Essential Science for Teachers: Physical Science
What Is Matter?: Properties and Classification of Matter Featured Classroom: Cindy Plunkett; Boxborough, MA
Cindy Plunkett; Boxborough, MA
“My father was an elementary school biology teacher and a principal and my mother was a nursery school teacher, so I guess it was in the blood. And I’ve always loved children, so it’s a fun profession.”
School at a Glance:
Blanchard Memorial School,
- Grades: K-6
- Enrollment: 630
- Students per Teacher: 24
- 82% White
- 15% Asian
- 3% Hispanic
- 1% African American
- Percentage of students receiving free or reduced-price lunch: 2% versus a state average of 29%
Cindy Plunkett teaches first grade at the Blanchard Memorial School in Boxboro, Massachusetts. It is located in rural Middlesex County, about 30 miles west of Boston. Blanchard is a Title 1 school that identifies itself as a ”STARR Program School,” whose values are Support, Teamwork, Attitude, Responsibility and Respect.
Cindy remembers her early interest in science began as a result of growing up near a pond. “I’m naturally drawn to the outdoors and I enjoy hiking with my kids. We were identifying plants this week and observing their changes through the seasons. I guess that’s what keeps me interested in science.”
Cindy uses the National Science Resources Center “Science and Technology for Children” curriculum extensively. She particularly values the teacher’s guides, which she says, “pretty clearly spell out the concepts that I want to teach.” In addition, she says, “I study before I teach my lessons and use a number of different resources to gain my background knowledge — reference materials and the Internet — to find out more information.” Cindy also networks outside in the community, where she has taught for 20 years, inviting scientists and naturalists to come and speak to her students.
She says that she can’t over-emphasize the importance of taking into consideration children’s prior ideas: “I think that children come with a lot of background information. Helping them to sort it all out and listening as they construct and develop their knowledge about the world about around them is rewarding, and an important part of teaching science.
Lesson and Curriculum
NSRC Science and Technology for Children
Lesson at a Glance:
Curriculum: NSRC Science and Technology for Children, Solids and Liquids, Carolina Biological Supply Company
Topic: Observing Properties
Prior to teaching Lesson 2, Observing Properties, Cindy had introduced Observing and Describing Two Solids, a lesson that allows the children to concentrate on just two objects while developing their vocabulary for description. Afterwards, they will move on to subsequent lessons in which they will test the rolling and stacking ability, as well as hardness, of solids before exploring how they behave when they interact with liquids.
In Lesson 2, Cindy introduced the students to a variety of solid objects and asked them to use their senses to sort them, while thinking about their like and unlike properties. She then guided them in a discussion in which they explained the criteria they used for their sorting schemes.
As the lesson progressed, their teacher was impressed by how sophisticated their schemes became: “When children were organizing and classifying the objects to begin with, they were using a lot of colors, a lot of shapes, and they’re very visual. But then they really began to think more, and to discuss and listen to each other about what they were finding, and ultimately changed their groupings according to function and what the materials were they were made out of.”
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.