Academic journal article Science and Children

Can a Student Really Do What Engineers Do? Teaching Second Graders about Properties Using Filter Design within a 5E Learning Cycle

Academic journal article Science and Children

Can a Student Really Do What Engineers Do? Teaching Second Graders about Properties Using Filter Design within a 5E Learning Cycle

Article excerpt

As an elementary science teacher, you may be questioning if students in second grade can actually do engineering practices. You may also be questioning if you have the expertise needed to teach engineering practices. Our response to both questions is a definitive yes. We--a science teacher educator, a water company informal educator, and a second-grade teacher--developed and co-taught a three- to four-day instructional unit within the authentic context of water filtration.

In designing the unit, we considered the fact that most elementary teachers have approximately 30-45 minutes daily for a science lesson. After reviewing the Framework (NRC 2012), the NGSS, and several lessons focused on water quality (Dacko and Higdon 2004; Moyer and Everett 2011; Walker, Kremer, and Schluter 2007), we designed this unit to support instruction on properties of solids and liquids, specifically NGSS 2-PS1.A Structure and Properties of Matter, in which students collaborate to test different materials to determine which materials have the properties that are best suited for filtering soil particles from water. We followed the 5E lesson plan model (Bybee et al. 2006) to organize the entire unit.

A Framework for Engineering

A Framework for K-12 Science Education states that "children are natural engineers ... they spontaneously build sand castles, dollhouses, and hamster enclosures and use a variety of tools and materials for their own playful purposes" (NRC 2012, p. 70). The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) also supports engineering design in the K-2 grades, where students are "introduced to problems as situations that people want to change. They use tools and materials to solve simple problems, use different representations to convey solutions and compare different solutions to a problem, and determine which is best" (NGSS Lead States 2013, Appendix I, p. 105). Thus, it is imperative that engineering practices be introduced in early grades so that students have opportunities to develop creative, critical-thinking processes to solve problems.


Essential Practices
of Science and
Engineering (NRC
2012, p. 49).

1. Asking questions (for
science) and defining
problems (for engineering)

2. Developing and using

3. Planning and carrying out

4. Analyzing and interpreting

5. Using mathematics and
computational thinking

6. Constructing explanations
(for science) and
designing solutions (for

7. Engaging in argument
from evidence

8. Obtaining, evaluating,
and communicating

Since the Framework recommends that science teachers provide experiences for students to see "how science and engineering pertain to real-world problems and to explore opportunities to apply their scientific knowledge to engineering design problems once this linkage is made" (NRC 2012, p. 32), we contextualized an investigative science unit that allows students to explore properties of materials while utilizing Engineering Practices (EPs; see Figure 1). Collaborations between the University of Louisville science teacher educator and the Louisville Water Company informal educators have occurred over a decade; our prior co-teaching experiences included several summer science camps for seventh graders and K-12 science teachers. The behind-the-scenes tours of various water company facilities have provided middle school students, K-12 science teachers, and the science teacher educator a literal glimpse into the realities of how our water is cleaned and distributed to our community. Without this collaboration, the authenticity of the lesson would have been compromised.


We introduced the filter unit by showing a cartoon movie clip where Nemo the fish clogs the filter (see Internet Resources). After the video clip, we asked the class what Nemo clogged; then we stated we were going to explore filters for the next few days and document our exploration (e. …

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