Teaching Through Trade Books
Discussing what cannot be seen is one of the challenges for young students when considering the disciplinary core idea related to matter and its interactions, specifically the structure and properties of matter. Instruction focuses on providing opportunities for the youngest students to understand that different objects can be built from smaller parts or pieces. The story How a House Is Built helps students consider the smaller pieces that help build systems. Students in intermediate grades focus on the idea that particles are too small to be seen; however, they also learn how this matter can be detected indirectly by other means. Students dive into understanding the basics about matter and how the particles that make up matter act in different states.
By Andi Diehn
Illustrated by Shululu
This book explores the idea of “What is matter?” from a scientific perspective. Examples in the story help the reader connect the idea that matter makes up almost everything. The book shares examples of how we can detect matter through different ways of weighing it.
Students make observations about different objects that are used to make systems in a house as a way to illustrate that small pieces make up larger objects. Students demonstrate this understanding through the illustration of a house with certain systems.
Ask each student to draw a picture of their home using as much detail as possible. To be sensitive to all living situations, use the term “home,” which allows students who live in different types of buildings to participate. Allow students to hang up their drawings for the rest of the class to view and begin a discussion with questions such as: What parts of the homes are similar? Different? What do you think we would see if we went inside the homes? Allow students to begin comparing and contrasting the commonalities and differences of the homes. Then pose a question to the students: What are the individual parts or pieces that make up a home? This may take some prompting to get students to consider that the home and its systems are made of individual pieces: wood, nails, and sheetrock to make the walls or wires and switches to bring electricity to the building.
Share the story How a House Is Built, stopping at the following pages to discuss the points. As you do, ask students to keep track of the different parts that make up each of the different systems in a house on their “It’s Made of Parts” student data sheet (see NSTA Connection).
To help students understand how different parts are needed to create a system and how many systems make up a building, collaborate with the facilities manager or custodian in your school and ask them to take students on a tour of the different parts of the building. Provide students with clipboards, paper, and pencils and ask them to draw the different parts they see that make up the following systems: plumbing, electrical, walls/structure, and outside grounds.
After the building tour, ask students to return to the classroom and divide into groups. Provide each group with a box of materials and ask them to discuss each item and answer the following question about each item: What is the item used for in building a house and what system or bigger part of the house needs it? As you circulate the room, use the following questions to elicit student understanding of parts making a whole system and many systems making a whole house:
Ask the groups to choose one item from the box and describe to the rest of the class their decision about where it is used in the house and what system it is part of. Allow other students to ask questions or elaborate on what their group discussed.
Share an additional story with students called If I Built a House (Van Dusen 2019) as a way to generate ideas of what houses might look like in a fantasy world. Ask students to think like an architect similar to the one in Gibbons’s story and to create an illustration of a house they would build on the “If I Built a House” student sheet (see NSTA Connection). Point out that the sheet asks them to not only design the outside of the house but also show the inside of the house and the location of different rooms, such as a kitchen and bedroom. They are also asked to identify what types of systems the specific rooms would need. For example, the kitchen would need electrical and plumbing to bring water to the sink and take the water to the sewer. Allow students to display their work in an appropriate place in the classroom and their peers to view the illustrations. Ask students to compare their first pictures of the house they live in with these pictures.
The idea of parts making up an object and the same parts looking different in each object is one that challenges the student’s thinking initially. By using a common object, such as the place they live, they are asked to initially demonstrate their ability to identify different parts that make a whole. As they move into the explore and explain sections, they are developing a better understanding of the different parts that make up systems in their school, which they are asked to demonstrate through explanation and illustrations. Finally, students are applying that understanding through the creation of their fantasy house.
Students make observations about the different parts that make up systems within a house as they listen to the story How a House Is Built.
PS1.A: Structure and Properties of Matter
A great variety of objects can be built up from a small set of pieces.
Students describe which objects are part of which systems within a house.
Students select and explain individual parts that make up a system.
Students develop a diagram of their fantasy house to include putting together the different systems needed.
2-PS1-3. Make observations to construct an evidence-based account of how an object made of a small set of pieces can be disassembled and made into a new object.
Students discuss how particles that are too small to be seen make up matter. They engage in kinesthetic activities where they represent a single particle to model how particles move in a solid, liquid, and gas.
Show students the cover of the book and ask them to use the term matter in a sentence. Students will likely say “it doesn’t matter” or “what’s the matter?” which is a great introduction to the story and the fact that we often have different meanings for the same word. Read pages 1–5 to the students and have them focus on how the word matter is used in the narrative, which is similar to the examples provided here. Then pose the following question: “What do you think scientists mean when they use the word matter?” As students share their understanding, ask them to explain their answers. Explain to the students that you want them to continue to think about the word matter as they explore different activities. Teacher note: According to the NGSS, “matter of any type can be subdivided into particles that are too small to see, but even then the matter still exists and can be detected by other means” (NGSS Lead States 2013, p. 43). Students will be focusing on exploring different states of matter and how they can detect it.
