Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Learning Challenges

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Scenario 1: Cars, Mass, and Momentum


weights and measures

Teacher:    George Mixon

School:      Birmingham Covington School, Birmingham, Michigan

Grade:        eighth grade science

Video:         Episode 2, Learning As We Grow. Segment begins approximately 12 minutes into the program. 

Primary Learning Objectives

By participating in the learning activities, students should be able to:

  • explore the relationships of displacement, velocity, mass, and momentum
  • design and follow procedures for gathering data
  • collect and organize data using the metric system and graphing techniques
  • test procedures and solve problems in teams
  • use the procedures and concepts of the scientific method
  • think abstractly

Learning Activities

Students are pulled into a scientific experiment by becoming active participants in setting it up, collecting data on distance, time and speed of miniature cars as they travel down a sloped ramp, and calculating momentum. Students learn how to organize and analyze data as they test a hypothesis identifying the independent and dependent variables in the experiment.

Learning Theories to Consider

  • Development and Learning
  • Cognitive Processing
  • Multiple Intelligences
  • Emotions and Learning


George Mixon reports that students in his eighth grade science class need something concrete before they can move to abstract ideas. He uses their prior knowledge about sledding and snow boarding to help them connect to collecting data on the distance, time, and speed of miniature cars. By engaging students in a generally familiar hands-on-activity they become immediately focused and are more inclined to take what Mixon refers to as "intellectual risks." When questioned about the type of graph they should construct to collect the data, they select the line graph because it demonstrates continuous data over time -- a concept they learned in seventh grade.

As students test their cars in two different groups, unplanned barriers impact their experiment. The two groups are encouraged to try different methods to control the variables while they collect and organize their data. Assigning groups allows students to build relationships and work collaboratively while Mixon observes if students are flexible with their thought processing while making connections to new learning.

In this scenario, George Mixon demonstrates several learning theories. By understanding his students "mental and physical readiness to receive new information," Mixon is using the theory of Development and Learning. He builds success for his students by engaging in Cognitive Processing, a learning theory designed to help students process new information by making connections to prior knowledge. In this classroom Multiple Intelligences are tapped as students are encouraged to explore problem solving by using, for example, their linguistic, logical-mathematical, and bodily-kinesthetic intellectual strengths. Finally Mixon demonstrates the theory of Emotions and Learning as he creates a trusting classroom environment by forming relationships with and among students that encourage risk taking.

Sequenced Writing Assignments:

  1. Make a list of up to five key ideas from each of the four learning theories presented: development, cognitive processing, multiple intelligences and emotion and learning. Next, try to identify a way the teacher applied each of those key ideas as he planned and executed his learning activities. For example, under "development," you might list, "Teacher recognized that in the social development of middle school students, gender stereotyping may appear, so he allowed same-gender work groups to guard against such things as - boys running the cars while girls take notes."

    You may find it useful to put your list in the form of a table. We have provided templates in either Word or PDF format if you choose to do this.

    You may find that some key ideas from the learning theories are not represented in the scenario. For now, leave a blank space after them. You will also find that you are repeating some of the things the teacher did because they are applications of key ideas from more than one learning theory.
  1. Review your list of key ideas and fill in the blanks from Assignment A by suggesting things the teacher could do to apply the key ideas you listed but did NOT see represented already. Suggest other practical things the teacher could do to incorporate key learning theory ideas into his classroom activities.
  1. Reflect on the completed table and record your reflections about how the theories intersect or interact. How might your own teaching practices take advantage of what you see happening in this scenario?

  1. As an alternative to these tasks, follow the directions of your group leader or the teacher of your class to write about this scenario and how one or more learning theories might apply to it. Or decide as a group how you might use it as a case for further study and discussion.

Samples and tools to help you with the scenario assignments

  • Sample rubrics in html or PDF format to assess your writings
  • Writing sample for Scenario Four, Assignments A and B, (in PDF format) to use as a model
  • Templates in Word or PDF format for the assignments

Return to the Support Materials for Session 3.

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