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Summer SAVY 2019: Session 2, Day 2 – Stories and the Structure of the Universe (Rising 5th/6th)

Posted by on Tuesday, June 18, 2019 in Grade 5, Grade 6, SAVY.

We started off this rainy day by getting cozy and comfortable to read another chapter of A Wrinkle In Time. We had a fascinating conversation about the role of structure both within the story–within the lives of the characters, in particular–and in stories more broadly speaking. Students’ insights included:

– A person’s personality can structure their life.
– Events in a story act like gears, creating function or malfunction and case/effect relationships.
– A “mental block” (like the one our protagonist Meg had toward much of school) is a kind of structural malfunction.
– Conflict creates malfunction for the characters, but paradoxically, conflict is what makes a story function (for some of us, the bigger the conflict, the better the story!).
We then turned our attention to the structure of the universe, recognizing we needed to first grasp the concept of gravity as thoroughly as possible. Students enjoyed building their concepts maps about gravity and adding to them as they gained and clarified understanding throughout the day. We read about Johannes Kepler and Isaac Newton and discussed how Newton built on Kepler’s ideas to apply insights about gravity to understand how matter functions in outer space. We also discussed scientists’ use of modeling as a way of understanding, communicating, and testing theories, and students worked together to create models to show how orbits work.
For many, the highlight of the day was right after lunch, when we got to experiment with a gravity simulator which you can access here. The gravity simulator allows us to see what would happen if the present setting of our solar system change: What if our sun was twice its actual size? What if the earth were a different size? What if the sun and the earth were a different distance apart? Students had fun experimenting with different settings and gathering data. We talked about the need to gather data in a systematic way, like professional scientists would do. We also discussed the need for scientists to clearly communicate their findings to other scientists, and students wrote to reflect on their new understanding of the relationships among mass, velocity, gravity, and orbit
We returned to our novel at the end of the day and took some time to map out what we know so far about different characters. We read far enough to encounter how the author, Madeleine L’Engle answered what has become one of our most pressing questions: What is the fifth dimension? While scientists do not yet understand what the fifth dimension is, at the boundaries of known science, writers, artists, and other creative thinkers can imagine possibilities!