Paper No. 14-5
Presentation Time: 9:25 AM
MOVING CONTINENTS: A NGSS MIDDLE SCHOOL PLATE TECTONICS UNIT
Moving Continents, a middle school unit that aligns with NGSS Disciplinary Core Idea (DCI) MS ESS2.B, Plate Tectonics and Large-scale Interactions and MS ESS1.C, The History of Planet Earth, engages students to describe large-scale motion of Earth’s lithospheric plates over millions of years to explain science ideas such as formation of mountains and oceans and the changing positions of Earth’s landmasses. Teaching middle schoolers about plate tectonics is a challenge due to the abstract nature of the large spatial scale of the lithospheric plates as well as the slow temporal movements. Thus, selecting a unit-level anchoring phenomenon that students could observe to form testable explanations and predictions about plate tectonics is a challenge. To make the phenomenon accessible to students it must relate to their real-world experiences and be puzzling enough for them to pose quality scientific questions and seek explanations. As such, one of Connecticut’s (CT) most famous geologic discoveries, over 2000 prehistoric fossilized dinosaur footprints from the Jurassic period, was highlighted to engage kids. The puzzling aspect was not the fossil prints, but rather the environment in which these prehistoric animals lived. As Pangea was breaking up, CT’s geographic position was situated closer the equator which resulted in a tropical climate. These differences were accessible since students were familiar with CT’s present-day temperate climate. This puzzles students to hypothesize that CT may have been located closer to the equator. As such, the goal for this unit was for students to propose a well-developed scientific explanation of how CT’s climate and landscape changed over millions of years, citing plate tectonics as the underlying theory. The 5E Learning Cycle guided the scope and sequence of the unit. A series of inquiry-based activities explore this unit phenomenon through analyzing geoscience evidence and readings to describe how Earth’s lithospheric plates move. For each activity, diverse instructional and assessment practices that emphasize science and engineering practices (SEPs), crosscutting concepts (DCI), and disciplinary literacy practices to learn the DCIs. By the end of the unit, students revise their initial model and construct an explanation for how CT shifted northward over millions of years.