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
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.”
Session 1 What Is Matter?: Properties and Classification of Matter
What is matter? This question at first seems deceptively simple — matter is all around us. Yet how do we define it? What does a block of cheese have in common with the Moon? What are the characteristics of matter that set it apart from something that is definitely not matter? Matter is one of the big ideas in science. Most areas in physical science can be discussed and explained in terms of matter or energy, and matter is a subject that naturally bridges to the other sciences (chemistry, life, earth science, etc.). In this session, we’ll build a working definition of matter, learn to distinguish between its “accidental” and “essential” properties, and explore it through classification, an activity with a rich history in science.
Session 2 The Particle Nature of Matter: Solids, Liquids, and Gases
What simple idea links together all of chemistry and physics? How can a close study of the macroscopic differences among solids, liquids, and gases support a microscopic model of tiny, discrete, and constantly moving particles? In this session, participants learn how the "particle model" can be turned into a powerful tool for generating predictions about the behavior of matter under a wide range of conditions.
Session 3 Physical Changes and Conservation of Matter
What happens when sugar is dissolved in a glass of water or when a pot of water on the stove boils away? Do things ever really "disappear?" In everyday life, observations that things "disappear" or "appear" seem to contradict one of the fundamental laws of nature: matter can be neither created nor destroyed. In this session, participants learn how the principles of the particle model are consistent with conservation of matter.
Session 4 Chemical Changes and Conservation of Matter
How can the particle model account for what happens when two clear liquids are mixed together and they produce a milky-white solid? What happens when iron rusts? Where do the elements come from? In this session, participants extend the particle model by looking inside the particles, learn about some early chemical pioneers, and in the process discover how the law of conservation of matter applies even at the scale of atoms and molecules.
Session 5 Density and Pressure
What makes a block of wood rise to the surface of a bucket of water? Why do your ears pop when you swim deep underwater? In this session, participants examine density, an essential property of matter. They also look at how particles of matter are in constant motion, which leads to a deeper understanding of fluid pressure. Lastly, the concepts of pressure and density are investigated to explain the macroscopic phenomenon of rising and sinking.
Session 6 Rising and Sinking
Why does a hot air balloon rise into the sky? Why does ice rise in water, when a lump of solid wax will sink in a jar full of molten wax? In this session, participants generalize the model that has been developed about what rises and what sinks, using the idea of balance of forces.
Session 7 Heat and Temperature
What makes the liquid in a thermometer rise or fall in response to temperature? Which contains more heat — a boiling teakettle on the stove or a swimming pool of lukewarm water? In this session, participants focus on the difference between heat and temperature, and examine how both are defined in terms of particles. The particle model is then used to explain a number of everyday phenomena, from why things expand when they are heated to the role that temperature plays in changes of state.
Sessions 8 Extending the Particle Model of Matter
In this session, participants extend their understanding of the particle model to explain additional macroscopic phenomena, including the electrical properties of matter. Participants review the progression of ideas covered in the course and anticipate future developments in the understanding of matter.