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Essential Science for Teachers: Physical Science

The Particle Nature of Matter: Solids, Liquids, and Gases Featured Classroom: Linsey Newton; Hudson, MA

Linsey Newton; Hudson, MA

“The most satisfying thing about teaching is really seeing a light bulb go off in a kid’s head, really seeing them get that ‘ah ha’ feeling, like ‘I’ve got it. I understand. Thank you so much. I’ve been confused, but I really get it now.’ And it’s very rewarding to see that.”


School at a Glance:
Joseph L. Mulready School, Hudson, MA

  • Grades: K-5
  • Enrollment: 283
  • Students per teacher: 18
  • Ethnicity:
    93% White
    3% Hispanic
    4% Asian
    1% African American
  • Percentage of students receiving free or reduced-price lunch: 16% versus a state average of 29%

Linsey Newton teaches third grade at the Joseph L. Mulready School in Hudson, Massachusetts. Located in rural Middlesex County, about 40 miles west of Boston, the Mulready School consists of grades 1 to 5, and “respect and responsibility” are the core values that the school embraces in its mission statement.

The Hudson Public Schools are currently involved in an ambitious systemic, multi-year effort to improve science and mathematics education, the goal of which is to “provide hands-on, inquiry-oriented, and problem-based instruction that encourages mathematical and scientific fluency.”

Linsey says that her science background was enhanced considerably upon coming to this school system: “Dr. Arthur Camins, the elementary math and science director in Hudson, has been a huge influence on me. And the FOSS curriculum has really opened my eyes to see how children can look at science as [more than] factual information fed to them by their teacher, and really explore and learn science through their own experiences and from what they see in the classroom.”

According to Dr. Camins, “In Hudson, we have three overarching goals for science education. One is developing content knowledge. We want students to develop experiences with how the natural world works and an understanding of it. The second is we want them to learn how to conduct experiments to develop the skills and habits of mind to know how to find out answers to their own questions. And the third is to be able to learn to build explanations, to use their engagement with doing science, engagement with materials, and the kinds of thinking that we encourage to be able to develop explanations based on the evidence that they see before them. In that sense, Linsey’s Water Vapor lesson is a good example of that.”

Lesson and Curriculum

Evaporation and Condensation; FOSS

Lesson at a Glance:
Curriculum: Full Option Science System (FOSS), Water Module: Investigation 3, Water Vapor, Delta Education
Grades: Third and fourth
Topic: Evaporation and condensation

Prior to teaching Water Vapor, Linsey led her students through a hot and cold water investigation, in which they compared the properties of water in liquid and solid (ice) states.

Linsey introduced Investigation Three by asking the students to recall a recent recess period during which they observed that the ground outside had become dry after a brief rain shower earlier in the day. In the discussion that followed, their interpretations of what happened were clearly informed by what they learned about the water cycle in second grade.

This led to an experiment in which they took two paper towels and soaked them in water, rung them out, and then put them in plastic cups on a balance and made sure they were equal. They then covered one cup and left the other exposed to the air overnight to see what would happen the next day. “Some of the kids predicted that it depended on where the balance was placed in the room,” Linsey said, “and some thought that it depended on whether we left the lights on all night. The ones who predicted that the covered cup would drop realized that the paper towel in the uncovered cup was exposed to air.”

In a follow-up lesson, Linsey’s students watched as water droplets condensed on the outside of a plastic cup filled with cold water and then tried to explain why the same phenomenon didn’t occur on a cup filled with room-temperature water.

“ I would say that the big idea of both of these lessons is getting the students to understand that water is in the air. Where does the water go? Well, it’s everywhere. You know, getting them to understand that water vapor is part of the cycle, that it is a gas, and that it can change back into a liquid again. I’ve been teaching this unit for four years, and every time I find that I really need to ask the students what they know about things ahead of time, in order to help me to know where to go as well.”

Series Directory

Essential Science for Teachers: Physical Science


Produced by Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. 2004.
  • Closed Captioning
  • ISBN: 1-57680-749-5