Lesson 1 - Pretest and Expressing Ideas and Questions

Students complete the unit pretest, observe a demonstration of burning ethanol, and use the Expressing Ideas Tool to document their ideas about what happens when ethanol burns.

Guiding Question

What happens to ethanol when it burns?

Activities in this Lesson 

  • Activity 1.1: Systems and Scale Unit Pretest (20 min)
  • Activity 1.2: Expressing Ideas about Burning Ethanol (40 min)

Unit Map

Unit Map for Lesson 1

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Target Performances

Lesson 1 – Pretest and Expressing Ideas (students as questioners)

Activity 1.1: Systems and Scale Unit Pretest

Students show their initial proficiencies for the overall unit goal: Questioning, investigating, and explaining how matter and energy changed during combustion of organic materials.

Activity 1.2: Expressing Ideas about Ethanol Burning (40 min)

Students ask and record specific questions about changes in matter and energy in response to the unit driving question: What happens when ethanol burns?

NGSS Performance Expectations

This lesson helps prepare students to meet the NGSS performance expectations, but does not feature a mastery of any of them.

Three-dimensional Learning Progression

Lesson 1 is designed to (a) help students to anticipate and begin thinking about the questions that they will answer about burning ethanol, and (b) help you as a teacher see how your students reason about matter and energy in the context of the first carbon-transforming process, combustion. In the Instructional Model, Activities 1.1 and 1.2 in this lesson serve to “Establish the Problem” for the entire Systems and Scale unit.

Key Ideas and Practices for Each Activity

In Activity 1.1, the unit pretest is useful for two purposes. Your students’ responses will help you decide how much detail you want to include during the unit, particularly details about chemical structures of materials. If your students are mostly at Level 2 in the carbon learning progression, you may want to focus on the main ideas (like the Powers of Ten and the Three Questions) rather than chemical structures. Your students’ responses will also provide a starting point for discussions that take place later in the unit.

In Activity 1.2, students use the first process tool of the unit (Expressing Ideas and Questions) to document their thinking about what happens when ethanol burns. This phase of the unit should be treated like a brainstorming and elicitation session: the goal is to get students to express a wide range of ideas, even if they are incorrect. Ideally, students will come to recognize that they have many different ideas about what happens when ethanol burns, as well as unanswered questions. At this point in the unit, we expect many students to express Level 2 or Level 3 ideas: gas has no mass, ethanol disappears after it burns, and matter and energy are the same. We recommend using the pretest as well as the Expressing Ideas and Questions Tool to gauge how your students are thinking about matter and energy at different scales in the context of combustion.

Key carbon-transforming processes: Combustion

Content Boundaries and Extensions

At this stage in the unit, the students will be Expressing Ideas and Questions. The table below shows specific talk and writing goals for this phase of the unit.

Talk and Writing Goals for Expressing Ideas and Questions Phase

Teacher Talk Strategies That Support This Goal

Curriculum Components That Support This Goal

Treat this as brainstorming and elicitation of student ideas.

Remember, there are no “right” answers at this point. We want to hear all ideas.

Unit Pretest

My Students’ Answers

Listen for student ideas about matter and energy at different scales, but do not correct wrong ideas.

Where did the energy come from?

Where does the matter go next?

Are you talking about matter or energy?

What about the atomic-molecular scale?

Unit Pretest

Expressing Ideas and Questions Tool

Elicit a range of ideas. Press for details. Encourage students to examine, compare, and contrast ideas with the ideas of other students.

Who can add to that?

What do you mean by _____? Say more.

So I think you said _____. Is that right?

Who has a different idea?

How are those ideas similar/different?

Who can rephrase ________’s idea?

Unit Pretest

Expressing Ideas and Questions Tool

Encourage students to provide evidence.

How do you know that?

What have you seen in the world that makes you think that?

Expressing Ideas and Questions Tool

Document student ideas so they can be revisited later.

Let’s record our ideas so we can come back to them and see how our ideas change.

Sticky notes on class poster or Activity 1.2 Presentation

Expressing Ideas and Questions Tool