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Math Inquiry Lessons

Science Inquiry Lessons

Math Inquiry Lessons

In all probability - GEMS resource

Activity 1: Penny Investigations

Penny Investigations has five class sessions. It sets the stage and provides students with foundational tools for the entire unit. Pennies provide the springboard into the investigations and the context for collecting ,organizing, discussing, and interpreting data. Students conduct the Penny Flip experiment to generate and record data, and to interpret results. The concept of fairness and vocabulary related to probability are introduced and defined. Scales for graphing are discussed and students critically examine graphs from newspapers and advertisements. Embedded in the activities are opportunities for computational practice.

Activity 2: Spin to Win

Spin to Win consists of three class sessions involving probability experiments with "fair" and "unfair" spinners to make the moves in two Track Meet races. Students gather data, analyze the data, and make conjectures about fairness based on the data. The spinners also provide a context for understanding fractional parts of a whole. Student understanding is deepened through classroom discourse and questioning strategies to probe and encourage student explanations of reasoning.

Activity 3: Horse Racing

Horse Racing has three class sessions involving dice. Teachers choose the first experiment -- ether the Horse Race or the Roll ALL Six game. With either, students roll one standard die and analyze the outcomes for many rolls. Then the students play the Double Dice Derby game with two dice and keep track of the winners of the races on a class graph. At home, they race the horses to gather more data and report the wins of the class graph. The class graph is also represented as a line graph to provide a different way of looking at data. Using a Keeping Track chart, students record all possible sums for two dice in an organized way to better understand the results of the race. The theoretical probability for the the outcome of two dice is also considered.

Activity 4: Games Sticks

Games Sticks introduces students to a version of a native American games of chance. After creating their own set of sticks with colorful designs, students sue the sticks to play the lively game. Then students conduct an experiment to analyze the outcomes (combinations of plain and design sides) of the sticks. The class pools their results to get a better picture of the frequency of each outcome. Finally, they use the sticks to determine all the variation (permutations) for each outcome. The variations are connected to the theoretical probability of their occurrence.

Algebraic Reasoning - GEMS resource

Activity 1: The Fabulous Function Machine

Students are introduced to Professor Arbegla and her amazing machine. They suggest numbers (and later geometric shapes) to go into the machine, and then analyze what comes out. Students learn to look for patterns as a key strategy to decode the "secret rule" the machine is following for each new function. Students are introduced to the use of T-tables to organize the data, as well as the use of variables to write algebraic expressions for the computational operations the machine is performing. Students begin to build skills, strategies, and tools that will help them do algebra.

Activity 2: Malfunctions in the Function Machine

Professor Arbegla's invention appears to be acting up. She sends a letter to your class, describing the problem (the same number that goes in, comes out) and asking your students for assistance. The malfunction introduces the class to the identity element for addition and / or multiplication. Students may also discover other computational operations, in which a number goes into the machine and comes out the same. After the lcas has solved this problem, a second letter arrives from the professor, describing a new malfunction this time, no matter what the number goes into the machine, the number seven comes out.

Activity 3: The Morph Machine

Students are introduced to a new two-step machine that you, yourself have created. When students put numbers into the Morph Machine, the numbers go into the "transformer chamber" and a series of operations are applied on them. Then you put the resulting "morphed" numbers into the machine's "restorer chamber" and -- "magically" -- are able to determine the original numbers what went in. The magic is the use of inverse operations, or simplifying an algebraic expression.

Activity 4: Professor LaBarge Scales

The use of a scale provides the context to solve equations for one or more variables. In this model, the scale represents an equation and the weights represent number and / or variables. In the first session, students are introduced to the scale itself, given some of the weights on the scale, and asked to find the values of the unknown weights. They sue variables to express these equations algebraically. In the second session they are given more equations to balance -- some with a single solution and others with an infinite set of solutions.

