I. am. back. I took a rather long break from blogging to focus on my business and to just soak up our new baby (who is now 9 months old), but I am ready to jump back into sharing lots of ideas for your classroom. I am gearing up to teach my seventh class at the university level, which has my brain working overtime on new ideas and resources. I am also collaborating with some of my very favorite teacher friends to bring you what is new and current for your classroom, so let’s jump right in to one of my most current lesson ideas!
Today I am going to be sharing a wonderful Project Based Learning (PBL) lesson that will merge the content areas of science and social studies. As a teacher, we have to fit a lot into our day. And sometimes the best way to do this is by
cramming strategically planning as much content as we can into one lesson. I find that combining science and social studies is the trickiest, because mostly we think of science/math and social studies/language arts to go together… but not today! I’ve written a fully aligned Common Core unit plan for the upper elementary grades that will walk your students through biographies, research, and the scientific method.
Here are the Common Core standards we will cover:
- Key Ideas and Details
Describe how characters in a story respond to major events and challenges.
- Craft and Structure
Describe the overall structure of a story, including describing how the beginning introduces the story and the ending concludes the action.
- Integrations of Knowledge and Ideas
Use information gained from the illustrations and words in a print or digital text to demonstrate understanding of its characters, setting, or plot.
- Text Types and Purposes
Write informative/explanatory texts in which they introduce a topic, use facts and definitions to develop points, and provide a concluding statement or section.
- Production and Distribution of Writing
With guidance and support from adults, use a variety of digital tools to produce and publish writing, including in collaboration with peers.
- Research to Build and Present Knowledge
Participate in shared research and writing projects (e.g., read a number of books on a single topic to produce a report; record science observations).
Social Studies Content Standards (Tennessee)
- 2.3.2: Participate in shared research using biographies to interpret the significance of contributions made by people of the United States, recounting or describing key ideas and details from the texts. Teachers may choose any biographies. Some suggestions are as follows: John Smith, Pocahontas, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, etc.
- 2.3.3: With guidance and support from adults, use a variety of digital tools to produce and publish a writing piece in collaboration with peers on a famous American to describe how his or her accomplishments were significant.
- 2.4.0: Analyze primary and secondary source maps, photographs, and artifacts for contradictions, supporting evidence, and historical details.
Science Content Standards (Tennessee)
GLE 0207.Inq.1: Observe the world of familiar objects using the senses and tools.
GLE 0207.Inq.2: Ask questions, make logical predictions, plan investigations, and
GLE 0207.Inq.3: Explain the data from an investigation.
- Technology and Engineering
GLE 0207.T/E.1: Recognize that both natural materials and human-made tools
have specific characteristics that determine their uses.
GLE 0207.T/E.2: Apply engineering design and creative thinking to solve practical
Sooo, that’s quite a lot of standards that we can cover in this unit. Plus, with this being a PBL*, your students will be open to many inquiry opportunities that can extend further into even more areas.
*Need a PBL refresher? Project Based Learning is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an engaging and complex question, problem, or challenge. [BIE, 2015. Check out their site for more information.]
So the basic outline of this unit is as follows:
Each student will begin with an “Inventors Notebook” as seen above. Download the labels as you see here at the end of the post.
Students are given their inventor’s notebooks (seen above). Inside is notebook paper, a pre-test/post-test, and research note-taking sheet. This folder will hold all of their notes and information as they move through this unit.
The students will take the pre-test to see what they know about Ben Franklin and his many inventions [attached in the unit below]. Students begin the lesson with guided questions and connections that they can make to Benjamin Franklin. Then we will read the following book:
“Now and Ben” compares inventions of Ben Franklin’s past with the inventions of his that we still use today! A class discussion will ensue and students will start to generate questions about Ben Franklin’s contributions to society.
Students will choose one of Ben’s inventions to research, learning about the research process and primary sources along the way. Students will use library and internet resources such as World Book for Kids to conduct their research. (Ask your school librarian to help you with some great sites that he/she would recommend! Here in Tennessee we use the Tel4U library quite a bit.) Also it is assumed that your students have done a bit of research up until this point in their elementary careers. If they haven’t, I created an amazing research unit titled: Wonder Bubbles™ that you can purchase here. It will give your students the comprehensive background in inquiry and research that they will need to build off of for lessons to come (grades 1 and up).
