I recently challenged my students to consider a probing question based upon a spiral "marble tower". The probe comes from "Uncovering Student Ideas in Science Volume 3" pg. 71. Students are asked to evaluate what will happen to the marble as it rolls off the bottom of the tower. They are given 5 different points of view to consider and must choose 1 to agree with and then defend their reasoning.
The probes are great for determining student understanding and misconceptions. They are even better when I am able to use them to set the stage for inquiry based learning. After responding to the probe, I gave students 2 days (40 min/day) to design and build their own marble tower to test their theory. We used colorful cardstock sentence strips from the dollar tree to form the tower. Students were given scissors, masking tape, and 5 sentence strips. Eventually students asked for more sentence strips and they were allowed 2 more per team. Conversation among "architects" was encouraged. As students discovered methods for cutting, overlapping, and taping to create the necessary curves for the tower to spiral they shared their ideas with other groups. The end result is a 3 min. video on schooltube and my 5th grade classes truly understanding the meaning of what can be a difficult topic for this age: inertia.
Check out the video here.