Activity 5: The Distributive Property

Another letter arrives from Professor Arbegla. This time there is no problem to solve. Instead, the professor shares her great multiplication discovery, known in mathematics as the distributive property or law of operation. In Session 1, students are introduced to the distributive property of addition, and have opportunities to apply it to problems. At the end of the first session, students use algebra to generalize this property. In Session 2, students discover that there is also a distributive property of subtraction, and learn to write its algebraic expression. Finally, they apply what they have learned about both distributive properties as they solve a variety of problems.

Activity 6: Algebra in Action

Students explore the area and perimeter functions for rectangles. In the first session, they are introduced to the commutative property of multiplication as they investigate a room with an area of 36 square feet and see the impact of length and width on the room's size. In the second session, students create a standard unit of measure, a square foot. Using that unit, the class concretely measures and maps to scale the length and width of an enclosure with an area of 36 square feet, to see its actual size. Using string, they measure the perimeter of the rectangle, and distinguish between the area and perimeter measurements. In the final session, students solve area problems with variables to find an unknown in the equation -- the length, width, or area.

Measurement - Second Edition FOSS Kit - Grades 3-4
Measurement, the process of quantifying observations, is one of the cornerstones of science. Measurement compares nature--the unknown--to a standard unit--the known. Through such comparison, the organization of the world becomes more comprehensive. The FOSS Measurement module consists of four investigations, each designed to emphasize a particular type of metric measurement--length, mass, temperature, and volume.

Activity 1: The First Straw

Students learn the need for standard units of linear measurement. They measure objects with nonstandard units, straws, and then use a meter tape to measure objects in meters and centimeters. Students measure and compare body dimensions in the metric system.

Activity 2: Weight Watching

Students learn the need for standard units for measuring mass and use the FOSS balance and mass pieces to weigh objects. Students prepare 100-g bags of gravel and cooperate to make a kilogram mass piece. They discover that a sponge can soak up many times its own mass in water.

Activity 3: Take Me to Your Liter

Students learn the need for standard units of volume. They use syringes and graduated cylinders calibrated in milliliters to measure fluids accurately. After learning how to use the FOSS volume measuring tools, students measure the capacity (maximum volume) of several common containers.

Activity 4: The Third Degree

Students compare the temperatures of 3 cups of water using their fingers, which leads to the need for a measuring tool and standard unit. Students use alcohol thermometers and measure in degrees Celsius. They measure the temperatures of warm and cold water and find out how cold a mixture of ice and water gets in 10 minutes. The module ends with a Metric Field Day as students compete and officiate in events designed by the class.

Variables - Second Edition FOSS Kit - Grades 5-6

Some of the most important scientific concepts students learn are the result of their ability to see relationships between objects and events. Relationships always involve interactions, dependencies, and cause and effect. The Variables Module has four investigations that help students discover relationships through controlled experimentation. Students will fling, float, fly, and flip objects as they discover relationships in each investigation.

Activity 1: Swingers

Students experiment with variables that do and do not affect the behavior of pendulums. They graph their results and use their graphs to predict the behavior of additional pendulums.

Activity 2: Lifeboats

Students construct a fleet of paper cup boats and discover how many passengers (pennies) each will hold before sinking. The variables of boat depth and arrangement of passengers are explored.

Activity 3: Plane Sense

Students construct rubberband-powered airplanes and fly them on a line. They experiment with a number of variables to see how each affects the distance the plane travels.

Activity 4: Flippers

Students manipulate small catapults called flippers to investigate the variables that contribute to the highest and longest flips of objects. They conduct controlled experiments and graph their results.

Zometool Basic Creator Kit

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Zome is a powerful manipulative that not only applies to many of the US national standards, but also integrates with other core subjects such as science and language arts. Many educators feel Zome is a great way to get kids excited about mathematics, but don not know how to get started. Check out Zometool's Resources for Educators for lesson plans in a multitude of subjects, including geometry, numbers sense, progressions, algebra, trigonometry and Fibonacci sequences.


