D & T Activity Updated for 2016

New for 2016 – to see the older version with additional lesson details, please visit my post from last year.

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Before starting the activity, I set the stage that they are a group of archeologists and have discovered an ancient tablet at an archeological dig site. Unfortunately, the tablet is broken and as they excavate, they only find a few pieces at a time. What does the ancient table say? Scientists all over the world try to decipher the ancient text…


  • Original Worksheet: (pdf)
  • Worksheet to compare posters (Google Doc)
  • Words to cut apart (pdf) – this year I removed the word “bone” to change it up a little
  • construction paper
  • white paper cut into 1/4ths or small index cards
  • glue sticks
  • colored pencils

This year, I wanted to try something different for this lesson. Instead of seeing how close each group came to the original phrase that was on the “tablet”, I wanted each group to analyze the findings from the other groups to compare their findings and look for similarities and differences. This would be similar to a gallery walk (see video below) but without students explaining their posters, they would view posters at their own pace and choose any 3 posters to compare for each category.


Note – this lesson plan is a modification of the original lesson plan from The University of California Museum of Paleontology (link)


Rocks, Fossils, and the Law of Superposition Sequencing Activity


  • Sequence information using items which overlap specific sets
  • Relate sequencing to the Law of Superposition
  • Show how fossils can be used to give relative dates to rock layers.


  • Fossils, Rocks, and the Law of Superposition Google Slides – this will walk you through the lesson step-by-step
  • Set of 8 cards for each groupsdownload from the UEN
    • additional lesson plan details on their site
    • print and cut apart the 8 cards for each part of the lesson
    • to set up the cards, use large 4×6 index cards and store in ziptop bags.
    • on one side of the index cards, glue on the nonsense letters
    • on the reverse side, glue on the fossil layers
      • laminate for durability
      • Replace the letters for each fossil layer, see my ppt for new random letters
        • spelling out the word “ORGANISM is way too easy for students to figure out and they will not really have a chance to work on the activity with the depth of thinking and problem solving that you want them to do
        • be sure to stagger cards so that the order of the cards is not the same, otherwise they will flip over the cards and have the answer for part 2
  • Notes HandoutLaw of Superposition Notes (pdf) students will take notes and record their answers on this handout.

Tips for this lesson:

This is a fantastic lesson and I have used it successfully with both 5th and 6th grade students. When introducing this lesson I use the analogy of a laundry hamper, or in most cases, the pile of dirty clothes on the floor in their bedroom. Today’s clothes would go on top of the pile, each day adding a layer of dirty clothes. The older clothes would be on the bottom of the pile, kind of like a timeline of what they wore this week. When that laundry is collected and moved to the laundry room, the layers would get disrupted. With rocks, the layers form on top of each other, and the older layers are on the bottom. We then brainstorm how those layers can be disrupted: earthquakes, tectonic plates moving, landslides, digging, etc…

For this activity, they have to figure out the pattern of how these layers are formed, and there are clues in each layer, they just need to know what to look for. For the nonsense letters, there is a pattern that connects all the layers together. Many will think it is alphabetical, but I tell them that it is not. Once they have worked on it a few minutes, I have them share their theories. Once each group has shared their theory, I give them the clue. And suddenly, the pattern is clear now that they know what to look for. Using the same strategy, they will then sequence the fossils on the reverse side of the index cards.


Tangrams or Geometric Puzzles

Screen Shot 2015-08-02 at 3.13.02 PM

Students can create their own Geometric, or Tangram-like, puzzles. A classic tangram has 7 pieces (link), but with this template, students can make their own puzzles with as many pieces as they would like to use.


In the sample photos above, I created a puzzle with 12 pieces. After students have made their puzzles, they can trade puzzles and try to solve them. You can also combine/shuffle 2 puzzles together and try to create one large rectangle, or 4 puzzles together to create one large square.

When coloring in the puzzle, darker colors help hide the grid lines. You can also use the patterns each student has created as a cutting template – glue the template onto a piece of construction paper, cut out the pieces, flip, and use the construction paper side as your puzzle pieces.

Download the puzzle template (Geometric Puzzle Template pdf )

Dunkin’ for Density Challenge

Dunkin' for Density - finding the mass after the dunk tank.
Dunkin’ for Density – finding the mass after the dunk tank.

