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Teacher's Guide
Dirtmeister's Science Reporters: Friction
Grade Levels: 3 – 6

^Activity Snapshot
^National Standards Correlations
^How to Use this Activity
^Background Information

Activity Snapshot
Science is all around us — from a bicycle brake to a pine cone to a flag pole. In "Dirtmeister's Science Reporters," students lead their own investigation in observing, identifying, and describing the science found in their world — then write about their findings. With the help of science expert Steve Tomecek (the "Dirtmeister"), students learn to ask scientific questions, communicate their observations, and construct explanations of natural phenomena.

In this installment, "Dirtmeister's Science Reporters" focuses on friction. Students are challenged to find and report on one way that friction works either for or against them as they go about their day. Using the questions on the assignment sheet, students take notes on a "friction event," whether friction is helping to get something done or whether it is making it harder, and what could be done to either increase or decrease the friction. When students complete their observational reports, they turn their notes into a completed report.

This activity offers an exciting way to teach inquiry-based science, as each new investigation helps reinforce basic science concepts.

Learning Objectives
Through participation in "Dirtmeister's Science Reporters," students will:

  • Explore, observe, and describe the world around them.
  • Identify various phenomena in the real world.
  • Investigate materials, organisms, and properties of common objects.
  • Construct explanations of natural and man-made phenomena.
  • Develop the ability to ask scientific questions, investigate aspects of the world around them, and use their observations to construct reasonable explanations for the questions posed.
  • Ask questions about objects, organisms, and events in the environment.
  • Use data to construct a reasonable explanation.
  • Communicate their ideas to others.
  • Develop their science knowledge.
  • Learn through the inquiry process how to communicate their own investigations.

Time Required
Teachers who participate in "Dirtmeister's Science Reporters" should allow students two class periods (45-minute blocks) to complete the assignment. This includes time for students to retrieve and review the assignment, read the background material, find and observe their subject, answer questions about their findings, and write their reports.

You may wish to assign the step of finding and observing a subject as homework. We also suggest that students who participate submit a "draft" of their report to you before final writing. In this way, you can determine if the student is "on target" with his or her assignment.

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National Standards Correlations
The "Dirtmeister's Science Reporters" friction investigation helps students meet the following science content standards as set forth by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences.

  • Students conduct a simple investigation. (Content Standard A)
  • Students communicate investigations and explanations. (Content Standard A)
  • As a result of these activities, students develop an understanding of the properties of objects and materials. (Content Standard B)
  • Students discover and understand that the position and motion of an object can be changed by pushing and pulling. (Content Standard B)
  • Students understand that heat can be produced by rubbing two objects together. (Content Standard B)
  • Students understand that an object that is not being subjected to a force will continue to move. (Content Standard B)
  • Students understand that energy is a property of many substances and can be transferred in many ways. (Content Standard B)

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How to Use This Activity
In "Dirtmeister's Science Reporters" students are introduced to new science concepts. After gaining knowledge about the concept by reading background information, students seek out an example of that concept in the real world — whether it's found in their home, school, or community. They answer questions about their observations using an observation sheet provided by the Dirtmeister. This observation sheet encourages scientific observation, critical thinking, and directed student writing.

Finally, students write their reports. They can see samples of what other students have found.

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Background Information: Friction
In this installment, we explore the force of friction and how it impacts on our day-to-day lives. Like gravity, air pressure, and static attraction, friction is a force that comes into play whenever two objects move. Friction can either be beneficial or it can work against you. When you walk across the ground, it's the force of friction that gets you going. If your feet didn't rub against the ground, you would have nothing to push against and you would go nowhere fast! Of course, when the ground is wet or covered with snow, the amount of friction is reduced — so to help you get a better grip, you wear shoes with deep treads or cleats.

While friction does help us "get a grip," in many cases it's more of a hindrance than a help! Whenever two things rub together, friction takes some of the energy of motion and converts it to heat. This not only slows down things, but means that some energy is literally going up in smoke, which is usually a waste. For centuries, engineers and designers have tried all sorts of tricks to reduce energy losses — due to friction — while moving objects. Unfortunately, on our earth, it's virtually impossible to eliminate "the big rub" — since the air is there, there is always something to rub against!

Two key ways that people have used to cut down on friction are: (1) to reduce the surface area between the things that are doing the rubbing, or (2) to use some type of lubricant to make the surfaces more slippery. The easiest way to reduce surface area is to make things smoother. Every lump and bump on the surface of an object adds tremendously to the overall surface area; this in turn increases the friction. By sanding a surface smooth, many of the extra points of contact are eliminated. When a lubricant such as water, grease, or oil are added, the same objective is being accomplished. The lubricant literally "fills in" the tiny holes of a surface, which allow them to slip past each other.

A good place to explore friction is the animal kingdom. How have humans "borrowed" adaptations from animals when it comes to friction? How does a squid compare with a rocket? Do boats and sharks have anything in common? How does the bottom of a snake compare with the bottom of a sneaker? Remember, the animal kingdom was dealing with friction long before there was technology!

You and your students can find out more about friction in the investigate the facts section.

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Here are some suggestions to enhance the experience of Dirtmeister's Science Reporters for your students:

  • Have the class make a list of all the different places where they encounter friction in and around their classroom environment.
  • Have students describe how they might be able to decrease the amount of friction working against them when they ride their bikes, use roller skates, or use a skateboard.
  • For younger students — those in grades K–3 — have them make friction boards by gluing different materials on pieces of wood and rubbing a wooden block against them. Try sandpaper, aluminum foil, felt, waxpaper, etc.
  • Have an invention convention where students create their own "Friction-Free" vehicle. These can either be real or fictitious.
  • Talk with your school librarian or media specialist about researching friction in the library, including books and multimedia resources. (See "Resources" section below.)
  • Have the class use the computer to search the Web for supplementary articles on friction.
  • Provide space on a classroom bulletin board for the Dirtmeister's Science Observer.
  • Using computer software such as ClarisWorks™ or Microsoft Works™, have students create and maintain electronic science journals. Encourage students to illustrate their work by using the software's drawing or painting features. This is an excellent way of keeping notes and storing reports for future use.

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The following Scholastic supplemental materials can be used in conjunction with Dirtmeister's Science Reporters:

  • Big Books: Science (Grades K–4). This book series covers a variety of topics, from bugs to wind. They are brightly illustrated and great for the classroom library.
  • Be a Scientist skills books (Grades 3–6). This series includes featured scientists, hands-on activities, and an emphasis on practical process skills. The series consists of three sets of three books each for grades 3–4, 4–5, and 5–6.
  • Super Science (Grades 3–6). Super Science covers science news and classroom-tested experiments for extending the learning experience of science concepts and integrates science with reading, math, language arts, and social studies objectives already in the classroom curriculum.
  • Quick and Easy Learning Centers: Science, by Lynne Kepler (Grades 1–3). This Professional Resource book focuses on the use of everyday materials to promote independent, hands-on learning. Information on how-tos, management, experiments, and reproducibles are included in this helpful book.

Complete descriptions of these resources and more can be found in Scholastic's Supplemental Materials Catalog. You can also call Scholastic directly at 1-800-724-6527.

Related Web Sites

General Science Sites

The Natural History Museum (London)

Edison National Historic Site

Endangered Species Program

National Inventors Hall of Fame

Understanding Our Planet Through Chemistry

Maps and References

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