DECI-BLOCKS were developed to show how one concrete material can be used in a variety of ways in the mathematics program to deepen learners' conceptual understanding of each strand of mathematics. We have both the Intermediate and sets for use in field experiences.

Science Inquiry Lessons

Terrarium Habitats - GEMS resource

Activity 1: Exploring Soil

Students have an opportunity to focus on observing soil. Most students are quite intrigued by and interested in examining soil, especially when they find out that soils come in different colors, textures, odors, and contain tiny familiar living things. Yes, soil is much more than dirt, and even your students who have an initial aversion to getting dirty will want to touch and explore! An optional simple test in a vial with soil, water, and alum separates the soil into distinct layers, allowing your students to actually see the composition of soil.

Activity 2: Building a Terrarium Habitat

Your students work together to build their mini-forest habitat in a plastic container using soil and a variety of natural items like leaves, bark, bird seed, and strawberry plants. A habitat must include everything a plant or animal needs to survive.

Activity 3: Adding Earthworms to the Terrarium

Activity 4: Adding Isopods to the Terrarium

Easily obtained animals like earthworms and pill bugs are first observed carefully and then placed into the terrariums in Activities 3 and 4. Continuing to observe the terrarium is the most exciting part of the activity. Did the isopods have babies? What happened to the dried leaves? Where did these white eggs come from? Look what sprouted from the seeds! Student journals of observations and drawings record the daily changes. Students enjoy observing the animals' behaviors and interactions with the terrarium. Many of the animals will reproduce in the terrarium. Plants and food items will decompose. Your students will see, firsthand, the role the animals play in the process of decomposition. Decay is a process that some people avoid and some students may react negatively to because dead things smell and look strange when they break down--but for all its unpleasant aspects, organic decomposition is essential to the well-being of life on Earth. The nutrients within once living things are digested by scavengers and decomposers and, through their waste, returned back to the soil.

Older students may map the movements of the creatures in the terrariums. They can also plan and carry out their own more controlled investigations and/or do further research for a project.

Activity 5: Adding More to the Terrarium

This provides your students with the opportunity to explore interactions within their terrarium habitats as they choose and add other animals, plants, food items, and/or objects of their choice. This open-ended activity can last for weeks or even months, as students sharpen their observation skills and increase their understanding of the interactions within their own group's terrarium.

** The terrariums can stay on site after our students leave, we can pick them up at the end of the school year to re-use next year.

Motion and Matter - Next Generation FOSS Kit - Grade 3

This Module provides grade 3 students with physical sciences core ideas dealing with forces and interactions, matter and its interactions, and with engineering design. Magnetism and gravity are the forces students explore as they look for patterns of motion to predict future motion. Students work with magnets and paper clips, wheel and axle systems, paper air twirlers, and rotating tops. Students use their knowledge of science to enter the engineering design process and through the process refine their science understanding.

Investigation 1: Forces

Students explore the forces of magnetism and gravity using magnets. Through their investigations, students find that both magnetism and gravity can pull, and magnetism can sometimes push as well. Both forces can make things move even when not in direct contact with another object. Students refine their investigations and their abilities to use science practices and collect data regarding their observations of the interaction between paper clips and magnets. They use those data to predict how far the magnetic field extends. Building on their experience with magnetic force, students explore other pushes and pulls, considering strength and direction. Students are introduced to the effects of balanced and unbalanced forces.

Investigation 2: Patterns of Motion

Students use variety of systems to explore patterns of motion. l They design wheel-and-axle systems and roll the systems down ramps to observe the pattern of motion. They extend their rolling investigations to systems with big and little wheels and use the predictable curved rolling path to meet challenges. Students make twirly birds (flying spinners) and explore the variables involved in the interaction between twirlying systems, gravity, and air. Students design tops and explore the variables that results int he best spinning top.

