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MUSE | Earth-Moon-Sun Dynamics | Course Overview and Materials | Introducing Scientific Models | Course Material 1A: Helper Builder


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course material 1B: Sun Plot


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Intended Learning Outcomes
  • Use and practice of classroom norms (basic interpersonal skills).

  • blindfolds (1 per every 2 students)
  • books (1 per group)*
  • pencil (1 per group)*
  • Styrofoam cup (1 per group)*

* these are suggested materials - feel free to substitute others.

Time Frame and Sequence

This material takes requires about 25 minutes to complete.

Optional Set-Up Task

As a precursor to the Helper-Builder material, you may want to ask your students to write a paragraph responding to the question, "how do we do science?" Students will likely include points in their writing related to using equipment such as microscopes and collecting data as a result of conducting experiments. This writing can then be revisited at the conclusion of the Helper-Builder material.

Helper-Builder Task

Begin by having students arrange their seating area (desks) into clusters of four students. They should clear off their desks completely. This task can also be completed in partners or in groups of three, as student numbers dictate.

Next, students should decide who in their team will be blindfolded and who will not. Half of the members of each group should be blindfolded and half not. In groups of three, have two students blindfolded and one student without a blindfold. All students who will be wearing blindfolds should sit on the same side of the seating arrangement. Students should rearrange themselves appropriately and then put on their blindfolds. Students should be told that, for safety reasons, blindfolded students should not leave their seats. Also, from this point on, no students designated as helpers should be talking.

After the blindfolds are secure, point out the materials to the helpers (non-blindfolded students). Each helper should obtain one book, one cup and one pencil. You can choose other materials that you have on hand if you prefer - it is recommended that you choose materials that do not roll easily and that are large enough for the blind "builders" to keep track of. It is preferable that the blindfolded students not be aware of these materials, so hold up each item as you tell the helpers what to obtain. For example, say, "come and get one of these" (hold up book), "one of these" (hold up cup) "and one of these" (hold up pencil).

Once the helpers return to their desks with the materials, they should place them within reach of the blindfolded builders, but no one should touch them. There should be no talking by any of the students as you explain the rules of the task. Tell your students:

    1. From this point on, helpers may not touch the materials or the builders. The only exception is if the materials fall off the work space, at which time helpers may retrieve them.

    2. Helpers may no longer talk to anyone in the classroom. They may not talk to each other, to the builders, or to the teacher. They should pretend they are completely mute, even when asked direct questions by the builders.

    3. Helpers and builders may not use materials other than those they have on their desks now.

    4. Builders may talk to anyone in the class, but should speak at a level appropriate for the group members’ proximity to one another.

    5. Builders may now touch the materials.

    6. Your task is to make "this." NOTE: At this point, teachers should arrange the three materials into some configuration — see sample diagrams below — and indicate to the helpers that this is the desired structure.

cup pencil book image

Allow approximately ten minutes for students to complete this task before calling a halt to the task and directing builders to remove their blindfolds. Students should hand in all materials and blindfolds. Lead the class in a discussion about how they felt during this task. Help them connect the task of group work and the need to communicate to the process of doing science. Specific questions you may want to include in your discussion are included in the Ideas and Strategies section below.

Conclude the discussion by informing students that they will also be working in teams in science class throughout the year. Emphasize the importance of the need to communicate in order to accomplish a task. Some students may not want to work together, but this should not keep them from accomplishing their team task.

Optional Wrap-Up

For homework, or if time remains, you can return to the paragraphs students wrote at the beginning of class. Have them answer the same question again after participating in this task and discussion — "How do we do science?" Student responses should now include ideas about science as a collaborative enterprise where individuals work in teams, share ideas and communicate to accomplish a variety of tasks.

Student Ideas and Teaching Strategies

For the important point of group member communication to be made, regarding accomplishing a collective task, the students must struggle with how to overcome the obstacles this task presents. Although it is often difficult for teachers to put their students in an environment where the struggle is known to be imminent, it is important for students to work on this activity for awhile.

When you direct the helpers to assist their blindfolded builder partners, expect students to be completely unaware of how to proceed. Some may be extremely frustrated and express that the task is impossible. It is recommended that you circulate around the room offering advice and encouragement. You might want to say something like "this task is within your power to accomplish." You may also want to ask things like "who can talk here? The builders? Okay, builders, start talking! Don’t ask questions of your helpers, but tell them something. Tell them how they can help you."

It is likely that a few groups will get no further than the beginning of the activity. However, many teams may invent a code of some sort — knocks on the table or clapping. For example, the builders may tell the helpers that one clap means yes and two claps means no. The builders may then manipulate the materials asking the helpers "is this right? Do we open the book? Does the cup go here? Are we close?" The helpers will then knock in response to each question. Many groups who do not know what to do will get ideas from watching or listening to other groups who put these nontraditional communication strategies into action.

Some questions you may want to consider using in the post-task discussion with your class are included below, along with some common student responses.

  1. How did you do?
  2. Teams will tell you if they accomplished the task or how close they came.

  3. How did you feel?
  4. Students will tell you how frustrated they were.

  5. Why did you feel this way?
  6. Students will say they were not allowed to communicate.

  7. How would you change the rules of the task?
  8. Many students will say they would have rules where they were allowed to talk.

  9. So you wanted to communicate, I saw some of you accomplishing this task. How did you do that?
  10. Students will share the type of code they devised if any.

  11. Isn’t that communicating?
  12. Students will discuss what they consider to be communication.

  13. What is so important about communicating that you had to figure out a way of doing it without talking or touching?
  14. Students will probably mention they could not accomplish their task without communicating. Mention this if the students do not bring it up.

  15. Scientists work in teams all the time and they accomplish some pretty remarkable things. What famous scientific teams can you think of?
  16. If students cannot think of any, you may want to mention a few — Watson and Crick and the Curies — and what each accomplished.

  17. Could they have accomplished what they did without communicating?

    The obvious answer is no.

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