The Foundation for a Meaningful Life
Kindergarten - Grade 9 in Southborough, MA
Fay Magazine: Summer 2022

Upper School Science: Storytelling Science

Daintry Duffy Zaterka '88
In physical science classes, eighth graders use storytelling to demonstrate their understanding of force and motion.
What do storytelling and physics have in common? Language plays a significant role in the winter term study of physics, as eighth graders use their growing understanding of force and motion to tackle a variety of speed and acceleration word problems. The Motion Graphs Project challenges students to demonstrate their skill at expressing motion through both language and equations while also depicting movement with graphs that illustrate position versus time and velocity versus time. The process of synthesizing their work in a visual presentation allows students to flex their artistic and creative skills and hopefully have a little fun at the same time!
Physical science teachers Eric Lane and Xiaohu Zhao began the project by asking students to write a story with two main characters, each of whom visits at least five different locations along a number line of destinations. Students could create any setting for their story, from a small town to Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley or an undersea kingdom.
“To understand Newton’s Three Laws of Motion, students must grasp the concept of force acting in a direction,” says Xiaohu. “We talk about how velocity indicates how fast an object is moving but most importantly in what direction it is moving, whether positive or negative.”
To express their understanding of this concept, students were required to have their two main characters start at the same location in the story. They could only travel together on one leg of their journey, had to be traveling at different speeds, and had to travel to “positive” and “negative” locations in relation to the starting point. When students wrote a second draft of the story and added numbers, the challenge was to use reasonable values for distance, speed, and time while incorporating appropriate stopping times at each location. Each character’s movements also had to make sense along a visual number line map and correlate to a position vs. time graph and a velocity vs. time graph. As students had two or more characters, they had to color-code the lines in their charts. The story, location map, and graphs had to be clearly, accurately, and creatively laid out on a poster board. The movement requirements for each character added a layer of complexity to the project that required students to constantly evaluate the action and numbers within their story to ensure the values made sense.
“It was a very logic-heavy process,” says Xiaohu. “As the students depict the movement, they need to be constantly checking to make sure the math is correct, that characters aren’t disappearing, and that they are monitoring where characters are and what they are doing.”

While the project was challenging, its combination of art, storytelling, math, and science offered students a variety of entry points to the project and ways to demonstrate their understanding. Students were engaged by the opportunity to create their own stories and, in some cases, their own worlds! “The characters and events were completely open-ended, and the students were generating their own calculations,” says Xiaohu. “The project was successful because students could connect the concepts to topics and ideas that interested them.”

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