Investigation 3: Engineering

Students tackle an engineering design challenge in incremental steps. They first design a cart that can roll "from here to there," and then improve their designs to meet a specific distance challenge. Students continue with an investigation involving gravity and explore how start position on a ramp affects the distance the cart travels. The final challenge incorporates students' knowledge of magnetism into their cart design to meet new challenges. This investigation develops understanding of engineering design concepts and provides opportunities for students to engage in engineering practices.

Investigation 4: Mixtures

Students build and extend grade two experiences with matter by making mixtures of two materials. They determine the mass of the materials prior to mixing and after mixing. In one mixture, salt dissolves (disappears), resulting in a solution. Students confirm that the mass of the solution is equal to the starting masses of the water and salt. They mix vinegar and baking soda and observe a bubbling reaction. Students determine that the mass of the ending mixture is less than the mass of the original materials, which challenges students to infer that carbon dioxide gas, which escaped, has mass. The investigation and module ends with students designing and conducting a metric field day to creatively apply their understanding of standards of measurement.

Structures of Life - Next Generation FOSS Kit - Grade 3

The Structures of Life Module consists of investigations dealing with the big ideas in life science.

Investigation 1: Origin of Seeds

Students describe and compare seed properties. They investigate the effect water has on seeds by setting up seed sprouts and observing and recording changes over a week. Students investigate seed dispersal mechanisms of plants.

Investigation 2: Growing Further

Students examine germinated seeds to determine similarities and differences in the way the organisms grow. They set up a hydroponic garden to observe the life cycle of a bean pant. Through direct experience and readings, students learn about plant structures and functions.

Investigation 3: Meet the Crayfish

Students observe and record some of the structures of crayfish and compare them to other organisms, then investigate crayfish behavior. They learn about adaptations of organisms in different environments and engage in a simulation activity to explore food chains.

Investigation 4: Human Body

Students observe the articulated human skeletal system in action. They explore joints and their role in movement and build operational models of muscle and bone systems to see how muscles move bones. To investigate their skin, they make and analyze fingerprint patterns.

Energy - Next Generation FOSS Kit - Grade 4

Students explore the concepts of energy and change, waves, and energy transfer in the Energy Module. They experience electricity and magnetism as related effects and learn useful applications of electromagnetism in everyday life. They also consider energy transfer, force, and motion in different systems.

Investigation 1: Energy and Circuits

Students investigate electric current and circuits. They work with a variety of components and explore conductors and insulators. Students explore series and parallel circuits and compare the functioning of the components in each circuit. They formulate and justify their predictions, based on their observations of electricity transferring energy to produce light and motion.

Investigation 2: The Force of Magnetism

Students investigate the properties of magnets and their interaction with materials and each other. They conduct an investigation to determine if like or opposite poles of a magnet attract. They construct a simple compass and use it to detect magnetic effects. They also discover that magnetism can be induced in a piece of iron. To investigate the strength of the force of attraction between two magnets, they graph data to look for patterns of interaction. Students go outdoors to find objects in the environment that are attracted to magnets.

Investigation 3: Electromagnets

Students learn how to use electricity to make an electromagnet. They explore the variables that influence the strength of the magnetism produced by their electromagnets and engineer a simple telegraph system to communicate using a click code.

Investigation 4: Energy Transfers

Students observe energy transfer that results in heat, light, sound, and motion and they are introduced to sources of energy and components that store energy. They conduct structured investigations to discover how the variable of starting position on the ramp affects the speed of the rolling ball. Using controlled experiments, students test the variables of mass and release position to find out how they affect energy transfer.

Investigation 5: Waves

Students experience waves through firsthand experiences using ropes, demonstrations with waves in water, spring toys, and a sound generator. They use mirrors to experience reflecting light and build a conceptual model about how light travels. Students design series and parallel solar cell circuits and observe the effect on the speed of a motor.

