Curriculum Corner with Mrs. Krumwiede
How can we tell that the world is round?
In order to engage students in a new lesson, I begin by having them recall topics with which they are already familiar, thereby creating a common language. With this method in mind, I began this Science lesson by asking the students if they recalled a specific passage in Five Children and It, by E. Nesbit, from which I read aloud to them.
The third graders had been listening all week to a fantastical tale of adventure in the English countryside, following Jane, Anthea, Robert, Cyril and the baby (fondly called the Lamb), as they explored the grounds around their summer vacation home. The students’ eyes lit up when I asked if they remembered the part when the children find a sand pit and commence digging to Australia, because they believed that the earth is round.
The students giggled, remembering that this was how the five children found the sand fairy, which led to an awkwardly funny situation for them. After sharing in the amusing nature of the scenario, I asked the students a series of questions. First, I asked, “Why did the children think that they could dig all the way to Australia?” I showed the students where England and Australia are on the globe and paused for the students to think for a few moments. A student answered and said that if the children thought the earth was round, then of course they would believe that if they dug long enough they would end up in Australia. After that answer, I went a little farther and told them that a long time ago, some people believed the earth was flat. Some of the students appeared scandalized by this, but I asked them why someone might think this. A few students answered that when people are walking from place to place they seem to walk in a straight line. They also explained that no one ever appears to walk along a curved surface as one might expect.
After peaking their interest, I asked the toughest question: “How could you prove that the earth is round to someone?” Some students suggested using a telescope or other scientific instruments, but I repeated the question and added that the student could not use any instruments. Another student suggested reading to them about the solar system from a book, but I explained that this person would not believe the book. I asked the students if they had ever seen a sunset on a beach and most of them had, again tying the lesson into something they already had familiarity with. Once I encouraged the class to imagine a sunset, one student suggested that they could prove the earth is round by showing the person the curved edge of the ocean during a sunset. Eureka! Another student pointed out that if the earth was flat the sun would always be up and we would see the ocean going on for eternity.
The method in which the students answered the question above illustrates that when students are encouraged to recall previously enjoyed lessons and life experiences in the face of a new multi-layered problem, they confidently tackled it and came to a correct conclusion by drawing on prior knowledge.
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