Essential Science for Teachers: Earth and Space Science
When Continents Collide Featured Classroom: Duke Dawson, Science Consultant with Debbie Bastian; Worcester, Massachusetts
Duke Dawson, Science Consultant
with Debbie Bastian; Worcester, Massachusetts
“I remember chemistry classes where we’d get nine-page protocols of what the experiments were, and I’d do every step and the liquid would turn blue and… I’d have no idea what I just did. I was doing “hands-on” science because I was touching things, but it just made no connection to me. It dawned on me in grad school that the inquiry approach really boils down to letting students have choices — letting them choose the materials or choose how to use the materials, that makes all the difference.”
School at a Glance:
Goddard School of Science and Technology
- Location: Worcester, MA
- Grades: K-6
- Enrollment: 561
4% African American
- Percentage of students receiving free or reduced-price lunch:
85% versus a state average of 29%
Duke Dawson earned his B.A. and Ph.D. in biology, and was en route to becoming a research scientist specializing in psychobiology — a field he playfully describes as “cutting up rats’ heads and removing their brains” — when he decided it wasn’t for him. Instead, Duke took a job at the New England Science Center in Worcester, Massachusetts, a small museum with a small staff, which meant his job description was pretty open-ended. “Some days I’d be doing live snake shows, some days I’d be building exhibits, but as the years went on,” explains Duke, “my job evolved into being the person who developed programs for teachers.” He now serves as a science consultant to the Worcester school district, and teaches classes at Anna Marie College and Clark University.
For the video, Duke worked with Debbie Bastian’s fifth-graders at the Goddard School of Science and Technology. Now in her tenth year in the classroom and second year as a fifth-grade teacher, Debbie is preparing to return to school for her masters in education, with a focus in reading.
Lesson and Curriculum
Lesson at a Glance:
Curriculum: Scholastic Science Place: Hands – On Science Series Scholastic, Inc.
Topic: Systems and Interactions
Duke worked with Debbie’s fifth graders on landforms. He started the lesson by leading the class in a brainstorming exercise identifying different types of landforms and how they might form. Then, with the students in pairs, Duke asked them to think about what kind of forces could produce a particular type of landform — mountains. After sharing their thoughts with the class, the students were able to start on the day’s activity.
The activity Duke prepared used Playdoh® and wax paper to simulate the collision between two tectonic plates. The students, again in pairs, made model continents by pressing different colors of dough into thin sheets, and then stacking the sheets into two multi-layered Playdoh® continents. After placing them on waxed paper, the students set the two slabs on a collision course. Upon impact, the slabs behaved like the pieces of continental crust they were fashioned after, bending and folding into a sort of Playdoh® mountain.
Duke was impressed with the students’ enthusiasm. “I heard some really good discussions going on in different groups and I think one of the strengths of the activities was that a lot of groups tried different things — one group had thick layers, and another had thin ones, so they all saw slightly different results.” For Duke, the goal of the lesson was to convey to the students that the Earth is a dynamic, constantly changing system, and he felt the activity was a success.
Duke closed the activity with a discussion about how accurate the model was. “Any subject where you use a model to explain something,” Duke said before the lesson, “there’s a huge risk that the kids are going to develop a misconception based on some part of the model that’s not totally accurate. ”
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.