Environments - Second Edition FOSS Kit - Grade 4

All living things depend on the conditions in their environment The study of relationships between one organism and its environment builds knowledge of all organisms. With this knowledge comes an awareness of limits. Changes in an environment can be hard on organisms. Such knowledge is important because humans can change environments. This Module consists of six investigations that introduce students to these basic concepts in environmental science.

Investigation 1: Environmental Factors

Students observe and describe the living and nonliving components (biotic and abiotic factors) in terrestrial environments. They set up a mealworm environment at two temperatures and observe the life cycle over time. Students investigate how isopods respond to environmental factors such as water and light, and set up an isopod environment. Students investigate small animals that live in leaf-litter and study their structures.

Investigation 2: Ecosystems

Students set up a freshwater aquarium with different kinds of fish, plants, and other organisms. Students monitor the environmental factors in the system and look for feeding interactions among the populations. They learn about the role of producers, consumers, and decomposers in food chains and food webs in terrestrial and aquatic systems, including a marine ecosystem. Through an outdoor simulation, students learn about how food affects a population's home range.

Students explore how animals receive information from their environment through their sensory system and use the information to guide their actions.

Investigation 3: Brine Shrimp Hatching

Students conduct a controlled experiment to determine which of four salt concentrations allow brine shrimp eggs to hatch. Students determine range of tolerance and optimum conditions for brine shrimp hatching. Students, through an outdoor simulation, look at variation in a population, and consider how variation among individuals contributes to survival of a population.

Investigation 4: Range of Tolerance

Students set up and monitor experiments to determine the range of tolerance of water for germination of four kinds of seeds: corn, pea, barley, and radish. In a second experiment, students test the effect of salinity on these seeds. Students study local plants by mapping schoolyard plants and relate plant distribution to environmental factors. Students look at plant adaptations.

Soils, Rocks and Landforms - Next Generation FOSS Kit - Grade 4

Geology is the study of our planet's earth materials and natural resources. Because they are so ubiquitous and abundant, they are often taken for granted. The Soils, Rocks, and Landforms Module provides students with firsthand experiences with soils and rocks and modeling experiences using tools such as topographic maps and stream tables to study changes to rocks and landforms at Earth's surface.

Investigation 1: Soils and Weathering

Students investigate properties of soil by comparing four different soils. They learn that soils are composed of essentially the same types of materials (inorganic earth materials and humus), but the amounts of the materials vary. They begin to explore how rocks break into smaller pieces through physical and chemical weathering. Students go outdoors to explore and compare properties of local soils.

Investigation 2: Landforms

Students use stream-table models to observe that water moves earth materials from one location to another. They investigate the variables of slope and water quantity and plan and conduct their own stream-table investigations. Students look for evidence of erosion and deposition outdoors.

Students think about what happens to sediments over long periods of time as sediments layer on top of each other. They learn about the different processes that can result in fossils and how fossils provide evidence of life and landscapes from the ancient past.

Investigation 3: Mapping Earth's Surface

Students are introduced to the study of topography by building a model of a landform--a mountain. They use the foam model of Mount Shasta to create a topographic map, and use this map to produce another representation of the landforms--a profile of the mountain. Students learn about volcanoes; they use the topographer's tools to analyze the impact of the Mount St. Helen's eruption. Students are introduced to processes that cause rapid changes to Earth's surface: landslides, earthquakes, floods, and volcanoes.

Investigation 4: Natural Resources

Students review what they have learned in Investigations 1-3. Then they focus on earth materials as renewable and nonrenewable natural resources. They learn the importance of earth materials as resources. The class makes a stepping stone out of concrete and goes on a schoolyard walk to find objects and structures and consider what natural resources were used to construct them.

Earth and Sun - Next Generation FOSS Kit - Grade 5

The Earth and Sun Module focuses on Earth and the Sun as a system. Students collect and analyze shadow data. They observe the changes in the Moon's appearance over time. Then students explore the properties of the atmosphere, energy transfer from the Sun to Earth, and water cycling in Earth's atmosphere.

