Essential Science for Teachers: Earth and Space Science
Journey to the Earth’s Interior Featured Classroom: Keedar Whittle; Dorchester, MA
Keedar Whittle; Dorchester, MA
“Science is an ongoing process and as long as students can critically think and justify what they learn through theory and experiment, they can explain and accept the changes this process may bring.”
School at a Glance:
- Location: Dorchester, Massachusetts
- Grades: 6-8
- Enrollment: 60
- Students per Teacher: 10
37% African American
24% Cape Verdean
Keedar Whittle is the science coordinator for three private schools in Dorchester, MA, all of which are tuition-free and intended for the children of low-income families in the Boston area. As science coordinator, Keedar is responsible for selecting and implementing new curricula, and for building and maintaining materials for the inquiry-based program in all the schools. In addition to his responsibilities as science coordinator, he teaches a 6th grade and an 8th-grade science class at one of the three schools, the Epiphany School.
Keedar is a strong advocate of inquiry-based learning. To drive home this point, he purchased lab coats for the science teachers at his schools and for the students as well. Explains Keedar, “Science is an ongoing process and as long as students can critically think and justify what they learn through theory and experiment, they can explain and accept the changes this process may bring.”
Lesson and Curriculum
Lesson at a Glance:
Curriculum: Activity designed by Keedar Whittle
(download the lesson plan as an Adobe PDF document)
Topic: Earth’s Interior
Keedar’s lesson featured three activities that illustrate the nature of the Earth’s mantle. The first used Slinkys® to simulate the wave movement caused by earthquakes. Keedar has students tie one end of a slinky to a table or chair leg and then has them simulate the two types of waves created at the epicenter of an earthquake. Compression waves, or primary waves (P waves), are simulated when the students stretch the Slinky® out on the floor, and push one end straight toward the other end. Compression waves are “primary” because they are faster than shear waves, or secondary waves (S waves). The motion of a shear wave is simulated by moving one end of the Slinky® back and forth perpendicular to the other end. In addition to having the students simulate both waves, Keedar had them time the waves, to see if they could detect which is faster.
The other activity involved Silly Putty®, which has qualities of both a liquid and a solid. Keedar illustrated this point by having his students roll the putty into a ball, place it on an index card, and, with a pencil, trace the outline of the ball. When the students checked on the putty 30 minutes later, they found that it had spread beyond the outline they had made, apparently through the force of gravity alone.
Finally, Keedar illustrated convection currents with a specially designed milky-white colored fluid that shows the currents when it’s heated. All three demonstrations provide students with insight into what is otherwise a wholly inaccessible place — the Earth’s mantle. The demonstrations, Keedar feels, will leave his students with a lasting impression of how the Earth’s interior functions. “Students may forget certain definitions, and that’s okay. What I would like is for them to be able to broadly explain plate movements and interactions down the road.”
Session 1 Earth’s Solid Membrane: Soil
How does soil appear on a newly born, barren volcanic island? In this session, participants explore how soil is formed, its role in certain Earth processes, its composition and structure, and its place in the structure of the Earth.
Session 2 Every Rock Tells A Story
How can we use rocks to understand events in the Earth's past? In this session, participants explore the processes that form sedimentary rocks, learn how fossils are preserved, and are introduced to the theory of plate tectonics.
Session 3 Journey to the Earth’s Interior
How do we know what the interior of the Earth is like if we've never been there? In this session, participants examine the internal structure of the Earth and learn how it is possible for entire continents to move across its surface.
Session 4 The Engine That Drives the Earth
What drives the movement of tectonic plates? In this session, participants learn how plates interact at plate margins, how volcanoes work, and the story of Hawaii's formation.
Session 5 When Continents Collide
How is it possible that marine fossils are found on Mount Everest, the world's highest continental mountain? In this session, participants learn what happens when continents collide and how this process shapes the surface of the Earth.
Session 6 Restless Landscapes
If almost all mountains are formed the same way, why do they look so different? In this session, participants learn about the forces continually at work on the surface of the Earth that sculpt the ever-changing landscape.
Session 7 Our Nearest Neighbor: The Moon
Why is the Moon, our nearest neighbor in the solar system, so different from the Earth? In this session, participants explore the complex connections between the Earth and Moon, the origin of the Moon, and the roles played by gravity and collisions in the Earth-Moon system.
Session 8 Order out of Chaos: Our Solar System
Why do all the planets orbit the Sun in the same direction and why are the planets closest to the Sun so different from the gas giants farther out? In this session, participants gain a better understanding of the nature of the solar system by examining its formation.