Mission: Solar System: Invisible Force Challenge

Contributor
National Science Foundation NASA Design Squad Nation, WGBH Educational Foundation
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Types
Student Guide , Activity , Instructor Guide/Manual , Lesson/Lesson Plan
Note
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.

Reviews

Description

This activity is one in a series of Mission: Solar System design challenges developed by PBS’s Design Squad, NASA and the National Science Foundation.  Students design, build, and improve a model that mimics gravity-assisted space travel.  The design solution enables a steel ball (spacecraft) to roll past a magnet (force exerted by a planet), which will alter its direction in order to hit a designated target (e.g., Mars).  Students will need to apply their understanding of magnetic forces, and more specifically, the magnetic interactions between two objects not in contact with each other in order to meet this challenge.

Intended Audience

Educator and learner
Educational Level
  • Grade 3
  • Upper Elementary
  • Middle School
Language
English
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

3-5-ETS1-3 Plan and carry out fair tests in which variables are controlled and failure points are considered to identify aspects of a model or prototype that can be improved.

Clarification Statement: none

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this performance expectation, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
The students will plan and carry out the testing of their models, but the conducting of fair tests is not explicit in this activity. A lesson reviewing what variables are and how to control them in an investigation may be necessary depending on the prior knowledge the students have about these concepts. Older students and adults tend to manipulate multiple variables as they engineer. For third graders, it is suggested that the students be guided to test and record the results of one manipulated variable at a time as they are still learning the design process. Failure points will automatically be considered as students evaluate and redesign their models.

3-5-ETS1-2 Generate and compare multiple possible solutions to a problem based on how well each is likely to meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.

Clarification Statement: none

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
As part of the engineering process students will generate solutions as they brainstorm, design, and build their models. They will compare multiple solutions as they test, evaluate, and redesign their prototypes. The success of their models in meeting the criteria and constraints of the problem will guide the students’ redesign process. Students learn best from each other so it is recommended that the student share their prototypes with the class each time they redesign, along with what worked, didn’t work, and why. Students should also be allowed to engage in the redesign process for as much time as the instructional schedule will allow.

3-5-ETS1-1 Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.

Clarification Statement: none

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this performance expectation, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
This Performance Expectation is closely aligned to Performance Expectation 3-PS2-4 and the tips provided there also apply here. Having the students define the problem themselves is highly recommended as it invests them in the design challenge. Furthermore, criteria and constraints set by the students often exceed teacher expectations, making the task more rigorous. They will also persevere to achieve success because they set the expectations themselves.

3-PS2-4 Define a simple design problem that can be solved by applying scientific ideas about magnets.

Clarification Statement: Examples of problems could include constructing a latch to keep a door shut and creating a device to keep two moving objects from touching each other.

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this performance expectation, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
This activity challenges students to design a model that mimics how NASA engineers use a planet’s gravity to increase a spacecraft’s speed and “steer” it by changing its direction. For students to solve this problem they must have multiple experiences with magnetic interactions between two objects that are not in contact with each other. The connection between gravity and magnetism as field forces that can be exerted over a distance needs to be established in order to define the problem: How can a model of gravity-assisted travel be created using magnetic force? They may need to engage in the following lessons to understand gravity as a force: http://hawaii.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/phy03.sci.phys.mfe.lp_gravity/gravity-and-falling-objects/ To further assist students with defining the problem, the following resources,are recommended to develop their understanding of gravity-assisted travel: http://www.windows2universe.org/kids_space/gravity_assist.html These lessons will help strengthen the students’ understanding of gravity. Specifically, the simulations of gravity assist as spacecraft fly by Jupiter and Venus enable students to understand the scenario and show that the gravitational force of this planet is related to its size: http://messenger-education.org/Interactives/ANIMATIONS/grav_assist/gravity_assist.html Learn about how gravitational force affects the spacecraft, Juno here: http://missionjuno.swri.edu/earth-flyby It is also recommended that one of these resources be used at the outset of the lesson to introduce the phenomena of gravity-assisted travel and to provide a reference from which to introduce key vocabulary concepts. It is also important that connections be made between the concepts of gravity-assisted travel with the initial model they create in Step 2 of the challenge.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Observational data provides the evidence for determining whether the model meets the primary criteria and achieves a solution, which is to swing the ball bearing (spaceship) past the planet (magnet) to hit the target (Mars). To enable students make measurements and quantify their data, it is recommended that measurement marks be added to the ramp, and that the model be created and tested on graph paper. Depending on how the students construct their model, multiple pieces of graph paper may be needed. This will enable the students to measure and plot changes made to the position of the ramp, the magnet and the target.

