Fun With Measurement
To what extent do scientists need to be accurate with their measurements? This is one of the essential questions grade six science students considered during their tools and measurement unit. The unit took place over several weeks and involved various lab activities to provide hands-on experiences for students to uncover their learning.
The first investigation involved measuring length. Can you estimate the circumference of your head? How about the length of your foot? Most sixth graders can do this by now. They used body parts to establish good estimates of length prior to working on precise measurements. Estimation is an essential skill when working with measurement and in this context it also provided a bit of fun in the classroom!
After becoming metric masters of length they moved on to determining the mass of an object. The class learned how to use a triple beam balance as a scientific tool. During the “Guess My Mass” lab students first estimated and then precisely measured the mass of an object. They determined the mass of objects as small as a paper clip to as large as a text book.
The next tool students learned how to use was the graduated cylinder. They learned that not all graduated cylinders are created equal and that before we can measure capacity we need to determine the interval on the cylinder. Students once again used estimation first and then followed precise methods to determine the volume of a variety of containers. Students demonstrated excellent personal management and managed to complete the lab without spilling water all over the science lab; this is not small task for middle school students!
The final science investigation in our tools and measurement unit combined several of the skills students already learned. During the density lab, students needed to use both mass and volume to calculate the density of ten substances. They also determined the density of water. This helped students to predict whether an item will either float or sink in water. Grade six science students now know that an object will float or sink in water depending whether its density is less or greater than the density of water. Prior to this lab most students believed it was the mass of the object that would determine floating or sinking.
During each of the laboratory activities students were able to demonstrate proficiency on the Expected Student Learning Results (ESLRs) as well. Since each lab investigation required students to work in either pairs or small groups there were many opportunities to work collaboratively. They were also assessed on their communication ESLR. Lab groups needed to effectively communicate information between group members as well as explain their findings in written form. In addition, the labs offered opportunities for students to demonstrate complex thinking skills. Especially in the density lab, they had to apply prior knowledge in order to complete the new tasks. The best part of the unit is that they did all this while having fun in the classroom!
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