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Force & Motion Data - Help them justify that interpretation ;)

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Tweaked Lesson Plans 

This article is part of the “LP Tweaks” blog series showcasing how small adjustments to the questions, organization, and/or data moves within your existing curriculum can help align the learning to different data skills for your learners. This original lesson is strong, and the intention is not to communicate otherwise but rather to share how you could adjust things for a different desired outcome.

Written by: Naomi W



Your students are exploring 4-PS3-3, “Ask questions and predict outcomes about the changes in energy that occur when objects collide”, specifically PS3.C “Relationships Between Energy and Forces” and you are looking for some ways to integrate data into their explorations.  You come across a great data-based lesson from Mrs. Mo's Corner on Teachers Pay Teachers using scientific data on force and motion. Your students have been studying force and motion in this unit, they have liked graphing in the past, and who doesn’t love Hot Wheels?! And you are excited about how this lesson could help them use the data to understand the broader concepts and interconnections of force and motion.

However, based on your student's performance in the last unit you are looking to give them more time to “Justify an Interpretation” in a practiced way to deepen their ability to “interpret data to learn something” skills (see Building Blocks for Data Literacy to explore the corresponding data skills of these areas more).

You are torn, you like the Force and Motion Hot Wheels Experiment from Mrs. Mo’s Corner, but you are worried the questions aren’t directly getting at the data skills your learners need to practice at this point in the year, but the content is. What do you do?

Let’s check out some easy optional tweaks to make the lesson more what you are looking for now for your students.

Black text is the original lesson and the purple text are suggested additional questions to add. A full copy of the revised lesson can be viewed here (also Part 2 write up here and graph option here).


Here is an example of how we can add a few questions to the lesson to more directly help your current students practice data skills we know they are weaker on (or we are more interested in targeting this specific data interaction) at this point in the year.

The questions are designed to help students “identify features of a graph or table of data that support (or refute) a prediction or provided claim” in grades 4  in appropriate ways. When we specifically ask students to consider their observations, the data table, and/or their graph when they are thinking about their hypothesis helps our younger learners build the interpretation pathways. These questions do not add a large amount to the workload of the students, but instead offer more targeted practice of these skills which often can result in students being more independent as they are completing the work. These new questions will help the students get a better understanding of the data and learn how to use the data to determine if they can state that their hypothesis/prediction is supported or not from the data…not just their opinions or experiences. (As a note, we do not prove or disprove a hypothesis with data hence the change in terminology to support or not support/refute.)

Even though the students have been answering questions based on the data given, they need to learn how to use the data to make interpretations that they can justify with the data at hand.  These added questions are explicitly designed to help the students dive deeper into how the data can either support a prediction or provided claim or in fact the opposite, refute a prediction or provided claim. Students need to get into the practice of learning that it is ok to refute (or not support as we talk about it with elementary students) a prediction or claim as long as they have the data to back it up, just like they need the data to support a prediction or claim. Therefore, with the addition of new questions on the original worksheet, 1 on the new worksheet,  and 1 new graph structure for the data, you can use this newly found lesson while also better aligning it with your current learners' needs and/or your desired focus areas for your learners to practice data skills.

To me, that feels like a win-win…using a lesson that you are excited about with a more strategic data focus to help learners build their skills :)

Be sure when students are looking at multiple sets of data, comparing the different surfaces of the 1 Hot Rod to the 3 different Hot Rods on the 1 surface, they look at each set of data as separate entities. They are looking at two different variables in each data table. Students tend to make mistakes when comparing two graphs to each other that are not comparable. It is like comparing apples to cookies. They are both snacks, but not the same.

Will this exact tweak work for everyone or every lesson? Absolutely not!

In fact, the other suggested adjustments in this lesson would help students that are needing to work on their “Evaluate Limitations of Data and Claims ” skills at this time of the year. Even though they are looking at one experiment, you can discuss how imprecise tools or careless measurements can affect the certainty of claims made from the data. Discuss why you had the students do 3 sets of measurements and make averages on worksheet 2, and why scientists do multiple trials in experiments and then revise claims as needed.

Or you could help your students work on their ability to “connect data, questions, and expectations” by having them pause and think through the situation a bit more deeply before making their hypothesis. For example, you could ask these three prompting questions after sharing the overall driving question and before they write out their hypothesis/prediction.

Black text is the original lesson and the purple text are suggested additional questions to add. A full copy of the revised lesson can be viewed here (also Part 2 write up here and graph option here).


The point is that with a better sense of what we are working towards with data skills (see Building Blocks for Data Literacy to explore the range of data skills K-12 our learners should be working to master) we can be empowered to make our existing curriculum work better for us and our learners…rather than needing to find or write all new curriculum.

Give it a try! What in your next lesson with data can you slightly adjust to make it better hit the skills you want your students to practice? Let us know how it goes by emailing us at [email protected]