After your students have researched their invention, they’ll present their research to the class. To summarize, they may choose to complete a timeline through TimeToast or World Book Kids. You can also wrap up with a game of questioning through various levels of Blooms to check their understanding of what they’ve learned based on their research.
You can also extend the learning into other famous Americans, thus covering your biography standards. The Who Was book series is a great place for students to start… and plus they have a cool app that your students may enjoy as well.
Another favorite book that you can use to teach about Ben’s inventions.
Want more details than that? Well as I mentioned, I have scripted out and detailed this entire unit, including resources such as rubrics, I Can statement, differentiation for students at, above, or below target, assessment measures, additional books and web links and lots more. And you can have it all for FREE! Keep reading…
But wait. You said we were going to be merging social studies AND science, right? So far, that’s just social studies. Yes. Yes it is. That’s why it’s now time for…
Students begin by taking the post-test for part 1 which also serves as a pre-test for part 2 (two birds, one stone!). Then after a brief discussion, we’ll read the book you see above: “Mesmerized” by Mara Rockliff. (Easily one of my most favorite new books of the past year). The premise of this book is based off of the true story of one of Ben Franklin’s trips to France. The introduction reads: The day Ben Franklin first set foot in Paris, France, he found the city all abuzz. Everyone was talking about something new—remarkable, thrilling, and strange. Something called . . . Science!
That’s right… you’ve just made a connection between Benjamin Franklin (a common social studies topic) to SCIENCE. You see, Benjamin Franklin is also credited as inventing the scientific method. I know… mind blown.
And as any of you teaching elementary knows… this is a HUGE standard. So what a cool way to connect it and introduce or review it with your class. So once you read this book and cover the Scientific Method (and maybe watch a BrainPop or two) then you can begin the true PBL portion of your unit. Students will be asked to brainstorm in their Inventors Notebooks about some everyday problems or issues they may have. The idea is to push them towards something that they may like to “invent”, much as Benjamin Franklin did, as they’ve previously studied.
Depending on the age group, you could then come together and have a class discussion on some of these problems that they’d like to solve. You can either choose 4-5 of these questions/problems/inventions for everyone to investigate OR have each student work on their own. You do what you see fit for your group.
Students will then work to create a solution or inventions to solve their everyday problems such as “how to keep your ear buds from getting tangled in your backpack” or “how to keep your cat from eating your dangerous houseplants”. The catch is that they must work through each step of the scientific method as they work to create their solutions. Recording it in their Inventors Notebooks, all the way.
A sample student Inventors Notebook as they hypothesize about a brighter flashlight.
As the teacher, you may provide materials for them to work with and build with or they may provide their own from home. Students will use general inquiry to drive this portion of the experimental phase, often testing their hypotheses multiple times. They will look at their gathered data in their individual or small groups to decide whether to further test or draw conclusions. (This is also a place you can sneak in a few math standards -score!)
Another example of student work. Interactive notebooks like these provide excellent assessment measures and also offers a “peek into their mind” for you as an educator.
After a few days of their work through the scientific method, they will then gather, share, and present their findings to their peers and/or parents and faculty.
Additional resources and extensions for this unit
I love to have opportunities for extensions in all of my units so that students who may need extra practice or further studies in a subject, may have that opportunity. Here are just a few ways you can change the medium or allow for extensions of the learning (and more are also included in the full unit below).
- Have students journal through Kidblog instead of their Inventor’s Notebooks. In this age of technology, some students may be more comfortable to record their findings in a digital format. This is an excellent way to do so.
- Students can present what they learned either in their biography research and/or their scientific method findings through a platform such as Storyboard That or Pixton. The popularity of graphic novels are on the rise and both of these offer excellent ways to present all the research that your students have gathered. Plus they are really fun and offer a digital alternative.
- Encourage students to take their love of inventions a step further and enter into a Young Inventors contest either locally or nationally – or better yet, tell them to audition for Shark Tank!
Now, as I promised, here are the links for the full unit:
Example of the pages included in the Inventors Notebook.
[And special thanks to Mrs. Payne and Mrs. Svarda from the Discovery School for their help in giving me this idea that I just ran with! You guys are the best.]
And if you are interested in more Common Core aligned book lessons, please check out the category links on the side bar or click here for specific literacy links only.
Thanks for reading! Happy teaching!
[All images and photos of Mesmerized are © Mara Rockliff and Iocopo Bruno and all images and photos of Now and Ben are © Gene Barretta. Both are available on Amazon and most retail bookstores. All rights reserved.]