Throughout this unit I present a series of lessons that meet New Haven Public School’s curricular frameworks, and specifically performance standards on science, language arts, and mathematics. These lessons incorporate a wide range of the strategies and techniques implemented in a constructivist classroom as the students make sense and integrate their previous knowledge into the new content. The content of the seminar will be integrated with all other curricular areas as we explore the topic of the science of physics related to simple machines as observed in everyday school objects. For such a purpose, this unit will study classroom objects from the perspective of the physics concepts involved when we use them. By this, I mean that the day-to-day classroom objects are studied as units of analysis from the perspective of a physicist who is mainly interested in explaining and making students understand the physical principles involved in the use of such objects. Initially, a historical perspective will be offered in order to contextualize the reasons and importance of why some objects are in existence. Thus, questions such as, what is the importance of the lever? Why do we need the inclined plane? What was life before the wedge, pulley? Which are the physical principles involved in the function, use, design of the given object? What are some of the most important inventions, utensils that originate in the basic principles and uses of these objects?
Among the objects used to study physics principles, I will include the windows and door, the pencil sharpener, and the weighing scale. Through the presentation of these objects, we will explore and study how the simple machines function and what elements are included and are part of their functions and utility. This, in part, will be accomplished through the implementation of a “structural approach” of cooperative learning in an integrated (science, math, social studies) language arts unit. Outside of the classroom we will study on the playground; the swing, the slide, and the seesaw. The underlying question will be, which are the physic and concepts involved in the structure and the function of the object? How are they simple machines? Within our bodies we will explore what are the parts that act as simple machines, and how they help us to accomplish what we want.
The primary strategies and teaching methods in my classroom, which go beyond any curricular area, are based on inquiry-based, hands-on activities. The topic at hand will allow for many activities related to the physics principles needed for such objects to perform the function intended. Through different activities we will begin exploring simple machines (lever, inclined plane, wedge, pulley, wheel-and-axle) and how they relate to common mechanical objects around the school. In the area of language arts non-fiction books related to how things work will be the focus. In social studies, we will compare the uses different cultures make of simple machines and how they are alike and different around the world as we attempt to understand the importance they have had for the development and progress of human civilization.
Physics in the second grade
Physics and physical principles affect and can describe most anything we do in our lives. We can be describe physics as the scientific study of matter (material substance of the universe that has mass, occupies space, and is convertible to energy), energy (supply or source of electrical, mechanical, or other form of power), force (a physical influence that tends to change the position of an object), and motion and the way in which each of these relate to one other.
There are five major areas that encompass the science of physics:
- Mechanics (laws of motion, simple mechanical objects)
- Heat and thermodynamics (heat, insulation, air-conditioners, cars, etc)
- Time and sound (clocks and musical instruments)
- Electricity and magnetism (electric and magnetic forces, currents and fields, electronics, electromagnetic waves)
- Light, optics and modern physics
As part of the second grade curriculum in the New Haven Public Schools a hands-on unit on balancing and weighing is included as part of the science curriculum. It is through the introduction of trying to balance a construction paper butterfly that the idea of a fulcrum is introduced in the context of what it is that makes the butterfly balance. Later, a beam and a wooden piece are added to students’ experiences and they are asked to make the beam balance on the wooden piece. It is via these concrete experiences that students begin to understand the importance the fulcrum plays in balancing any object, and the main function a scale serves. Thus, students begin their journey in understanding measuring and weighing, and in the context of this unit, their departure into the study of simple machines as we explore how they are used in the classroom and around the school.