Updated for 2016: See blog entry


This is a wonderful problem solving and hands-on activity to use as part of your density unit. The students enjoy the challenge and have a solid understanding of density after completing this activity. Even though students quickly figure out how to make the canister float and sink, making the canister suspend is pretty challenging and requires a lot of trial and error and problem solving.

To qualify as suspending, the film canister needs to float just under the surface of the water, with a small portion of the top just breaking through. How I also verify that it is suspending is by pushing the film canister to the bottom of the tank, if it comes up very slowly to the surface, it counts – if it comes up quickly or stays towards the bottom, it doesn’t count. Students then need to figure out that if it comes up too quickly, they need to add to the mass, if it comes up too slowly, they need to remove some of the mass. It will take several tries to get it just right.



  • Dunkin’ for Density handout (1 page pdf) or (2 page pdf) and (link) to the original lesson from ScienceSpot.net
  • Triple Beam Balances
  • Container filled with water
  • Towels – the more the better!
  • Film canisters
    • one canister per 2 people works well, they can reuse the canisters if you don’t have enough to give each set of lab partners 3 canisters
    • if they reuse the canisters, be sure that they find the mass before they empty the contents
  • An assortment of small objects such as pennies, paper clips, stoppers, small pebbles, etc…
  • Calculators



  1. Introduce the Dunkin’ for Density Challenge – their goal is to make the film canister float, suspend, and sink by placing contents inside of the film canister.
    1. Many students will say that the canister will float with nothing in it, but they must place a few objects in it for it to count 😉
    2. On a side note, a mini history lesson on film and cameras is fun to discuss since most students have never used a camera that used film
  2. Explain the procedures, review how to use the TBB, note that the film canister must seal completely and be air tight so that water doesn’t enter, and also demonstrate how to use the dunk tank properly and to dry off the canister before finding the mass.
  3. Do not give the students the value for the volume of the film canisters until they have collected their data. If the students know the volume of the film canister, they may figure out the mass needed to make the film canister’s density close to 1.0 g/cm3.
    1. The value is approximately 39 mL or 39 g/cm3 – verify with a large graduated cylinder that the film canister can fit inside of – or use an overflow can to find the volume (link).
    2. I will give the volume to each set of lab partners individually and ask that they don’t share that information with the class.
  4. Once students have calculated the density, collect class data on a spreadsheet projected on the board/screen.
  5. Discuss results – why did the film canister float, suspend, or sink in the tank of water? What relationships did you notice?
Results show that densities close to 1.0 g/cm3 suspended.

For more lessons related to the Properties of Matter, click here (link)

Cup Stacking Collaboration Challenge

Cup Stacking Challenge


  • Students will collaborate, problem solve, and persevere to accomplish each challenge

Materials – per group of 3-4 students

  • Task Cards – cut apart, laminate, and secure with a metal ring or brass brad
  • 6 cups
  • 1 rubber band
  • 4-6 pieces of string of equal length

This is one of the team building exercises I plan to use with my 6th graders during the first week of school. Many variations of this lesson can be found online. For this version, I created 6 different challenges for the students to tackle – each one increasing in difficulty. Not every group will get to complete all 6 challenges, and that is OK. The objective is to learn to work together as a team and not give up.

July 26, 2017 – One recommendation I have for this activity is placing the cups on the floor, when the cups fall off the table it makes it more difficult to complete the task in a timely manner.

Updated: Pictures September 2015

Working as a team to complete a task
Working as a team to complete a task
Trying to pick up a cup that fell over.
Trying to pick up a cup that fell over.
Almost done with Challenge #4!
Almost done with Challenge #4!

Discussion & Reflection

  1. Which challenge was the easiest for you group to complete? The most difficult? Why?
  2. Did your techniques change as you advanced to each challenge? Explain why or why not.
  3. Describe a technique that worked best within your group.
  4. Compare using two hands vs. one hand when holding the string to guide the cups. List advantages and disadvantages for each.
  5. Compare using verbal and nonverbal communication, what were some of the challenges your group faced?
  6. If you were to complete this activity again, what would your group do differently? What would you do the same?
  7. Why are collaboration and communication skills important characteristics for scientists to have?
  8. Did you feel like giving up at any point? How did you and your group deal with frustration?

“Pour to Score” – Interactive Website for Volume

Screen Shot 2015-03-11 at 7.03.20 PM“Pour to Score” is an interactive website created by PBS. The objective of the game is to pour the water between the larger container and the smaller container to create 8 different volumes of water.

