CSTA Classroom Science

Cup of Tea

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.

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.


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