Lesson Plan Template: General Lesson Plan
Learning Objectives: What should students know and be able to do as a result of this lesson?
- Define the term "scientific theory" and describe the conditions required to establish a theory in science.
- Outline the long path of research and study on the theory of general relativity, beginning with Einstein's prediction and leading to the recent detection of gravitational waves.
- Cite specific and relevant textual evidence to support analysis of the text.
- Determine the meaning of selected academic and domain-specific words in the text.
- Summarize complex concepts in the text by paraphrasing them in simpler but still accurate terms.
- Construct a written response that clearly establishes the main point(s), contains relevant textual evidence to support the main point, utilizes transitions to maintain flow, effectively uses domain-specific vocabulary, and provides an appropriate conclusion.
Prior Knowledge: What prior knowledge should students have for this lesson?
In regards to science:
- Basic knowledge of the force of gravity
- Familiarity with Einstein and his research and theories, including the theory of general relativity and the equation E = mc2
- Very general knowledge of the definition of a theory in science and the difference between a theory and a law
- A basic understanding of lasers and light optics
In regards to literacy skills:
- Students should have prior experience utilizing various vocabulary strategies to determine the meaning of unknown words in a text, skills that include use of context clues and determining word meaning through use of a dictionary.
- Students should have an awareness that authors can organize or structure a text in many different ways. In longer or more complex nonfiction pieces authors sometimes use several types of structures in one text. In "Gravitational Waves Detected 100 years After Einstein's Prediction," some of the text structures include cause/effect and description.
- Students should be aware of text features that can help them locate and learn information when reading a text. The text features in the article for this lesson include: title, subtitle, headings, a photograph and caption.
- Based on the writing prompt and writing rubric used with this lesson, students should be able to respond to a writing prompt in a clear, organized manner that includes use of an introduction to establish the main point(s), a body paragraph(s) that support the main point(s) and includes relevant and specific textual evidence, and a conclusion that supports the main point(s).
- Based on the writing rubric used with this lesson, students should have some awareness that use of transition words or phrases can help a piece of writing flow smoothly from one point or idea to the next. Teachers might wish to provide students with a sheet of transitions to help them. The site "" has a list of transitions that teachers might provide.
Guiding Questions: What are the guiding questions for this lesson?
1. What does it take for an idea to reach the designation of "theory" in science?
Because a theory is one of the most powerful explanations science can offer, the process of hypothesis to theory is long and arduous. First, it takes time, with lots of trials and fact checking, also know as "repetition." Second, many independent researchers must reach the same consensus on an idea, also know as "replication." A theory must hold up to rigorous peer evaluation and additional study over time.
2. Why is the recent detection of gravitational waves an important finding?
The fact that gravitational waves can now be detected by humans is an extremely important finding for many reasons. For one, it represents a new way to see the universe and an entirely new dimension of space and time is open for human study. With the success of the new LIGO technology leading to detection of the gravitational waves, the door is opened to the study of new corners of the universe, such as dark matter and black holes. Also, this finding confirms what Einstein predicted 100 years ago but insisted humans would never be able to confirm. ;It is the result of many years of focused research and study and adds additional strength to Einstein's theory of general relativity.
Teaching Phase: How will the teacher present the concept or skill to students?
1. The topic of the article, "Gravitational Waves Detected 100 Years After Einstein's Prediction," is both fascinating and extremely abstract and challenging. As such, it may be difficult for students to wrap their heads around the concepts, so to speak, even with a solid foundation of prior knowledge. Beginning the lesson with short (~7 minute) video clip, which introduces the topic discussed in the article in an accessible way, including images and explanations of gravitational waves and the technology used to detect them, is a great way to engage students.
2. Next, backtrack and pose a general question to the class. Ask students: "What is gravity?"
- Students should be able to answer that gravity is a force in the universe that attracts bodies to the center of the Earth or to other objects with mass.
3. Then ask the students, "Does gravity exist in space or only on Earth?"
- This is a good place to address the potential misconception that there is no gravity in space. Students often will cite the fact that astronauts appear weightless as evidence that gravity only exists on Earth but this represents a misunderstanding of physics and is not correct. Without gravity, objects in space such as moons and planets would simply fall out of orbit!
- This ~4 minute video provides a fun and thorough explanation of this concept and addresses common misconceptions.
- Next ask students, "What objects in space create the strongest gravitational pull?"
- Students may guess that "black holes" are the answer to this question. If not, guide them toward this conclusion.
- Discuss with students that black holes are believed to be the density bodies in space, having the most mass in the smallest distance known in the universe. Thus, the force of gravity inside a black hole is so strong that it pulls everything inside it back toward its center, in essence creating a "black hole." This NASA website is a good resource for helping students understand black holes.
4. Now backtrack and ask students to define a scientific theory and explain the difference between a theory and a law. At this point, students only need to understand that a theory is different from a hypothesis and is in fact one of the most rigorous assertions of truth that science can provide, and that a theory includes an explanation of an aspect of the natural world while a law simply states an observation.
5. Next ask students if they know of any theories in science that predict black holes. The answer: Einstein's theory of general relativity.
- This powerful and innovative theory posits the origin of gravity from the curvature of space and time. This site is a good resource for information on Einstein's theory. The teacher may want to spend some time exploring it before class.
6. End the discussion by informing students they will be reading an article about the discovery referenced in the video they watched to begin class, the detection of gravitational waves for the first time.
Guided Practice: What activities or exercises will the students complete with teacher guidance?
