Academic journal article Science Scope

Puzzle Boxes for 3-D Learning about Natural Hazards

Academic journal article Science Scope

Puzzle Boxes for 3-D Learning about Natural Hazards

Article excerpt


For years I have used toy blocks and cubes made from paper to introduce my students to the nature of scientific research and have them practice investigative skills such as observations and inferences (Vowell, Plankis, and Ramsey 2012). Recently, I have modified my cube lessons to integrate all three dimensions of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and increase assessment and extension opportunities.

Although the emphasis for this activity is on middle school Earth science, teachers could adjust the strategies to teach other content in different contexts.

Building background with building blocks

Teachers can use a variety of blocks or cubes for this part of the activity. Building blocks for small children (wood or plastic) are a favorite due to their durability, familiarity to students, and multiple characteristics for examination-alphabet letters, numbers, images, colors, and more. Numerous department and craft stores sell block sets in a range of prices. Online sellers and flea markets are other avenues for finding such materials. I prefer using building blocks from the same set, so the entire class can notice and compare common patterns.

At the start of the lesson, students sit in small groups (two to four students) in desk clusters or around tables. One block is placed in the middle of each group's table or desk surface, with the following verbal and written instructions given: "Make observations of the block without touching it or picking it up." I walk around the room during this time to monitor students' discussions of observations and ideas. I listen for what students discuss (patterns, features, questions), what they may be overlooking, and unique ideas or questions from particular groups. This close proximity also ensures that everyone follows instructions. If anyone tests or questions the rules, I inform them they will be able to touch the block later.

Depending on student activity, the teacher can insert questions and prompts to guide thinking, encourage discussion, and check for understanding. Examples are:

* "How will you remember your observations?"

* "What do you notice about ... ?"

* "How does that compare with ...?"

After about five minutes, I get the entire class's attention and ask for a report from each group. As they share, I make a list on the board so everyone can see. (To increase student participation, I often ask a volunteer to be our class recorder.)

After each group has the chance to share and compare observations, I begin another list on the board with the title: "Questions about the blocks." Again, we take turns as students offer questions, with someone recording ideas. Queries students share encompass a broad spectrum, including "What is it made of?" "How much does it weigh?" "Is anything inside it?" "Why can't we touch it?" "How old is it?"

Eventually, I call students' attention to the following question: "What could be on the bottom of the block?" In most cases, at least one student will ask this, but if they don't, the teacher can mention it. Instead of asking what is on the bottom, however, I specifically word the question "What could be on the bottom?," which endorses multiple ideas without limiting students to one answer. I then challenge students to work in their groups to discuss and determine a solution to this question. The "no touch" rule still applies, which I uphold as I again move about groups and interact with students. A common question I pose during these exchanges, when appropriate, is "What evidence do you notice that supports your ideas?" This promotes additional data analysis and interpretation by students.

Following a designated time for investigation, student groups take turns describing their observations to the rest of class, sharing ideas of what could be on the bottom. Additionally, students should share why they came to their conclusions. …

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