At first glance, it may seem like an easy exercise in addition and subtraction, but it requires problem solving skills, logic, and patience. My 5th graders have enjoyed using this game as part of our volume unit. Some students will figure out the pattern quickly, and advance to the next few levels, while for others, it will require trial and error, and perseverance.


  • Pour to Score (link)
  • Can you fill it? (link)  and Fill it Up (link)
    • Try to fill up the container in the least amount of moves, and without over filling
  • additional games from PBS (link)

Dogs and Turnips (D&T) Activity

Updated for 2016 – click here


D&T Activity - One Group's Hypothesis - Oct. 2015
D&T Activity – One Group’s Hypothesis – Oct. 2015
D&T Example of Student Work
D&T Example of Student Work

This is a great lesson to start off the school year and have students thinking like scientists, learning how to work cooperatively with their lab group, dust off their problem solving skills, be creative, and realize that as scientists get new information, their ideas change.

One of the things that students struggle with is wanting to get the ‘right’ answer and not making a ‘mistake’. They don’t like open-ended results. I stress that they have to look at their data, what does their data tell them? What do we know? What can we find out? As the year goes on, their confidence grows and they learn to really think like scientists.


  • D & T Activity sheet (pdf)
  • 23 words cut up and placed into envelopes (pdf)
    • The order of the words is the ‘correct answer’
    • I labeled each envelope with the name of a different country to simulate how scientists all over the world can work on the same problem and share their results
  • Teacher reference
  • construction paper
  • white paper cut into 1/4ths or small index cards
  • glue sticks
  • colored pencils

Before starting the activity, I set the stage that they are a group of archeologists and have discovered an ancient tablet at an archeological dig site. Unfortunately, the tablet is broken and as they excavate, they only find a few pieces at a time. What does the ancient table say? Scientists all over the world try to decipher the ancient text…

Each group is given the same exact 23 words, each slip of paper has one word on it (such as dog, turnip, white, bone, bowl, etc… ). All the words are in the envelope, and they ‘excavate’ 5 words from the envelope. Using those 5 words, they have to guess what the tablet says and make some kind of sentence out of the words. After they write it down, they ‘excavate’ 5 more words and either try to add on to their original story, or make a new story now that they have more information. Once again, after they write down their new hypothesis, they ‘excavate’ another 5 words and either add to their hypothesis, or make a new one. (During this part of the activity, they should whisper quietly so the other groups do not overhear their ideas)

Once everyone has uncovered 15 words and made their 3rd hypothesis, I have each group share their sentence with the class. Even though each group starts out with the same 23 cards, no two groups have uncovered the exact same 15 words (hypothetically). Each group has their own hypothesis and we compare what is similar, what’s different, if there were any common themes, etc…

Now that we have all shared our stories, we ‘excavate’ the rest of the words. They have to use all 23 words to make the final version of their story. This is not as easy as it may sound. By this point, they may have a story they really like and want it to work out, or they may not agree on a final hypothesis, or they may get stuck because they have grouped words together and don’t want to change it:  Red dog, red bowl, or red house? Big dog, little dog, fat dog, big red fat dog?

We now share our final hypothesis, or story, with the class and we discuss our results. I then ask, “If we all have the same 23 words, why don’t we all have the same story?” The kids come up with some great reasons as to why. We talk about what challenges they encountered when trying to come up with a story, if there was disagreement in the group, if their stories even made sense, etc…

D&T Activity: Sample sentences from different student groups

I then tie it into how scientists may have the same exact information, or data, but come up with different hypotheses and disagree just like they did in this activity. I then bring up the topic of who has the “correct” hypothesis? How do I know what is “correct”? I can’t ask the ancient people what the tablet originally said, so how do I know if my idea is the correct one?

Scientists are always getting new information (just like they got more words to work with) all the time and have to either see if it fits their current data, tweak their ideas using the new data, or come up with a totally new hypothesis and scrap the old one. You can then tie in real examples of how in the past, people thought the world was flat, the sun went around the Earth, that man could never walk on the moon, etc..

After all my classes have done this activity, I then reveal what the “correct” story was and we compare what was the same and what was different.

Note – this lesson plan is a modification of the original lesson plan from The University of California Museum of Paleontology (link)