Sunday, May 6, 2018

Sheep in a Jeep - Using Picture Books to Teach Science

Sheep in a jeep on a hill that's steep!

I read this book to my daughters about a ker-billion times and never noticed it was actually about forces and Newton's Laws. And I am a high school physics teacher.

At a workshop this weekend, I was sharing with Surrey teachers how to use picture books, like Sheep in a Jeep, to teach science. I challenged the teachers to try to re-create a scene from the book using only the materials they had on the table. Most groups re-created the scene where the sheep rolled the jeep down (gravity) a steep hill (Hot Wheels track) and got stuck (friction) in gooey mud (rolled up fabric).

But one group chose a seemingly simple scene that shows the power and depth of using picture books to teach science.

In this scene, the sheep are trying to pull the jeep out of the gooey mud. They have tied a rope to the bumper and the sheep tug. They use a force to pull the jeep. But the jeep doesn't move! Sheep shrug.

This is a deceptively powerful moment. Imagine a grade 2 student grappling with the Big Idea: Forces influence the motion of an object. But in this case, the force does NOT cause motion. What a baffling scenario! Why does this happen?

This is because of Newton's First Law. Perhaps a little advanced for Grade 2 but early exposure to the concept is good. The basic idea being that the jeep doesn't move because there are balanced forces acting on the jeep. The pulling force of the sheep is perfectly balanced by the gooey, suction, friction force of the mud.

Sheep yelp! Sheep get help!

Some brawny pigs with sailor tattoos come to help the sheep. The jeep comes out!

Why does the jeep move this time? Now the pulling force increases because, as everyone knows, pigs are stronger than sheep. When the pulling force exceeds the gooey, suction, friction force, we have unbalanced forces which cause a change in motion.

Newton's First Law is an incredibly complex and difficult concept. A picture book provides students an easy and engaging way to begin to question, explore and experiment.

Picture Perfect Science is an excellent series with many inquiry science lessons based on picture books. The original idea for the Sheep in a Jeep activity comes from this book.

Every Surrey elementary school received a copy of each of the 3 Picture Perfect Science books last year as a part of our Science resource workshops. You should find the books in the Teacher Resource section of your library.


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