January/February 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 4

Cup of Tea

Posted: Thursday, June 4th, 2015

by Leah Wheeler

Have you ever felt like your time is split between too many subject areas in your classroom and you’re torn on how to teach all of the content? As a 5th grade teacher in a self contained classroom, I have always struggled with integrating curriculum in my classroom instruction. Through my participation with the Next Generation of Science Standards (NGSS) Early Implementation team in Galt, I have learned how to take the science and engineering practices (SEP) and incorporate them into the other curricular areas using simple modifications to my instruction.

Instead of looking at science and engineering practices as only part of the three-dimensional learning of NGSS, I try to think of ways to incorporate them into other content areas, so I can create bridges for learning.  For instance, inspired by the Boston Tea Party after my students studied the American Revolution, students engineered crates to hold tea.

Engineering Task:  Design a crate that can hold a tea bag submerged into a tub of water without leaking.

  • Design Phase: Students design and create a crate that will keep their tea bag dry for the longest period of time in a tub of cold water.
  • Building Phase:  Students worked in groups of 3.  Each group was given 16 popsicle sticks, a 2 inch by 2 inch square of wax paper, one 6 inch strip of masking tape, 12 inch piece of yarn, 1 tea bag, and a tub of water.  They had 20 minutes to complete this phase.
  • Test Phase:  Student groups tested their designs by submerging their tea crates in tubs of cold water.  Leakage was determined by the color of the water around the crate.  When the water turned dark, the timer would stop. One group’s crate went an entire 24 hours without leakage, so the class studied their design and tried to recreate their crates.
  • Redesign and Re-build Phase: Students had 30 minutes to redesign and rebuild their crates using the same materials as before.
  • Re-Test Phase:  Students were more successful with their crates this time around and they didn’t leak as fast in the re-test phase.

During the engineering process, I noticed collaborative conversations and problem solving. Some students tried raft and pontoon designs, but those did not withstand the challenge while others tried a fully enclosed crate that was successful. The students who were the most successful completely encased their tea bag in the wax paper while binding it with yarn and then wrapping the Popsicle sticks around the bundle.
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Thinking outside the box is the key to lessening the load in the classroom and incorporating multiple content areas; no pun intended.  The three-dimensional learning called for in NGSS provides many opportunities to integrate in a cross curricular manner and provides rich learning experiences for students.

Leah Wheeler is a 5th Grade Science Teacher at Lake Canyon Elementary School, Galt Elementary School District. She was invited to write for California Classroom Science by CSTA President-Elect Lisa Hegdahl.

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.

One Response

  1. First, let me say, I encourage this type of incorporation, as I believe it “de-compartmentalizes” learning. I wanted to leave a reply, as an industrial engineer and as someone who feels betrayed by my public education growing up. I’d propose an additional engineering exercise that could lead children to critically think (although I often question if this is the desired outcome of the public educational institutions, at least at the administrative level) about things they read. There’s a systems engineering exercise that I use to view historical and contemporary events, to come a conclusion about the accuracy of information. If you map out key related events leading up to the one you’re currently learning about, and then go back and identify the inputs and outputs of each event (sometimes these are not known, but that’s where the fun begins) you can surmise the likely missing information based on the preceding or successor event, as well as see if the explained known outcomes of each event likely sum up to the concluding event (this also crosses into sociology, political science, etc… You can take it as far as you want in the curriculum). Such as: how could Britain have handled one of the preceding events, to prevent the tea party.

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