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this science and engineering practice, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
This practice is closely aligned to Performance Expectations 3-PS2-4 and 3-5-ETS-1. The tips provided for those expectations also apply here.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource was not designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
While gravitational force as a disciplinary core idea is not actually addressed until fifth grade, the Atlas of Science Literacy does place the learning of this concept within the range of grades 3-5 (http://strandmaps.dls.ucar.edu/?id=SMS-MAP-1372), making it acceptable to for students to learn this concept at the third grade level.  It is also included in the Assessment Boundary for Grade 3.  Utilizing the tips provided expressed elsewhere in this reivew, third grade students will be engaged as they design a model of gravity-assisted travel in this challenging activity.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Aspects of size and distance are directly addressed in this activity. The size of the ball bearing, the release point of the bearing on the ramp (which affects its speed), the position of the magnet in relationship to the launch point and the position where the magnet exerts the greatest amount of force in relationship to the bearing as it passes the magnet are all variables that affect the outcome of this design challenge. These variables are addressed through the generating and comparing of multiple solutions as students engage in the engineering design process. For third graders, some facilitated discussion by the teacher may be necessary for students to consider these variables in their design solution.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
The ramp, ball bearing, magnet, and target are all components of this model for gravity-assisted travel. How they interact with each other as a system determines the success of the model in meeting the criteria of using magnetic force to hit the target. Students would benefit from the viewing this design challenge from a systems model perspective.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this crosscutting concept.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
The relationship between properties of the objects (bearing and magnet), their distances apart, and its resultant effect on the amount of force exerted and the direction of the ball bearing’s motion are identified, tested and used to explain their results as students engage in the engineering design process.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: This resource is aligned to all dimensions of the NGSS, with multiple alignments to the Performance Expectations, Practices, and Crosscutting Concepts. Alignment to the generating and comparing of multiple solutions (Performance Expectation), making of observations to produce data (Practice), and to cause and effect relationships (Crosscutting Concept) is especially strong. In this challenge, students will apply their scientific understanding about magnetic forces to design a model that mimics how NASA’s engineers use a planet’s (magnet) gravity to increase a spacecraft’s (ball bearing) speed and “steer” it to change it’s direction. They will engage in the engineering practices to design a solution and test their ideas. The relationship between properties of the objects, their distances apart, the resultant effect on the amount of force exerted, and the direction of the ball bearing’s motion (cause and effect) are identified, and tested. It is recommended that the tips provided in this review be implemented to assist students with defining the problem. It is an essential first step in the engineering process and provides that initial engagement needed for students to persevere in this challenging activity.

  • Instructional Supports: This design challenge engages students in a meaningful scenario that reflects the practice of science and engineering as experienced in the real world. It provides specific instructions in both the instructor and student guides for each step of the engineering process, extension activities which can be used as part of the redesign process, short video clips to enable students to make real world connections, assessment questions, and a rubric. It is recommended that the real world context of space exploration and specifically, gravity-assisted travel be investigated at the outset of the activity. Instructional support to develop the concept that gravity and magnetism are forces that can be exerted over a distance also needs to be provided. A review of vocabulary concepts and the scaffolding of tasks may be needed for students with special needs and for struggling learners. The challenge extensions and curriculum connections are recommended for high performing/high interest students. Finally, although the instructions recommend that the “Invisible Force” video be shown at the start of this challenge, it provides for a design solution. Students should have the opportunity to problem solve and discover themselves as part of the engineering design process. Instead, it is recommended that this video be shown as they discuss “what happened” to compare and contrast their design choices with the solution shown in the video.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Assessment questions and a rubric are included to monitor student progress. It is recommended that the students record their ideas, designs, observations, results and reflections in a science notebook as this would provide for additional formative assessment information.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: This resource does not include a technologically interactive component.