The goal of every unit I teach is to have students use the scientific method to design and conduct experiments and to communicate scientific information in writing. I have discovered that my students stumble with how to organize information in a logical fashion. My students also need help with their reading and writing skills, especially vocabulary. Students come into contact with as many new words and definitions in my class as they would in any English or World Language classroom. For all of these reasons, it is important to emphasize strategies that address these issues throughout the course of the school year. The objectives addressed in this unit will focus on the physical science concepts of energy and work, but I will continue to return to my bigger goals as I proceed through the content.
This unit is aimed at ninth graders taking the Integrated Science course. It could be adapted to a sixth grade class when they cover these concepts, and could also be modified for use in a senior level physics class. Energy is defined in most physics texts as “the ability to do work”. You will often hear students speak of energy when they do not have any. The dilemma that I am faced with in planning the physical sciences curriculum is how to get students to understand the concept of energy more in a scientific sense. Thermodynamics, the study of conversions between heat and other types of energy, is not something that comes easy to young people and might rank near to a root canal on a list of their priorities. It is my goal to make this topic more interesting and accessible to ninth graders as it relates to their every day lives.
New Haven Academy, a member of the Coalition of Essential Schools, is an interdistrict magnet school whose mission it is “to provide a rigorous education that prepares all students to succeed in college and become active citizens able to make informed decisions about their lives and their communities.” By definition, an interdistrict magnet school is a public school of choice designed to reduce racial, ethnic and economic isolation. We are committed to small class sizes and assessment by exhibition. All students are required to complete and present projects in each of the classes at all grade levels. While following district guidelines, it is our goal to personalize our instruction for our students. Our school is our personal construction based upon teacher, student, parent and administrator expertise and input.
New Haven Academy ninth graders will participate in the Integrated Science Curriculum consisting of a triad of physical science, earth and space sciences and life science. Considering the topic of “Energy, Engines and the Environment” seemed to me a great way to bridge the gap between two of the physical science and earth science sections in this curriculum.
Our classrooms consist of a variety of students, from fully included special education students with very specific educational needs to students of outstanding potential but with low skill sets to highly functioning, self-motivated students all of whom may be in the same class together. This necessitates differentiation of instruction such that you keep the top level interested while not losing those students at the lower end. Another challenge in managing the classroom at New Haven Academy is that we meet in 85 minute blocks. Many times it is necessary to have that amount of time if we are to really delve into and complete an activity. However, this also requires careful lesson planning and thought given to exactly how the time will be divided between direct instruction, hands-on activities and assessments. It is my goal to have the student-as-worker and the teacher-as-guide for as much of the class as possible.
The lessons that focus on Energy will be covered during the physical sciences segment. It will be particularly important to “chunk” the time of the class into manageable segments because this topic can be formidable. I hope to limit my direct instruction time to the first and last 15-20 minutes of class and have the students involved in activities during the rest of the class. During this time they teach themselves and each other and master just a couple of the fundamental concepts during one class period.