Investigation 1: Sun and Earth

Students trace their shadows in the morning and afternoon in order to monitor the position of the Sun as it moves across the sky. Students make hourly records of the position of the shadow cast by a golf tee. They imagine an observer on Earth and position themselves around a lamp to discover that the rotation of Earth produces day and night.

Investigation 2: Planetary Systems

The class starts a Moon calendar, on which they record the Moon's appearance every day for a month. Students grapple with the size and distance relationships among the Moon, Earth, and the Sun, and build a model of the Earth-Moon-Sun system. They are introduced to constellations as patterns of stars and simulate Earth's rotation to observe the appearance of stars rising in the east and setting in the west.

Investigation 3: Earth's Atmosphere

Students explore air by working with syringes and tubes to discover that air takes up space and is compressible. They are introduced to the atmosphere as a mixture of gases with properties that change with altitude above Earth's surface. Students review local weather reports and determine the variables that combine to produce the weather.

Investigation 4: Heating Earth

Students investigate energy transfer on Earth. They investigate uneven heating by recording and graphing temperature changes when two earth materials absorb solar energy. They observe examples of energy transfer by radiation and conduction. Students observe convection currents in water as a model of what happens in air, and design solar water heaters.

Investigation 5: Water Planet

Students investigate systems to observe condensation on cold surfaces and determine the components of the water cycle. They explore the conditions that promote evaporation, and simulate the travels of a drop of water through the water cycle to explore the complexities of the process.

Mixtures and Solutions - Next Generation FOSS Kit - Grade 5

The Mixtures and Solutions Module has five investigations that introduce students to fundamental ideas about matter and its interactions. Students come to know that matter is made of particles too small to be seen and develop the understanding that matter is conserved when it changes state, when it dissolves in another substance, and when it is part of a chemical reaction. Students have experiences with mixtures, solutions of different concentrations, and reactions forming new substances. They also engage in engineering experiences with separation of materials. Students gain experiences that will contribute to the understanding of crosscutting concepts of patterns; causes and effect; scale, proportion, and quantity; systems and system models; and energy and matter.

Investigation 1: Separating Mixtures

Students make mixtures of water and solid materials and separate the mixtures with screens and filters. They find that water and salt make a special kind of mixture, a solution, which cannot be separated with a filter but only through evaporation. Students are challenged with a problem: how to separate a mixture of three dry solid materials. The investigation concludes with students going outdoors to see what natural materials make solutions with water.

Investigation 2: Developing Models

Students make multi-sensory observations of sealed black boxes in an effort to determine what is inside. They develop models and try to reach consensus with other students who investigated the same boxes. Students construct physical models of black boxes in an effort to replicate the behaviors of the original black boxes. Students investigate melting and freezing in terms of models and conservation of mass and clarify the difference between the processes of melting and dissolving.

Investigation 3: Concentration

Students observe and compare soft-drink solutions that differ in the amount of powder (water held constant) and in the amount of water (powder held constant) in order to develop the concept of concentration. They make salt solutions of different concentrations and compare them, using a balance. Students determine the relative concentrations of three mystery solutions made from the same solid material by comparing the mass of equal volumes of the solutions. Finally, students layer salt solutions to determine their relative concentrations.

Investigation 4: Reaching Saturation

Students make a saturated solution by adding salt to water until no more salt will dissolve. They also make a saturated Epsom salts solution. Using a balance, they compare the solubility of the two solid materials by comparing the mass of the salt and Epsom salts dissolved in the saturated solutions. Students use the property of solubility to identify an unknown material. They analyze local water samples, using separation techniques and design a way to remove salt from ocean water.

Investigation 5: Fizz Quiz

Students make three solutions with water, calcium chloride, baking soda, and citric acid. They systematically mix pairs of those solutions and observe changes that occur. The changes (formation of a gas and a white precipitate) are identified as evidence of a chemical reaction. Students repeat the reactions in sealed zip bags to observe the volume of gas produced.

