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The Air around Us: Exploring the Substance We Live in Capability: Interpret representations NoS achievement aims: Communicating in science Contextual strands: Material world Level : 4

Building Science Concepts, Booklet 30

This resource illustrates how a Building Science Concepts activity can provide opportunities for students to strengthen their capability to make sense of representations in the context of science.

Curriculum Aims and AOs

NZC LINKS: The Nature of Science strand


Achievement objectives relevant to this resource

Communicating in science

Develop knowledge of the vocabulary, numeric and symbol systems, and conventions of science and use this knowledge to communicate about their own and other’s ideas.

L3 & 4:

Begin to use a range of scientific symbols, conventions and vocabulary.

NZC LINKS: Material World


Achievement objectives relevant to this resource

The structure of matter

Understand and use fundamental concepts of chemistry.


Begin to develop an understanding of the particle nature of matter and use this to explain observed changes.

Learning focus

Students work with multiple representations to support their emerging understanding of the particle nature of matter.

Learning activity

Sections 3 & 4 of this booklet (pages 12-15) include a number of activities designed to provide older students with the opportunity to investigate the particle nature of air. The existing activities involve “hands on” experiments and role plays where students pretend they are particles.

Adapting the resource

In addition to role plays, students could be asked to draw pictures that show what is happening to the particles of air. When students have drawn their pictures and talked about what they represent a whole class discussion could be run that probes:

  • How do we know what air particles look like? Do all the particles look the same?
  • Why might it be helpful to draw pictures showing the particles?
  • What are the advantages of the pictures over the role plays for understanding the particle nature of air?
  • What are the advantages of the role plays over the pictures for understanding the particle nature of air?

What’s important here?

Scientists represent their ideas in a variety of ways, including models, graphs, charts, diagrams and written texts. At this level, the important thing is to focus students’ attention on the fact that different representations have different purposes, and scientists choose the best way of clearly illustrating an idea.

Understanding and using the literacy practices of science supports students to think in new ways and supports students to become scientifically literate, i.e., to participate as critical, informed, and responsible citizens in a society in which science plays a significant role. (This is the purpose of science in NZC.)

What are we looking for?

Can students identify the strengths and limitations of a model?

Do students realise models can be used to help explain ideas?

Opportunities to learn at different curriculum levels

For suggestions about adapting tasks in ways that allow students to show progress in gathering and interpreting data see  Progressions .

Exploring further

There are a number of websites that have interactive models of atoms. These could also be used to compare and contrast various models.

Other resources for this capability

Watch Me! (L1) Ready to Read series 2009, Guided Reading level: yellow

Seeds (L1 & 2) Connected 1, 1999

Light and Colour: Our Vision of the World (L1 & 2) Building Science Concepts, Booklet 10

Standing Up: Skeletons and Frameworks (L1 & 2) Building Science Concepts, Booklet 51

An Interview with a Glass of Water (L3 & 4) Connected 2, 2002

Ferns (L3 & 4) Connected 3, 2002

Why Does It Always Rain on Me? (L3 & 4) Connected, Level 3, 2012

Spring is a Season: How Living Things Respond to Seasonal Changes (L3 & 4) Building Science Concepts, Booklet 44

Catch My Drift (L4 & 5) Connected, Level 4, 2012

Bioaccumulation interactive (L5) Science Learning Hub

The elements: element analyser interactive (L5) Digistore on TKI

Garden Bird Survey: Participants’ Stories (L5) Landcare Research webpage

The Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale (L5) GNS Science webpage

Key words

Building Science Concepts, particles