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The Matter Museum

Context for this Lesson


GRADE LEVEL: 1st Grade

GENERAL TOPICS: Exploring Solids and Word Problems to 20

FOCUS QUESTIONS: What are the characteristics of a solid? How can solids be grouped together? How can we make word problems to 20? How can these word problems take on a physical form?

MATERIALS NEEDED: 5 bags with 20 objects each (objects vary in number and type, but the total number of objects is 20), 5 Display Case Sheets with 20 marked spaces for the word problems reading: “Questions for the Museum, What Matters?”, Certificates of Thanks from the Matter Museum, Additional Markers/Paper for writing out the word problems, Hat/Glases for the character of Molly

TARGETED OBJECTIVES SCIENCE: §112.12. Science, Grade 1, Beginning with School Year 2010-2011. (4)(B) Matter is described in terms of its physical properties, including relative size and mass, shape, color, and texture. The importance of light, heat, and sound energy is identified as it relates to the students' everyday life. The location and motion of objects are explored.

TARGETED OBJECTIVES MATH: §111.3. Math Grade 1, Adopted 2012. (5)(D) Students are expected to represent word problems involving addition and subtraction of whole numbers up to 20 using concrete and pictorial models and number sentences.

TARGETED OBJECTIVES THEATRE: §117 Theatre Grade 1, (3) Creative expression: production. The student applies design, directing, and theatre production concepts and skills. The student is expected to: (D) cooperate with others in dramatic play. (4) Historical and cultural relevance. The student relates theatre to history, society, and culture. The student is expected to: (A) imitate life experiences from school and community cultures in dramatic play



Objective: Embody the expert 

What is an expert? Discuss what the word expert means and how and expert acts and thinks. What tools might an expert carry? Brainstorm some words and write them on the board for reference. (Eventually, we can create a picture of an expert as a reference tool for the class) Take a moment to embody the expert (what does a thinking face look like?)


Because we’re all going to be experts in this next activity!


"In a moment, I am going to put on this hat and these glasses. When I do, I will become an employee at the "Matter Museum." But in order to fully become this character, I need your help! I have a special magic way to help me get into character, and it works like this. Start by rubbing your hands together slowly, then go faster, and faster, and faster, and when the hats are on our heads, pop your hands apart! Now it’s time for me to get into character."

Engage in the “character creation ritual,” finishing by putting on detective hats. As soon as the hats are on, launch into the Shape Detectives Drama.

Molly: "Hello everyone! My name is Molly, and I work at the Matter Museum! The Matter Museum has lots of exhibits about all sorts of matter, and this month, we’re opening a museum exhibit all about Solids! I’m here today because I hear that you are experts on solids, and, well, I need your help. You see, I gathered all of these solids for the exhibit, but they’re all mixed up, and in order to go on display they have to be sorted! If they aren't sorted in time, my boss Mr. Matters will be real upset! I heard that you might be able to sort these solids, do you think you can help me? I have five bags of solids, so we'll need to divide into five groups! Lucky I got your names ahead of time, and I have your groups right here!" 


Lead students back to tables where the class is pre-divided into 5 groups, and give each group a bag of objects.



Give groups time to organize the objects in the bags. Circulate to “take field notes” on paper located at each table. Jot down why students are grouping certain objects are grouped together, encouraging them to think about the different qualities solid matter, and what characteristics cue them into certain objects being the same type of solid. These thoughts will then later be shared during the gallery walk.

Once all groups have finished sorting their solids, walk from one table to the next a class, and observe each grouping of sorted objects.

Side Coaching: Before the gallery walk begins, take a moment to reflect on how we might act in a museum. Have students demonstrate those actions, and then encourage them to embody those characteristics as we view the work of fellow students. 

Take time to stop at each table (each sorted bag of objects) give the group who sorted the objects an opportunity talk about the different qualities of these objects. Have each group share at least one characteristic/quality of matter that helped them sort the solids into different groups, i.e. texture, shape, weight, color, etc. (either they can share, or the teacher can share some of the “field notes” that he/she took during the sorting process).

Depending on time, open it up to the group for some DAR

Describe! - What are other characteristics of these objects

Analyze! - What are these objects?

Relate! - These objects, even though they have different qualities, are all solids!


Molly: "You all did an excellent job! Now since you were such experts grouping the objects, I need your help again. It turns out that each of our display cases only fits 20 objects! I need you to make instructions (a word problem) for the museum exhibit builders so they know how to put each group of 20 objects in the display case!"


Groups must assemble a basic word problem around their 20 objects. Students will be given a “display case sheet” and must place the groups of objects into the display case, then write a word problem that reflects the way they put the object into the case (Note: groups of objects must stay together). When creating the problem, they need to think about and decide on the order of the objects in the display case. Teachers schould circulate and help students write the word problem clearly on a sheet of paper.

After the problems are created, the objects are removed from the display case sheets and mixed up. The groups then rotate tables, and must solve each other’s word problems by placing the objects back into the “display cases.”

After students complete one rotation, gather them in a centralized seating area and conclude the drama.  

Molly: "Wow everyone! Thank you so much! With your help it looks like our new solids exhibit is going to be a smash hit! For your help today, I’d like to present you with a Solids certificate. Congratulations everyone and thank you again for all of your help."

Once the drama is complete, transition out of the drama the same way you get in - through the "character creation ritual" listed above.

"And we’re going to end the drama there. Give yourselves a round of applause!"




  • What did we just do in that activity?
  • What are some of the ways we just described solids?


  • How will our instructions help the Matter Museum employees!


  • How are the instructions we wrote similar to word problems?
  • How might the skill of writing and solving word problems help us become better mathematicians?
Extensions/Applications : 

MATTER MUSEUM EXTENSION:  During the creation of the word problems, photograph the "exhibit" created by each group. Print the photos and create your own Matter Museum Solids Exhibit in the classroom!