Electromagnetic Force - Next Generation FOSS Kit - Grades 6-8

In the FOSS Electromagnetic Force Course, students manipulate equipment to collect data about magnetic fields and electricity. They construct explanations based on observable patterns and develop models that define the cause-and-effect relationships of the forces and interactions they are measuring. The culmination of the course leads students to consider accessible energy sources and the reliance of modern lifestyles on access to this energy, as well as the consequences of such energy use. Students leave this course with an understanding of force and energy that forms a solid foundation for high school and college physics.

Investigation 1: What Is Force?

Students start their inquiry of force by using spring scales to push and pull objects, noting that some objects require more push or pull to put them into motion. Students are introduced to the idea of net force. They measure the force needed to move loads on difference surfaces. Friction is developed as a force opposing motion, a force that changes depending on the two surfaces that are touching. Finally, students use net force to explain why force causes motion in some instances but not in others.

Investigation 2: The Force of Magnetism

Students conduct an investigation to determine if like or opposite poles attract. They work with magnets and other objects to discover that magnetism acts through certain materials. They also discover that bringing a magnet close to a piece of iron induces magnetism in the iron. Students learn that these effects are manifestations of the invisible magnetic field that surrounds every magnet. Students use a spring balance to measure the force of attraction between magnets. They determine that the force of attraction between magnets decreases as the distance between them increases and that magnetic fields can overlap and add their forces together.

Investigation 3: Electromagnetism

Students are introduced to electricity and energy. They discover how to make a complete circuit using a D-cell, wires, and a light bulb. Students discuss the electricity's pathway in the circuit and the function of each of the system's components. Students discover that a steel core becomes a temporary magnet when current flows through an insulated wire wound around the steel core. They brainstorm different variables that might affect the strength of their electromagnet, and then test those variables. Working as a class, they combine their results to determine the best design for an electromagnet.

Investigation 4: Energy Transfer

Students operate an electric motor in a circuit, dissect a motor, and explain how it works after analyzing its components. They describe its design and function in terms of its components and energy transfers. They observe a generator and compare its components and function to a motor, explaining the interactions in terms of energy transfer. They consider energy sources for human electricity use and use solar cells to power an electric motor. Students read about human energy sources, including resource limitations and consequences. Finally, they consider key points from the entire course to prepare for the final benchmark assessment.

Waves - Next Generation FOSS Kit - Grade 6-8

The Waves Course proceeds from the most concrete observations, those of physical properties of mechanical waves, to the most abstract concepts, by which students develop a model of electromagnetic waves. They manipulate springs and lasers to determine properties that eventually will be used to explain how their cell phones work. Students leave this course with a greater appreciation and understanding of modern communications technology and a solid foundation for high school and college physics.

Investigation 1: Make Waves

Students monitor their heart rate under different circumstances to think about frequency. They create waves using metal springs. They use these simple waves to explore the fundamental properties of waves: wavelength, frequency, and amplitude.

Investigation 2: Wave Energy

Students learn about wave energy and compare energy in waves with different properties. They then look at an engineering failure and consider the work engineers must do to achieve a successful design. Finally, students use these ideas to develop a chamber that can effectively block sound waves.

Investigation 3: Light Waves

Students use mirrors to explore reflection. Students use spectroscopes to analyze spectra of visible light and learn more about the electromagnetic spectrum. They use filters to change the spectrum of a light source and to learn about color and determine how refraction changes the path of light rays as they travel between media.

Investigation 4: Communication Waves

Students learn how information can be encoded and sent as digital waves to transfer information efficiently. They test properties of fiber optic cables to develop an understanding of how total internal reflection allows data transfer by light. Students learn how data is encoded and sent as modulated waves to a recipient for demodulation.

