Supplementary Unit to 6th Grade Science 

Connections to Energy

    This page is created through the "Research Experience for Teachers" put on by LA-SiGMA at LSU and funded by the National Science Foundation. The concept of the project was to conduct research on a topic that affected the classroom and the one concept that spans the entire year in 6th grade Louisiana science is energy. In doing this project, lessons were created to help new and old teachers alike make connections to energy that may not be incredibly clear in the curriculum. These connections will help students have a better understanding of energy and how energy makes everything happen in our world!

Click through the pages- each page is a different lesson to use through each unit in the year. Use them as you wish- modify them to meet your needs- and email me if you have any questions at all! 
*More to come: Chemistry and Energy, and Forces and Energy

What do the teachers want?

Above you see two word clouds made from the answers that TEACHERS in Louisiana gave to the following questions:
    left- what resources do you need to assist you in teaching content
    right- what resources do you need to assist you in teaching inquiry

A survey was sent out during the project to every parish to deliver to their 6th grade science teachers. If you did not take the survey and still want to, click here.

The survey asked questions to determine a few things:
  • how knowledgable the teachers felt THEY were about the concepts taught
  • what the teachers thought the STUDENTS could understand about the concepts
  • if teachers understand highschool level concepts related to what kids learn in middle school
  • if teachers teach certain topics connected in a certain way
  • what resources teachers need to teach the CONTENT better
  • what resources teachers need to teach the INQUIRY better 

The final results of that survey are below from the first round of respondents (summer responses).

In order to fulfill a few needs requested, a website has been created for you. You can find lesson plans, activities, and resources by GLE as well as a discussion board. :)      Go to the website created for Louisiana 6th grade science teachers HERE.

Survey Results:

These are observations made when analyzing the data from the survey. 

Questions 2 & 3: There is a SLIGHT correlation between a teacher not feeling knowledgable in a certain topic to thinking the students cannot understand that same topic. Other teachers who feel knowledgeable in all areas feel the weakest areas for the 6th graders are:
    -atoms and elements (even though chemical reactions was higher overall)
    -work and machines
    -waves, sound, light, heat

Q2: Rate yourself on how knowledgable you feel in each concept. (Graph shows Averages- each response had value 1-5). Teachers feel least equipped for Energy transformations and environmental energy (had the most teachers select they only had enough understanding to get through lesson)

Q3: How well do you think 6th graders can understand each concept? (Graph shows Averages-each response had value 1-5) Most teachers feel students can only understand about 50% of each topic to mastery.

Q4: Do you connect energy to everything you do throughout the year?
37 % of teachers do NOT, despite the explanation of physical science found in the assessment guide above the physical science GLEs: "Students will develop an understanding of the characteristics and interrelationships of matter and energy in the physical world".
  • why not? One teacher says "I guess I never thought about it" and another says "I only use the term during the tie we teach the unit on energy." 
  • why so? One teacher says "The word energy revolves around every concept we teach. Motion, forces, electricity, matter, atoms, electrons, environmental issues, machines, and on and on. I tell my students on the first day of school that all of the things they will be learning about that school year would not be possible without energy."
  • another comment: "Energy is the basis for all transactions that take place. It is directly related to every unit taught during the year, but it should be taught at the beginning of the year, not at the end. That way, it can be referred to in a better fashion throughout the year."

Q5:Atoms and matter (antimatter, quarks, E=MC^2)
    First of all I DO realize that these terms are meant for high school students. To push our high students, I feel teachers should know enough to tell students what to research or be able to answer general questions. I was curious to see how well equipped our teachers are to elaborate on higher concepts.
  • One teacher does mention some terms to honors students
  • another teacher's (incredibly valid) thoughts: "6th grade curriculum traditionally has been the foundational year for getting students ready for science. Much of the elementary science experiences have been lacking in inquiry and focused more on plants, animals and rocks. All to often teachers move about the subject areas frequently in elementary and do not get to build a strong background in sciences. Added to that is the reality that reading and math are of primary focus at the elementary level with some students only taking social living, a mixture of science and social studies, barely skimming the surface of scientific understanding. 6th grade, historically, is where the expectations of deeper scientific understanding begin"
Q6: How many states of matter are there?
5% of teachers teach there are only 3 states of matter. 61% teach there are 4 (I'm assuming here they include plasma). If you teach 5, you may include the Bose-Einstein condensate, but there are plenty being researched today. Now, We DON'T need to teach every one of them to 6th graders, that does go beyond the scope of the curriculum. However we just need to be careful not to say there are "only three or four". 
See this article from The Happy Scientist to see why it may be an issue and this article from NASA for further (very detailed) explanation on the topic. 

