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Course Materials


Course overview: 


Anchor phenomenon: What may have formed a long channel on the surface of Mars?

 Geology on Mars Launch Unit (11 lessons)

Unit Summary: Students take on the role of planetary geologist to investigate a channel on Mars’s surface. They search for and evaluate evidence to consider claims about how the channel formed. Throughout the unit, students engage in active reading strategies, evaluate evidence, and produce a written argument based on evidence. 


Anchor phenomenon:

Why are fossils of Mesosaurus separated by thousands of kilometers of ocean when the species once lived all together?  

 Plate Motion Unit (19 lessons)

Unit Summary: Students play the role of geologists working for the fictional Museum of West Namibia to investigate Mesosaurus fossils found both in southern Africa and in South America. They learn that the surface of the Earth has changed dramatically over the Earth’s history, with continents and ocean basins changing shape and arrangement due to the motion of tectonic plates. As the Earth’s surface changes, fossils that formed together may be split apart.


Anchor phenomenon: How can we design an effective tsunami warning system?

 Plate Motion Engineering Internship (10 lessons)

Unit Summary: Students act as mechanical engineering interns to design a tsunami warning system for the Indian Ocean region. These warning systems must meet three design criteria: 1) giving people as much warning time as possible to move to safety; 2) causing as few false alarms as possible; and 3) minimizing cost as much as possible. Students communicate like engineers and scientists do as they use their understanding of plate motion and patterns in data to create and justify their designs. 


Anchor phenomenon: Why are rock samples from the Great Plains and from the Rocky mountains composed of such similar minerals, when they look so different and come from different areas?

 Rock Transformations (19 lessons)

Unit Summary: Taking on the role of student geologists, students investigate a geologic puzzle: two rock samples, one from the Great Plains and one from the Rocky Mountains, look very different but are composed of a surprisingly similar mix of minerals. Did the rocks form together and somehow get split apart? Or did one rock form first, and then the other rock form from the materials of the first rock? To solve the mystery, students learn about how rock forms and transforms, driven by different energy sources.


Anchor phenomenon: Why did the methane lake on Titan disappear?

 Phase Changes (19 lessons)

Unit Summary: Taking on the role of student chemists working for the fictional Universal Space Agency, students investigate the mystery of a disappearing methane lake on Titan. One team of scientists at the Universal Space Agency claims that the lake evaporated while the other team of scientists claims that the lake froze. The students’ assignment is to determine what happened to the lake. They discover what causes phase changes, including the role of energy transfer and attraction between molecules.


Anchor phenomenon: Why is there a mysterious reddish-brown substance in the tap water of Westfield?

 Chemical Reactions (19 lessons)

Unit Summary: In the role of student chemists, students explore how new substances are formed as they investigate a problem with the water supply in the fictional town of Westfield. They analyze a reddish-brown substance that is in the water, the iron that the town’s pipes are made of, and a substance from fertilizer found to have contaminated the wells that are the source of the town’s water, and use their findings to explain the source of the contaminating substance.


Anchor phenomenon: What caused the size of the moon jelly population in Glacier Sea to increase?

  Populations and Resources (19 lessons)

Unit Summary: Glacier Sea has seen an alarming increase in the moon jelly population. In the role of student ecologists, students investigate reproduction, predation, food webs, and indirect effects to discover the cause. Jellyfish population blooms have become common in recent years and offer an intriguing context to learn about populations and resources.


Anchor phenomenon: Why did the biodome ecosystem collapse?

 Matter and Energy in Ecosystems (19 lessons)

Unit Summary: Students examine the case of a failed biodome, an enclosed ecosystem that was meant to be self-sustaining but which ran into problems. In the role of ecologists, students discover how all the organisms in an ecosystem get the resources they need to release energy. Carbon cycles through an ecosystem due to organisms’ production and use of energy storage molecules. Students build an understanding of this cycling—including the role of photosynthesis—as they solve the mystery of the biodome collapse.