Today we started a new unit in sixth grade which means that we started today with a new Statement of Inquiry and new questions to investigate over the course of our unit. Not naming it before actually starting the unit now feels to me like getting in a car without a destination and just driving around randomly until you eventually figure out a destination. Since today was the first day of the unit, we spent some time to really examine the Statement of Inquiry together- what the words mean, what we already know about the statement, and what we are going to be trying to figure out about it over the course of the unit.
Having this statement (and the questions) to go back to constantly during class helps us to remember our destination and then also allows kids to add to their "file drawers" as we continue to use the same three key concepts and related concepts over the course of the 5-year program. Seeing these words/ideas over and over for five years will allow students to internalize them and to find connections between topics and how scientific ideas fit together because they will have the words to actually name those connections. If you have ever doubted how important naming things is in order to create deep thinking, please listen to this episode of the podcast Radio Lab. It really drove home for me the need to actually give students the words to name their thinking and understanding.
By drawing these pictures, and discussing them at their tables in between, kids constructed for themselves the meaning of "unbalanced forces." We then went back to the SOI again and look at the word "change"- a word they already knew in a scientific context from another earlier SOI and the kids realized that the only thing changing between the three situations was that the skier was moving in a certain direction or not moving at all. They figured out and discussed in small groups that movement was actually a consequence (which they know as a vocabulary word from being pre-teens who have behavioral consequences to some of their "awesome" pre-teen decisions!) of the forces being unbalanced...and voilá- they had defined the Statement of Inquiry and were able to talk about what we were actually going to be trying to figure out during this unit.
We will go back to these concepts over and over as they are foundational in understanding the scientific content. Spending the time in this way allows students to really "get it" and starts them on the pathway to a deeper understanding that is worth the time required today.