The history of our planet

One of the themes in several articles and blogs I’ve read makes the case that the study of earth science should not stop at the end of middle school! Illustrating this, the final version of the Next Generation Science Standards were released last week, and the NSTA journals continue a discussion with The NGSS and the Earth and Space Sciences. If the study doesn’t end with middle school, it certainly starts in Kindergarten and Pre-K, as exemplified in the featured articles this month.

The authors of The Dynamic Earth: Recycling Naturally* describe a comprehensive 5E lesson on changes in the Earth system. The focus of the five days is on how rocks form from other materials and how they can change (or recycle) through various processes. The article includes photos of the young geologists and ideas for discussion and investigation. [SciLinks: Rock Cycle, Rock Classification, Types of Rocks, Identifying Rocks and Minerals]

Have you ever watched a child picking up and examining rocks? Even pebbles in a parking lot or nearby park can be fascinating. Digging Into Rocks With Young Children* shows how to capitalize on this interest and uncover any misconceptions or confusion students have. The lessons range from observing and identifying properties of rocks to modeling changes in rocks through weathering. The article includes photos of the young geologists at work and samples of their data sheets. This month’s Formative Assessment Probe Is It a Rock?* takes another look at student misconceptions. With the probe itself, discussion, and the use of the Frayer Model, students work collaboratively to organize their knowledge and observations of rocks and rock-like materials. [SciLinks: Rocks, Composition of Rocks]

Sometimes we underestimate the value of “play” as a part of learning. Giving students unstructured opportunities to explore and manipulate objects can be a foundation for later learning, as noted in Water Leaves “Footprints”* (The Early Years column for this month). The author of Washed Away!* shows how building a model, using it to demonstrate a concept, and making predictions based on observations can all be incorporated into an elementary investigation of erosion and weathering. There are suggestions for the model, and the lesson also uses questioning, photography, and journaling. This month’s Teaching Through Trade Books column What Shapes the Earth?* reviews two books (for K-2 and 3-5) on the topic along with two lessons on erosion and other earth processes. [SciLinks: Erosion, Weathering, What processes change landforms?] 

How Do We Figure Out What Happened to the Earth in the Past? This month’s Science 101 Background Booster describes how examining the layers of rocks gives us clues to the earth’s history. The diagrams are very helpful in understanding the concepts. [SciLinks: Layers of the Earth, Law of Superposition]

Poor, Poor Pluto* (Methods and Strategies) The reclassification of Pluto as a dwarf planet had many students (and their teachers) in a tizzy. But it’s a good example of how science changes with new discoveries. This article describes a “research” project for elementary students into the solar system. The teachers worked closely with the librarian to help students develop skills in information-finding, notetaking, and writing. The article includes a rubric and a sample of student work. [SciLinks: Extrasolar Planets, Outer Planets]

*And check out more Connections for this issue (April 2013). Even if the article does not quite fit with your lesson agenda, there are ideas for handouts, background information sheets, data sheets, rubrics, and other resources.

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