Thousands of tiny pieces can create something big

Jeri Faber
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Activity , Lesson/Lesson Plan
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.



In this resource which is based on enactment in a second grade classroom and includes videos and examples of student work, the teacher introduces students to Watt's tower, a tower made of many pieces of junk in the neighborhood. Students make their own objects out of many pieces or materials that the teacher provides and the students think about and discuss whether they could use the same set of materials to make something different.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Early Elementary
Access Restrictions

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

Performance Expectations

2-PS1-3 Make observations to construct an evidence-based account of how an object made of a small set of pieces can be disassembled and made into a new object.

Clarification Statement: Examples of pieces could include blocks, building bricks, or other assorted small objects.

Assessment Boundary: none

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

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
This lesson is a literal interpretation of the Performance Expectation. It could be strengthened by including some emphasis on the usefulness of the object itself. The objects have no use except as part of a challenge for the students to use the smaller set of pieces, hence the idea of a whole object itself is never made clear. Teachers can strengthen this connection by having students construct a use for the objects or by clarifying that the set of materials came from an actual object (say an old fashioned typewriter).

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
The Practice could be strengthened by including narrative of asking and looking for evidence in the student discussion about the objects they create. The evidence they use could be strengthened by having students disassemble the objects they create and make new ones.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

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

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
The Core Idea is addressed. However, a literal interpretation ask students to use the same set of materials to create a great variety of materials. This could be emphasized by ensuring that the same set of materials are in each of the students' bags (it is implied in the lesson but not explicit) and comparing all of the great variety that is created in the classroom.

Crosscutting Concepts

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

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
The explicitness of the Crosscutting Concept could be strengthened by having one more step in the process where students disassemble their created objects then create new ones using the same set of materials and compare the great variety of objects.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: The alignment is strong because each of the three dimensions is explicitly met. The lesson could be strengthened by making the use of evidence more explicitly, and by having the students disassemble their objects and make new ones, which would be then used as evidence for the explanation.

  • Instructional Supports: There are many avenues that students can access the lesson including text, collaborative activity, discussion, images, and real world artifacts. The supports could be strengthened by including indication of language supports (i.e., the image of the tower is a language support, and students who are learning English can access the content with this support) and entry points for differentiation.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: The lesson ends with the student-centered explanations of what they learned. The resource includes video of the author's own students' explanations. However, there is little guidance as to how to informally assess the students' understanding of the three dimensions, nor how to use teacher prompts to move students toward a higher level of understanding. A rubric (based on the Appendices of the NGSS) would help with monitoring student progress.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: Everything works in the lesson beautifully. This is a very well put together resource with many different types of technology integration, and all of it works as intended.