Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Workshop 4

Creating Meaning from Dissonance

About the Workshop

When teachers elicit students' ideas at the beginning of a unit or an activity, making the transition from these ideas to student-centered investigations is often a challenge. How can students' ideas lead to productive hands-on, minds-on, and meaningful investigations? During this workshop, we'll consider how teachers can move students' thinking from exploring what they already know, to asking a question about what they want to know. We'll also consider how the ideas that emerge during an open-ended exploration or a brainstorming session might be "finessed" toward the learning goals intended by the teacher.

The Great Bean Bag Adventure

Having discovered that seeds must have water to sprout, we set out to investigate what other conditions help seeds grow. In our second experiment, we went "beyond the basics," combining water with light, soil, and air to see which (if any) of these three conditions support seed growth.

What we used:

4 plastic baggies
8 paper towels
12 lima beans (soaked overnight)
dark drawer, cupboard, or closet
potting soil
petroleum jelly

What we did:
Folded and placed two paper towels in each baggie. Poured water in each baggie to moisten the towels. Labeled and prepared the baggies as follows:

  1. Seed + water (control)
  2. Seed + water + no light 3 beans;
  3. Seed + water + soil enough soil to lightly cover paper towel;
  4. Seed + water + no air
  1. 3 beans
  2. placed in the dark
  3. 3 beans
  4. 3 beans coated with petroleum jelly

Getting Ready (15 min. each)

  1. By now, each participant at your site should have some results from The Great Bean Bag Adventure. In small groups, share your data and observations with your colleagues. Are there any similarities? Any differences? Discuss what methods or measurements might have caused differences to occur.
  2. As a group, answer the following:

Maddie has seven kittens. Some are black, and some are white. How many of each might she have?

After you've answered the question, discuss your process. How many combinations did you come up with? Did you all agree? Did everyone in the group interpret the question in the same way, or were there differences in your understandings? How did your group negotiate differences in your interpretations of the question?

Site Conversation 1 (5 min.)

Kalpana questions whether or not the children were aware that differences in their results might be significant. How might you find out if your students recognize a discrepancy in results, and if so, what they think about the discrepancy?

Site Conversation 2 (5 min.)

Marquita's pendulum activity may seem to be a case of extreme dissonance, and yet the students are very interested in their own ideas. How can you help students move beyond their own ideas and consider their results in relation to those of their classmates?

Going Further (15 min. each)

  1. When might you want to deliberately create cognitive conflict or dissonance in a math or science lesson? If you've done this before, share your experience with your colleagues. Did it work? What would you have done differently?
  2. Students' language is often "squishy," or vague. What are some ways you've found to increase the precision of students' language as they are exploring science and math?

Homework for Workshop 5

Recall a situation in which a math or science activity that you had planned simply did not work as you intended, either because the activity went awry, or because the students "missed the boat" in terms of their understanding. (If you cannot recall such a situation, it's fine to invent one.)

First, write a brief narrative (1 paragraph) that describes what you, the teacher, experienced in this situation. What were your goals? How did you know that things weren't working? What were your reactions? What did you think was the problem? How did you feel?

Then, write a brief narrative (1 paragraph) from the perspective of one of your students. What were his/her goals? How did he/she know that things weren't working? What were his/her reactions? What did he/she think was the problem? How did he/she feel?

Bring your two narratives with you to Workshop 5, and be prepared to share them with your colleagues.




Suggested Grade Level: 3-5

Students investigate whether length and/or weight affects how fast a pendulum swings.


What you need

Washers of the same size
Masking tape
Large (jumbo) paper clips
Stop watch or timer


What to do

After students have had the opportunity to make some initial investigations with pendulums, help them focus their investigations with the following activity:

Build a pendulum:

  1. Measure and cut a piece of string to 60 cm.
  2. Bend 2 paper clips so they each make an S-shaped hook.
  3. Tie one end of the string to the large loop of one of the paper clips. Tie the opposite end of the string to the large loop of the second paper clip.
  4. Tape one of the paper clips to a desktop or tabletop, allowing the string to hang over the side of the desk or table.

Does a pendulum swing faster when more weight is attached?

  1. Position two pendulums side by side approximately 30 cm apart.
  2. Add one weight to each pendulum (place a washer on the paper clip hook at the end of the pendulum).
  3. Pull both pendulums back an equal distance from their resting point, and let them go at the same time. Do the pendulums swing in unison? Count the number of swings each pendulum makes in 10 seconds to determine if the two pendulums swing at the same rate.
  4. Add a second weight to one pendulum.
  5. Repeat step #3.
  6. Does the weight on the end of a pendulum affect how fast it swings? What is your evidence?

Does the length of the pendulum affect how fast it swings?

  1. Shorten the string of one pendulum to 30 cm.
  2. Position the 30 cm pendulum side by side with a 60 cm pendulum (approximately 30 cm apart).
  3. Add one weight to each pendulum.
  4. Pull both pendulums back an equal distance from their resting point, and let them go at the same time. Do the pendulums swing in unison? Count the number of swings each pendulum makes in 10 seconds to determine if the two pendulums swing at the same rate.
  5. Does the length of a string that makes-up a pendulum affect how fast it swings? What is your evidence?

What next

Have students design an investigation to determine if the distance a pendulum is pulled back from its resting place determines how fast it swings.


For younger students

Younger students can investigate pendular motion by building pendulums, observing their motion, and then trying to find objects in their own world that have a similar motion (e.g., playground swings, grandfather clocks, ponytails, children hanging from monkey bars).

Adapted from Grossman, Marvin C., Shapiro, Irwin I., and Ward R. Bruce. 1996. Project ARIES, Module One: Time, Peterborough, NH: Cobblestone Publishing.


One connection to the Standards

Science as Inquiry, Content Standard A:

As a result of activities in grades K-4, all students should develop

  • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry
  • Understanding about scientific inquiry

"In elementary grades, students begin to develop the physical and intellectual abilities of scientific inquiry. They can design investigations to try things to see what happens-- they tend to focus on concrete results of tests and will entertain the idea of a "fair" test (a test in which only one variable at a time is changed)."

National Research Council, (NRC). 1996. National science education standards. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. (pg. 121)


Series Overview
Workshop Synopses
About the Contributors
Workshop Components
More Workshop Components
Helpful Hints for Successful Site Investigations
The Great Bean Bag Adventure
Invitation to Interact
Featured Teachers:
–  Classroom Clips
–  Conversations
Workshop 1
Workshop 2
Workshop 3
Workshop 4
Workshop 5
Workshop 6
Workshop 7
Workshop 8
Suggested Teaching Resources


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