students, "It seems we agree that the "give" of the net/airbag when a person lands on it should be represented on our model, but we disagree/don't know how or why this interaction allows the person to survive the fall unharmed."

NSTA Collection of Resources for Today's Daily Do

NSTA has created a How can we protect fragile cargo? 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).

Check Out Previous Daily Dos from NSTA

The NSTA Daily Do is an open educational resource (OER) and can be used by educators and families providing students distance and home science learning. Access the entire collection of NSTA Daily Dos.

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