On Monday, October 19th, we traveled to Haw River Elementary school to work with 3rd graders in literacy, math, and science. This experience was actually quite different from working with the 2nd graders just a few weeks earlier. First, we worked in groups of 3 instead of in pairs. We were also able to make a lesson plan overview in advance so that we knew exactly what we were going to be doing with the students and in what order. The bubble experiement had been a little hectic with the 2nd graders, so we wanted to have this activity flow as smoothly as possible.
We asked students to predict which would fall faster, a ball of crumpled paper or a stick of chapstick. Of course, they predicted that the chapstick would fall faster because it was heavier, but they realized (we hope) by the end of the lesson that all objects fall at the same speed, regardless of weight because of gravity. The students were engaged and dedicated to the activity, constructing their parachutes and taking interest in timing the drops. We had to do a bit of explanation when it came time to record the times in the table because they appeared not to have had much experience with decimals.
I noticed that these students had an increased attention span when compared to the 2nd graders. They were able to complete the science, math, and literacy activites back to back for almost 3 hours! They were also more self-sufficient when it came to constructing their parachutes than I would have expected them to be.
If I was to do this experiment over again, I would have had materials for each student to make their own parachute. Since they were sharing, the students only got to drop the parachutes half as many times each. Although students worked well in pairs, I think more personal hands-on experience would have led to better understanding of the concept. I think it might have also worked better if the students had previous knowledge of “time.” They had trouble seeing that smaller numbers meant that the parachute had fallen faster and bigger numbers meant that the parachute had taken longer to fall.
In all, we think this inquiry-based parachute activity was successful with these 3rd grade students.