Thursday, April 3, 2014

We Have LOTS of Energy!

We have been working hard on our energy unit. I have been very diligent in providing students with lots of different activities - from hands-on experiments to reading nonfiction texts - in order to provide them with authentic experiences through science. We love, love, love Bill Bye, but I do not like the idea of showing a video and throwing my hands up. We have some really good class discussions based on what we see in Bill Nye's videos! I have the students use sticky notes (which they LOVE) to write down a good piece of information that they learned from the video, and a question about something they saw or a concept they learned about. Then we talk. We talk about what we learned and we try our best to answer questions - even if we don't really know the answers. We talk about our hypotheses about the questions that we have and then over time, throughout the unit, we hopefully clear up any misconceptions. 

Getting students to think critically and to ask "juicy" questions is NOT an easy feat, people. It's a learned skill that takes a TON, TON, TON of practice. I am nowhere near where I want to be in this aspect. But I push my students more and more every day - I push them to explain more, to go deeper with what they are trying to convey, and to question everything that they learn about. Sometimes, it's so difficult for me to articulate to them what I want them to articulate! Ha! It's a vicious cycle that I continue to challenge both myself as well as my students!

Roller coasters lend themselves so very perfectly to energy. After all, without potential and kinetic energy, they wouldn't work. So I LOVE letting the students build their own roller coasters using some plastic tubing and a BB as their car. Then we talk about what in the world this has to do with energy. They LOVE coming up with elaborate coaster ideas! 

After the first day of roller coaster design, we get a little more involved with it. We start to design virtual roller coasters. I found a really great website that we use to do this - click here to check it out. And {most}of the time, they fail the first time around. Their car either flies off the track or it doesn't complete a loop, or it gets a poor safety rating. Failure is such a beautiful thing in science. Love it. It helps them LEARN! Once a failure occurs, I make them talk about WHY it failed {and what it has to do with energy} and then re-design their coaster. They love it, I love it, and everyone is happy, happy, happy.

Though there is so much MORE to roller coasters than just kinetic and potential energy, we don't really go there. I mean, come on, we're in fifth grade! However, it never ceases to amaze me how much this activity sparks so much curiosity in these kiddos. I hear things like, "What is velocity?" and "What does this have to do with gravity?" For those students, I lead them down the path that they can take in order to find the answers to these questions. I don't want to push this complex material on fifth graders, but I certainly support those students that are able to generate this type of thinking. 

Having so much fun in fifth grade science this year!!! If you have any good suggestions for books on critical thinking, post away. I welcome all the help that I can get! 

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