Q8: Teaching atomic models past #20.
Interesting combination of answers for this one. A lot of teachers that answered they do NOT go over 20 said YES they understand why. Many teachers who DO go over 20 (because they have more students and let each do a model, or to give students a challenge) do NOT know why we should stop. *MOST teachers DO stop at 20 knowing that it gets more complicated somehow.

The easiest explanation I can give is that at element 20, electrons actually fill the 4th shell 's' orbital before continuing to the final 3rd shell. I do not teach the students orbital names, I just mention they exist and show them pictures but we do still practice with the Bohr model for the sake of understanding the beginning patterns. An amusing but informative video of how and why this happens can be found HERE, made by Crash Course Chemistry.

Q9, Q10, Q11: No comments by teachers, just curious as to how many teachers taught these topics a certain way. 

Q12: Law of conservation of mass and energy and E=mc^2

A- Most teachers  (if they are posed these questions) do explain that an enormous amount of nuclear energy is stored in the bonds of atoms and we are able to access that using certain elements. Also a few teachers were able to explain that babies are actually just matter changing form. One teacher put it wonderfully:
    -"Babies start off very small, and as a mother eats the baby takes the nutrients necessary to grow and sustain life (the nutrients the baby takes from the mother include most every element (mineral) found on the periodic table); therefore, a baby is not growing from nothing, but rather is taking "atoms" from food that the mother is feeding her body in order to grow and sustain life."

B- Many teachers aren't familiar enough with the meaning of E=mc^2 to comfortably explain. Like other high level topics, many 6th graders may not catch on to this and they aren't required to- but it's a great thing to introduce to them just to have them thinking about it. It basically says Energy=matter*speed of light(c) squared. This means energy and matter are interchangeable in very special circumstances. Even if you tell students there is a part that is confusing (the c squared part), you can still explain that there IS a formula devised by Einstein to explain how much energy is in matter and how they are interchangeable. A short video explaining this is HERE by Epic Science

Q13: What CONTENT resources do you need?
  • Quite a few teachers have a desire for more specifically defined GLEs- one teacher says it best: "I would like to know EXACTLY what I need to teach my students. The GLE's are so broad and disconnected. Our textbook goes more in depth, but I have had to scratch so much for times sake. I just want to teach my students and teach them right."
  • STEM resources matched to our curriculum topics
  • videos, visuals, and fun game type apps that are everywhere for Math and ELA
  • also, money :) "I just don't have the budget to afford all of the hands-on activity kits I would like."
  • "Better materials that connect the vocabulary and concepts to things my students can identify with"
Q14: What INQUIRY resources do you need?
  • Videos or experiment simulators (Check out the Gizmos app by explore learning- save the free trial for the first month of school! Or try PhET free simulations here.) "Teachers need videos or modeling of well implemented scitific inquiries and an understanding that there are many types of scientific inquiries."
  • training! In STEM, project based learning, breaking down experiments, and NGSS- "There needs to be a coordinated push to offer to train teachers for inquiry; especially STEM and PBL. There used to be LaSip and Science Saturdays for example. Maybe through incentives like winning equipment for school labs, funds to attend conventions. In the state's effort to go Common CORE and focus on ELA and Math, we have lost a lot of teachers grounded in inquiry-based science. As an industrial state, we need to get back on the science track and tech teachers"
  • Equal time- "Time is a resource that might improve inquiry. St/T would not be rushed to complete portions of an investigation in a class period. This could lead to better observations, more questioning and independent ideas."

That's all folks- I look forward to collecting more survey responses as this school year begins. If you would like to see the raw data from this set of responses you can download that HERE.