I am a science teacher for seventh and eighth graders at Clinton Avenue School, a neighborhood school in the Fair Haven section of New Haven. When my students enter seventh grade, they have typically have had little exposure to science. This unit will serve to introduce students to the study of science overall, but more specifically to the properties of matter as well as the scientific method. The overarching focus of the unit is how properties of matter can be used to not only understand the world around us, but to solve very concrete real-world issues. Furthermore, it is designed to engage the common interests of middle school students and provide an access point for students who may or may not be scientifically inclined.
In my experience teaching science to seventh graders, the major obstacle that they face in the curriculum around properties of matter is making meaningful connections to the content. Students can usually express to me the importance, or “the why”, behind studying language arts and math. However, my seventh graders struggle to do so with the first science content—properties of matter—with which they have the opportunity to learn. If they do not see a purpose and there is lack of natural interest in the content, then no teaching strategy will be able to lead these students to the scientific literacy that they need to make the personal and civic decisions that they will face in their lives. Furthermore, seventh grade students feel understandably lost in the amount of detail of the first unit in science, from learning about the existence and descriptions of atoms to studying properties such as solubility, density, and pH. As a result, they lose sight of the big picture and important themes related to the study of matter, such as how the structure of molecules and nature of atoms determine the properties that we experience on a larger scale.
This unit will use a thematic approach—forensic science—to teach properties of matter to seventh graders in a way that is engaging, cohesive, and full of real-world applications. Rather than viewing the unit as a collection of random and irrelevant facts and information, students will see and retain the essential concepts regarding properties of matter that they will apply not only to further studies in science but to other subject areas as well. The unit will highlight critical thinking and problem-solving skills in the context of forensic science. This approach will undoubtedly engage the majority of seventh graders who are inherently curious and competitive individuals. It will also cover ethical decision-making and the impact of science on society, providing for a multidisciplinary experience that will help to engage even those students who are not scientifically inclined.