Jennifer Valentine GALLEGO BASIC ELEMENTARY SCHOOL, TUCSON, AZ
3rd Grade Science : Unit #1 - Introduction to 3rd Grade Science : Lesson #3

The Weather House - Design and Construction

Objective: SWBAT solve a simple design problem by building a miniature house with a constrained set of materials which will withstand a particular season’s weather.
Standards: 3-ESS2-1 SP1
Subject(s): Science
60 minutes
1 The Constraints - Defining the Task Requirements - 10 minutes

The first thing I do is go over the project steps with the students.  They read them after I write them on the board:

  1. Explain the objective or task.
  2. Show the materials.
  3. Move to groups.
  4. Start to work.

1. Explain the Objective:

I remind them that as they are working they will cycle through these steps: work on task, pause and reflect, discuss, adjust and refine, back to work!

Then I explain the requirements of the actual task.  They are to build a house that can withstand our extreme weather conditions.  So for us, in August, the house needs to be able to endure extreme heat (temperatures of up to 110 degrees), strong wind, and occasional torrential rains.  This is a very open-ended task, and here is an explanation of why I think these tasks are valuable, and how I manage them.  Watch this video to learn more about the importance of open-ended tasks: Classroom Video: Open Ended Task.

Next, I have students generate the weather conditions that the house will have to endure and they came up with this:  

wind

 

sand

 

dust

 

humidity

 

rain

 

hail

 

extreme heat

 

(lightning, flooding)

 

The students copy the objective into their science notebooks and then list at least 2 of the weather conditions that their house will encounter.

 2. Show the materials.

I run through examples of the types of materials they will find in their bags.  I remind them that this is their primary constraint.  They can only use the materials given to them, plus rulers, glue, and scissors, to build.  Here is a Basic List of Building Materials.  I added to this, and each bag did not have exactly the same items.  I also included a balloon but this was more of a distraction than anything so I will not include it next time.  I suggest that they proceed in the following steps, but it is not a mandate:

  • Inventory,
  • Discuss and Plan
  • Build

 3. Move to Groups

I let students choose their own groups, so you will see that there are partnerships, a few groups of four, and a very large group.  I set this the day before the lesson so that the transition would be seamless.  This is a way of supporting student choice (Classroom Video: Student Choice) and also streamlining transitions.  Here are some of my thoughts about why that's important, especially when setting the classroom climate at the start of the year.

 

 

Changing the Requirements
Lesson Planning

It's important that I remain open to constantly revising my lessons.  In my original list of requirements, I also told students that they had a dual objective:  make their house strong enough to endure our extreme weather conditions AND make their house aesthetically pleasing.  Next time I teach this lesson, I will remove that second objective.  My thought had been that they grapple with the duality of function and form, but it was too much.  In making their house pretty they took their focus off thinking about the extreme weather.  So that is a change I would make for next time.

2 Creative Construction - 45 minutes

In this part of the lesson, students are first sketching out and listing their ideas, then talking, and then building.  Though I advocated for writing out the steps first, the children at this age are very tactile, and they all started their discussion while simultaneously handling and sorting the objects in their building materials bags.  In addition to the engineering task, this is also an opportunity for them to work on their cooperative group skills.  (Classroom Video: Cooperative Grouping). It provides me with an excellent opportunity to observe and learn from both the group dynamics and individual personality characteristics of this new third grade class.

My primary role in this part of the lesson is to facilitate discussion, ask guiding questions, and redirect, if needed. (Classroom Video: Metacognitive Modeling)

Science and language are integrally linked, and when I ask students to give oral or written explanations in science I hold them to the third grade writing and speaking expectations.  Here is an example of how oral language is developed in the context of reflecting upon a science activity. (Classroom Video: Vocabulary)

 

 

Start of the Year Expectations
Accountability

It is important that I convey to my students that they are expected to be on-task and engaged during project work.  It often feels so much like play to them that it is easy for them to slip over the line into being silly.  This is why I am extremely vigilant about conferring with all groups frequently in our early project work.  The students learn that they will be checked on often and that they will be held accountable for being on task.  It is okay for them to laugh and talk and enjoy themselves.  On task and quiet are NOT synonymous in this kind of project-based work.  I do expect them to be following the criteria set forth in the initial part of the lesson and if they are not, I redirect them gently and firmly to get back on task.

3 Day One Wrap-up - 5 minutes

I ask students to reflect on what went well, what questions they have, and what struggles they encountered.  I asked this in the middle of the lesson and it's important to also ask it in closing because I want them to grow accustomed to the idea of constant revision.   Science is all about testing and revising hypothesis and design plans and the best way for them to learn that is through routinely engaging in the practice during our science lessons.  They will continue with this task tomorrow.

Procedure for Wrapping up a Lesson
Exit Tickets

The exit ticket for this lesson is an informal one, as it is verbal, but in asking students to reflect upon the task and their successes and areas for growth, I am making it clear that I am focused on metacognition.  My expectation is that they are always thinking about their thinking.  They do not have to "know the answer," but they need to always be prepared to communicate something that they learned, wondered about, or need to explore in greater detail.