Scaffolding Science Lessons

Getting ready to start a new topic in your instruction? Not sure where to begin or what prior knowledge students have? I like to start with an opening question. For my unit on energy, work and power I always ask, “What is the difference between mass and weight?” Most students can not come up with a suitable answer or they often say that they are the same thing.

That leads to the next question for my students, “What is your weight?” The common response is something like “60 kilograms.” “Really, your weight is 60 kilograms?”, I ask with a tone of disbelief. I let that question hang in the air for a few moments and then a hand will shoot up and a student will say, “No, that is their mass because the units are kilograms!” So then I ask, “What is weight?”

Tapping into prior knowledge is a good scaffolding strategy. Scaffolding has become a popular educational term for breaking a subject up into chunks. Whether the subject is English or chemistry, math or physics, students often learn best when the material is organized into progressively more complex or in-depth components.

After exploring students’ prior knowledge, I cover basic terms and concepts that students need to know to move forward in the lesson. To understand terms like mass, weight, energy, work and power, students will watch my YouTube video on The Basics and then answer a few questions. Next, they complete a matching or puzzle activity that requires them to think about how the terms are used in the scientific world. Including an interactive exercise at this stage both engages the students and complements textbook learning. Now the class is ready to step up to the next scaffolding level.

The end goal of this unit is that students understand what is meant by the term conservation of mechanical energy. But to successfully reach this highest level on the scaffold, students must first have an understanding of all that leads up to it. This includes questions like how to change the potential energy of an object, how to increase the power output, and of course, what is the difference between mass and weight? Not only must students be able to use the equations to calculate the necessary values, they must also have a conceptual understanding of the physical conditions that affect the outcomes.

To help your students achieve mastery of these topics, I have created a series of products that are available from my Teachers Pay Teachers store. Each product includes explanatory notes, a set of exercises with an answer key, and two presentations to use for instruction. At the top of each set of exercises is a link to my Step by Step Science YouTube videos that students can watch for review. These products are also available in a discounted bundle and are a great resource for distance learning.

Scaffolding physics topics is a valuable approach that allows students across different grades and ages to master key terms and concepts before developing a broader base of subject knowledge. This methodical approach to teaching and learning is what Step by Step Science is all about.


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