1. Provide each student with a copy of the article "Gravitational Waves Detected 100 Years After Einstein's Prediction."
2. Provide each student with a note-taking guide to help them record information as they read the text.
3. Before students begin reading, direct them to pay attention to the text features of the article to help them learn and locate information:
- Title: "Gravitational Waves Detected 100 Years After Einstein's Prediction"
- Subtitle: LIGO opens new window on the universe with observation of gravitational waves from colliding black holes
- Caption: Located under the photograph
4. Students should complete the note-taking guide as they read the text. The teacher should monitor students as they work and provide support and guidance as needed. Students will need access to print or online dictionaries to define the meanings of selected academic and domain-specific words from the text. Where appropriate, students can also use other strategies to determine the meanings of some of the words, strategies like use of context clues and word parts.
Formative Assessment (How will teachers check for student understanding?):
1. The teacher can check students' understanding by having students share out their answers to different parts of the note-taking guide and the teacher can provide verbal corrective feedback, allowing students to make corrections to their work during the discussion. The teacher can use this sample answer key to assess students' answers.
2. For discussion on students' answers to the defined vocabulary words, teachers are encouraged to not only ask students to explain the meaning they determined for a word, but the strategy they used to arrive at that meaning. This will allow the teacher to provide alternative suggestions as to how the student could have arrived at the correct meaning of the word.
Common errors/misconceptions to anticipate and how to respond:
1. A theory is not an accepted fact and is more of a suggestion or thought.
It would be helpful to remind students to think in terms of science. The common English use of the word theory differs greatly from the scientific meaning of a theory. In common use, the word does mean something similar to a hypothesis or idea, such as, "I have a theory about how the cookies were stolen." But in science a theory must be supported with evidence and explain a phenomenon in nature. It must also undergo extensive research and peer review before it is stated as a theory.
2. A theory in science has been proved and is "true."
Opposite of the misconception addressed above, students may think that theories in science are absolute truths. Remind students that in science, nothing can ever be proved, only disproved. So, it is important to understand that while scientific theories are robust, well-substantiated explanations, they are not "truths," as that is against the very definition of scientific inquiry.
Independent Practice: What activities or exercises will students complete to reinforce the concepts and skills developed in the lesson?
Provide each student with a copy of the text-dependent questions to complete. Students should be reminded to continually refer back to the text and to use relevant and specific evidence from the text to support their answers.
Formative Assessment (How will teachers check for understanding?):
1. Teachers can check students' understanding by collecting students' answers to the text-dependent questions, checking their work, providing written feedback, and maybe grading the assignment. Or, teachers can have students share out their responses and the teacher can provide verbal corrective feedback, allowing students to make corrections to their work during the discussion.
2. Teachers can use the sample answer key included with the text-dependent questions to help them assess students' answers.
Common errors/misconceptions to anticipate and how to respond: Please see the answer key with the text-dependent questions; it addresses common errors/misconceptions for several of those items.
Closure: How will the teacher assist students in organizing the knowledge gained in the lesson?
1. Before students complete the writing prompt be sure to review responses to the text-dependent questions as a class.
2. After students' written responses for the summative assessment have been graded and returned with feedback, teachers might wish to use the provided sample response for the writing prompt with the class. Students who are struggling writers can benefit greatly from seeing a well-organized, detailed written response. The teacher could use a projector to show the sample response and discuss some of the following:
- Have students examine how the topic is introduced in the opening sentences of the introductory paragraph. (Students often struggle with ideas in how to start a written response, and they often want to repeat the prompt back in the first sentence because they are not sure what other options they have. Go over how this writer opened his or her piece of writing. Brainstorm with students other ways the writer could have opened the piece.)
- Point out the structure of the introduction, the use of some specifics, and where the writer makes the main point clear. Connect the main point back to the writing prompt to help students see how this writer's response is answering what was asked of them.
- Have students identify use of specific evidence from the text, particularly in paragraph two and three, that the writer uses to support the main point.
- Have students identify correct use of science vocabulary from the text within the written response (e.g., scientific theory, hypothesis, scientific law, theory of general relativity, gravity, gravitational waves, pulsar, orbit, neutron star, energy).
- Help students identify different uses of transition words or phrases in each of paragraphs to help the writing flow more effectively.
- Point out to students how the writer brings the response to a close in the final paragraph.
3. At the very end of the lesson: Teachers might wish to provide the two guiding questions for this lesson to students and have them respond in writing as part of an exit ticket. Students can use evidence from the article to support their response.
- What does it take to make a theory in science?
- Why is the discovery of actual gravitational waves a big deal?
1. Students will individually respond to the writing prompt. They should be directed to respond with a multi-paragraph response, with a clear introduction, body section, and a conclusion. They can refer back to the text as they construct their response.
2. Provide students with a copy of the writing rubric and go over the rubric with them so they will know how their written response will be assessed.
3. Go over the writing prompt with students and make sure students understand what the prompt is asking them to address.
The prompt: A scientific theory is explanation of natural phenomena that has been repeatedly confirmed through experimentation and observation. Using evidence from the text, explain how Einstein's theory of general relativity is a culmination of many scientific investigations, including the recent detection of gravitational waves.
4. Teachers will use the rubric to assess students' written responses.
Specific suggestions for conducting the Formative Assessment can be found in the Guided Practice and Independent Practice phases of the lesson.
Feedback to Students
Specific suggestions for providing Feedback to Students can be found in the Guided Practice and Independent Practice phases of the lesson where it says, "Common errors/misconceptions to anticipate and how to respond."