BHP Team
Washington, USA

 Note from the BHP Team: In this month’s Big Question article, veteran BHP teacher Bridgette O’Connor tackles the Unit 4 Driving Question, “How and why do theories become generally accepted?” She explores her approach to Unit 4, which she finds is filled with engaging student activities and many chances for students to really hone their claim-testing and inquiry skills.

Below, BHP teachers share how they tackle Unit 4, and give their own perspective on how they approach the unit. Enjoy soaking up their best practices and advice, and then head to our BHP Teacher Community to continue the conversation.

I feel like this particular Driving Question connects very well to the DQ from Unit 2, “How and why do individuals change their minds?” These two questions are very similar. When looking at the DQ for Unit 4, I like to have students reflect on the DQ from Unit 2. We often talk a lot about new information, technology, and time being major factors for how and why individuals change their minds, and I think you will also find this is the case in Unit 4 as well—specifically with plate tectonics and more generally for how and why theories become generally accepted. The story of Wegner and Hess, which is used in Lesson 4.3, is similar to that of Ptolemy, Copernicus, and Galileo. I like to have students do a compare and contrast between the two topics. They try to find matching elements from each set of events.

Brian Moore, BHP Teacher, Grade 9
Connecticut, USA

I absolutely LOVE how Bridgette O’Connor runs through 4.3 and THEN 4.2 as a sense making tool. I intend to do this in the coming weeks AND then circle back to the flat earth question.

One theme I use in Unit 4 is #leftovers. In fact, I just clicked on the Unit 4 start page and can quote this: “Leftovers usually aren’t all that interesting or important. The leftovers that circled our Sun just after its birth are another story.” To be sure, in Unit 3, David Christian claims that WE (and he means EVERYTHING we know) are the 2% leftovers. Students can relate to “leftovers” much easier than they can relate to accretion. But we do this, too. Active Accretion is a must do in this lesson. They won’t soon forget how matter globs (is that a word?) together in space once they have had a chance to do it.

Of course, the hero of the unit is Alfred Wegener. With his theme song provided by the Amoeba People, again, students will have a hard time forgetting this unit. With all this constructed schema, students are now well equipped to address the DQ. I agree with Brian Moore, this is a remix of DQ 2 and I find students are keen to identify claim testers, specifically evidence, as a way to accept theories.

Erik Christensen, BHP Teacher, Grade 10
California, USA

My students really like Unit 4 because it does a good job of combining historical thinking with scientific content. The claim testing activity does a really good job of getting students into the habit of backing up their claims with evidence. This can be extended by giving students news articles and getting them to use claims testers to prove the validity of the articles. It also gets them to think about where the author is getting their information from and whether or not the source is reliable.

The Biography of a Continent is also a good activity, especially for students who are more visual learners. They tend to like the blank maps and the fact they get to work in groups means that the visual learners can concentrate on creating the maps while the others can concentrate on the research. It also develops their research skills in a way that is not too daunting.

Another good activity to develop research skills and get students thinking is the Fleeing the Surface of the Earth activity. This activity is broken up into three sections, each building upon the last which makes it easy for the students to complete. It also has the advantage in that you can extend your students by getting them to think about how much money or energy or force it takes to get someone into space. This makes from some really interesting discussions and you would be surprised what your students come up with.

All these activities help students understand how and why people change their minds and assist them in developing their research skills.

Charles Rushworth, BHP Teacher, Year 9
Sydney, Australia

Unit 4 is one of my favorites! I like the activities that you mentioned. Accretion is one of my all time favorites! The kids love it and it gets them outside and moving around. I think it really helps students make connections and see how the content fits together.

Devon Rose, BHP Teacher, Grade 6
North Carolina, USA

A big thumbs up to all the comments above and I absolutely agree. I also wanted to add that one video that always generates lots of understanding is the What Was the Young Earth Like video. The cartoon elements seem to help the concepts stick in students’ minds. That final question, “Do you think that the Earth is still forming today?” really helps bring together their understanding and they discuss their answers.

Kim Lochner, BHP Teacher, Years 9-10
Queensland, Australia

Year after year, my students really connect with the Biography of a Continent activity. Living in the Midwest, we don’t see a ton of evidence for plate tectonics. We don’t have mountains or earthquakes. I look out the window and there isn’t a rift valley or volcano in sight. That is what makes the interactive map that I’ve attached so useful for my students. Try it out next time you introduce this activity with your students! They will love it. It shows how the violence of the inner Earth has moved the continents over billions of years.

Scott Collins, BHP Teacher, Grades 11-12
Illinois, USA

Don’t forget to throw your thoughts into the conversation on Yammer and share ideas with other BHP teachers. Everyone is in this together, and you’ll find a supportive community there—always!

Header image: The key principle of plate tectonics is that the lithosphere exists as separate and distinct tectonic plates, which float on the fluid-like (visco-elastic solid) asthenosphere. The relative fluidity of the asthenosphere allows the tectonic plates to undergo motion in different directions. By USGS, public domain.

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