Engineering and Maker Lessons

To Get to the Other Side: Designing Bridges - Engineering is Elementary

When civil engineers design bridges, they must take into account factors like balance and motion. This unit introduces the principles behind bridge design with the storybook Javier Builds a Bridge, about a boy who needs a safe footbridge to get to his island play fort. Students will reinforce their understanding of push and pull as they explore how forces act on different structures. They will use what they know about balance and force as they experiment with beam, arch, and suspension bridges--and learn how bridge designs counteract and redirect forces and motion. In the final design challenge, students plan, build, and test their own bridges.

Shake Things Up: Engineering Earthquake-Resistant Buildings - Engineering is Elementary

A huge and very destructive earthquake hit Haiti in 2010. Now Jacob and India are there, learning how to support and protect buildings during earthquakes. Your kids will engineer model buildings that are earthquake resistant. They will also develop building codes that help others build earthquake resistant structures.

Go Green: Engineering Recycled Racers

India and Jacob visit Senegal, where they are impressed by the way people recycle items that would ordinarily be discarded by turning them into toys, sculptures, and household objects. Your kids will use recycled materials to engineer their own toy cars, then compete in a Recycled Racer Rally.

Liftoff: Engineering Rockets and Rovers

Jacob is at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory learning how to engineer rovers that can be used to explore faraway worlds. Meanwhile, India is learning about the trade-offs and variables involved in engineering a rocket as she blasts off to the International Space Station. Kids will engineer rockets and rovers to help India and Jacob explore several planets and moons in our solar system.

A Stick in the Mud: Evaluating a Landscape

The storybook that anchors this unit, Suman Crosses the Karnali River, takes students to Nepal, where people rely on innovative cable bridges called TarPuls to cross flooded rivers during monsoon season. Digging into the role of geotechnical engineers, students must select a safe, flood-proof, and erosion-proof location for a new TarPul. Working with a model riverbank, they study soil properties, examine maps to assess the potential for erosion at different sites along the river, and factor in the villagers' preferences for a TarPul location.

Hop to It: Safe Removal of Invasive Species

Oh no! India and Jacob accidentally brought a cane toad from Australia to New Zealand. Cane toads are pests. They are an invasive species that hurts native species in Australia and they could do the same in New Zealand. Kids will help India and Jacob engineer a humane trap to catch the toad.


Empower kids to get creative and invent anything with the littleBits Premium Kit, which unlocks more powerful interactions with 14 Bits including the servo and vibration motors, and is perfect for anyone who wants a deeper intro into inventing with littleBits. Students can learn the basics of electronics, explore STEM/STEAM principles, form the foundations of critical thinking, or just have fun. The Premium Kit comes with a project booklet that provides easy-to-follow instructions for 10 amazing inventions (and hundreds more online!) including the Playful Pet and an interactive Piggy Bank. Lessons and other resources can be found on the littleBits website.


The Arduino Starter Kit provides an open-source electronics prototyping platform based on flexible, easy-to-use hardware and software. It contains all of the essential components required to start programming with the Arduino uno board, and a guidebook featuring 15 different projects, which are designed to evolve users from Beginner to professional level. Learn more about Arduino on their website.

Raspberry Pi 3 Model B Starter Kits

Check out the Teacher Resources on for amazing lesson plans using the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B Starter Kits.

Makey Makey: An Invention Kit for Everyone

Turn the whole world into a keyboard! It is a simple invention kit for beginners or experts doing art, engineering, and everything in between. Check out the Makey Makey website for examples on how to bring inventing into your classroom.

K'NEX Tinkertoys

K'NEX Education products have been designed to maximize student engagement in today's busy classroom. They are uniquely designed to aid in the teaching of STEM topics. Teachers' guides and lesson plans can be found on their website.


Grow your learners' creative problem solving skills and enable them to become the critical thinkers and creators of the future. LEGO® Education solutions support your teaching efforts with effective, structured and curriculum-relevant teaching solutions for STEM. Find sample lesson plans on the website on the LEGO Education website.