View Lessons by Subject > Science > Collaboration
In 6th grade science, we have an energy unit that focuses on how humans produce and use electrical energy in our daily lives. The culminating activity of the unit is to work in small groups to design and build an energy efficient home/building. There are many aspects of this project that the students seem to benefit from:
~ they work in groups, compromising/making decisions that take others’ opinions and feelings into consideration;
~ they gain new and practical information that is useful to the rest of their family back home; (ex: front-loading washing machines are more water-efficient than top-loaders)
~ they learn to use some tools during the building stage that they may not have used before;
~ they strengthen their visual/spatial awareness, transferring house designs from floor plans to 3-D cardboard models;
~ they apply mathematics concepts such as measurement (length, area), 2D to 3-D, and basic computation;
~ they share their new knowledge and models with a display and walk-through at the of the project.
(Physics): I employ a strategy called POGIL. POGIL is an acronym for “process oriented guided inquiry learning.” I break the class into groups. Each group has a manager, a spokesperson, a recorder and an evaluator. The manager keeps the group on task. The recorder writes down all aspects of the exercise. The evaluator grades the group at the end of the exercise. Finally, when I come around to question the group, only the spokesperson is allowed to talk to me. So, the group must articulate questions to the spokesperson, and then the spokesperson talks to me. Once the groups are formed, I give each group a ramp and a marble. I instruct them to devise a method to successfully hit a bull’s eye on the floor if the marble starts from rest at the top of the ramp on a desktop and rolls to the floor. I do not give them any other instructions. As the girls scan their lecture notes, they begin to see that kinematic equations for gravity are separate from constant speed in the horizontal direction. Soon, they figure out to use the vertical height of the desk to find time, and then use the time to calculate the horizontal range.
(Astronomy): At the end of our study of 6th grade astronomy, I ask large groups of girls to plan a scientific Mars expedition. They must decide what type of government will make decisions and the place of scientists in that government, how resources will be managed, how safety and survival issues (learned during our study of space and Mars in particular) will be planned for and addressed, and how limited space (50 cubic feet per colonist) will be used. The girls must select a location for the colony and develop plans for communication, energy, waste, and food and oxygen production. They must establish the main focus for their research. Each must decide what personal items they might bring with them that weigh in at less than 20 lbs.

The large number of girls brings an interesting dynamic to the production of plans and 3-D models of their colony facilities. The girls have to consider many of the options that their “colony” will face when making decisions, division of labor and conflict resolution. Sixth grade students study American history and government which is a cross curricular plus.

The open-ended nature of the project allows the girls to pursue many options to solve the colony’s challenges. Many girls who don’t think that they are “good in science” enjoy and excel in this project. The research required to answer their own questions makes a bigger impact on them than any assignment directed by me. The girls who like to compartmentalize their studies (Why are we doing math in science class?) forget to try to keep everything separate. Those girls who aren’t good at memorization find that they can be the most innovative thinkers. Those girls who are good in other subjects can bring those strengths to the table.