To help facilitate student engagement in these activities, each one should be done by the class with guidance from the teacher. Each of the activities is meant to help students develop models representing matter in different states. A management strategy for ensuring students are able to observe what is happening is to divide the class into two groups so that one group can create the model while the other observes what is happening; then they switch roles. Students are informed that each of them represents a single particle that makes up a substance.
First Representation: Solid. Using painter’s tape, mark a space on the floor that is roughly 4 feet by 4 feet. Ask the students to stand in three lines within the space and place their arms around each other’s shoulder’s similar to a kick line group. They should be as close to each other as possible. The people on each end with one free hand should place their free hand on the shoulder of the person in the line in front of them where possible. This may mean that students need to move the line forward to do so. The group observing should be answering questions on their “Matter Models” student sheet (see NSTA Connection). Actions to help students understand particle movement in a solid include asking the demonstration group to try moving to different points in the room without losing their structure. They will need to shuffle along as they move. Questions include, what happens when a solid (students in demonstration group) interacts with another object such as a desk? What do you notice about the location of each particle (student) to each other over time?
Second Representation: Liquid. Ahead of this activity, use painter’s tape to create an additional shape on the floor that is near but not touching the first square shape. The second shape should be thinner and longer than the first so that it represents a rectangle. Explain that the students will be using the same process of being a particle but have them drop their arms. This time students can freely move around as long as they stay within the space drawn on the floor and within touching distance of another particle. Questions to help the observers include: Why do you think the particles need to stay within the same space and must be near each other? After they have had a chance to see what happens if the shape was turned on one side (to demonstrate this, students move to one side acting as if they were water), explain that they will now model what happens when a liquid is poured into a different container. Ask the students to move into the next shape on the floor. Student observers need to focus on what happens to the number of particles as well as the shape of the container. Model this for the entire class using two different shaped containers and water when done.
Third Representation: Gas. Students now represent gas particles. The only guidelines are that they must stay within the boundaries that are created by a structure (i.e., a room). Allow students to float around freely in the room with the classroom door closed for others to observe what happens. Then open the door and allow students near the door to float into the hallway. Questions include: What happens when gas particles with a smell (such as the smell of freshly popped popcorn) are able to move around the room? When the door opens?
Discuss the observations students made and the diagrams that they created to represent particles in different states. Return to the question posed earlier and ask them to consider again “What do scientists mean when they say ‘matter’?” Engage them in a discussion around their ideas. Provide some overview of the idea using the following pages in Matter: Physical Science for Kids.
Students are asked to explain and illustrate how particles move in a solid, liquid, and gas in different situations. Using the “Particle Movement” student sheet, ask student pairs to first read the scenario provided and then discuss if the best representation is for a solid, liquid, or gas and why. After deciding on the type of particle, students create an illustration that helps convey what is happening to the particles in the situation. After students have finished their illustrations, ask them to share their ideas with their classmates who should provide constructive feedback. Examples of the situations include students needing to add air to a soccer ball so that they can play soccer.
Students’ initial ideas about what makes up everything is elicited in the engage section. Students then make observations and discuss their understanding of what is happening by engaging in kinesthetic activities to create models of how particles act in different states. Students connect their understanding of the key ideas discussed in the book by creating illustrations of different scenarios.
Students engage in kinesthetic models that represent how particles act in different states.
PS1.A: Structure and Properties of Matter
Matter of any type can be subdivided into particles that are too small to see, but even then the matter still exists and can be detected by other means. A model showing that gases are made from matter particles that are too small to see and are moving freely around in space can explain many observations, including the inflation and shape of a balloon and the effects of air on larger particles or objects.
Students illustrate how particles would behave given different scenarios that represent matter in different states.
Students discuss how particles that are too small to be seen can be detected in other ways.
5-PS1-1. Develop a model to describe that matter is made of particles too small to be seen.
This section provides the Common Core for English Language Arts and/or Mathematics standards addressed in this column to allow for cross-curricular planning and integration. The Standards state that students should be able to do the following at grade level.
Reading Standards for Informational Texts K–5 – Key Ideas and Details
Writing Standards K–5 – Text Types and Purposes
Speaking and Listening Standards K–5 – Comprehension and Collaboration
Speaking and Listening Standards K–5 – Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas
Vocabulary Acquisition and Use is one of the standards for language. This particular standard is across grade levels: “Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grade [appropriate] reading and content.”Furthermore, the Common Core for ELA provide a standard related to the Range of Text Types for K–5 where it indicates that students in K–5 should apply the Reading standards to a wide range of texts to include informational science books.
National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and Council of Chief State School Officers (NGAC and CCSSO). 2010. Common Core State Standards. Washington, DC: NGAC and CCSSO.
NGSS Lead States. 2013. Next Generation Science Standards: For states, by states. Washington, DC: National Academies Press
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