Curriculum & Planning, Lesson Plans, Middle School, Science

Animal Adaptations Web Quest & Research Assignment

Following up a unit on Ecology, my middle school students are currently working on a unit I designed to touch on the Next Generation Science Standards related to Growth, Development, and Reproduction, as well as Natural Selection and Adaptations.  Students are trying to answer the question:

“How does the biological diversity on Earth reflect the wide range of environmental conditions that exist on our planet?”

This unit is sandwiched in my curriculum between a “big view” of ecology and a “teeny-tiny view” of cells.  My goal is to move students from understanding…

1. how everything (living and nonliving) is interrelated

2. to how those living and nonliving things have impacted individual organisms (i.e. the environment has impacted living organisms as they have come to adapt to it)

3. to all of the stuff going on inside those individual organisms.

For that reason, I’ve focused not on the mechanisms of natural selection (genes, heredity, etc.), but simply on how an organism’s structural and behavioral adaptations enable survival (and therefore, eventually, reproduction).  As we “zoom” in closer at the stuff going on inside organisms in the next unit, we will come back to that heredity – answering the question, “How do living organisms pass traits from one generation to the next?”

While many textbooks do this all backwards — they start Life Science looking at cells and then eventually move on to ecology — this structure makes sense for me and my classroom.  For one, my sixth grade students work with two community organizations (Allegheny College’s Creek Connections and PA Sea Grant) to develop and carry out long-term, independently designed investigations that examine our local watershed.  Students are much better prepared to begin work on this project after spending the beginning portion of the year learning about ecology and the interactions in a watershed.  That background knowledge is crucial to developing research projects with depth and relevancy.

The second reason I like to start with ecology is (and yes, this is my personal opinion buuuuut) I think the broad view of ecology is of more interest to students, and it is certainly easier for them to find the connections between the content in their science books (or articles, internet, labs, etc.) and the real world.  Despite the fact that I am now a science teacher (and I love it and I never want to do anything else), I was never “into” science during my K through 12 years.  I mean, I probably liked “moments” here and there in my science education, but I never thought of myself as a “science” person.  It wasn’t until I took Intro to Environmental Science that I realized how fascinating the subject is — and I think it’s because through that class, I learned how connected everything is, and how IMPORTANT science is to our world, and — whether you’re in a science field or not — science is literally everything! Why is it raining? Oh, science. Why do people get sick? Oh, science. Why shouldn’t I put fertilizer on my garden? Oh, science.  Why are raspberries so freakin expensive? Oh, science.  (Obviously, there are many fields of relevance when seeking an answer to these questions, but science is without a doubt one of them!!)

So working from my own experience, my goal is to “catch” them early in the year with the big cool concepts and ideas – the trips to the creek, the water-quality tests, frogs and lizards and fish tank science… and then once I have lured them in,

SNAP.

Let’s talk about cells.

Anyhoo, I apologize for that rabbit trail!! Back to business: Adaptations.

After spending a day or two talking about the different environmental conditions we can find on earth (via a lesson on biomes), we start to focus on how animals (and coming soon, plants) have adapted to survive in these environments.  We focus on structural adaptations first.  We do some hands on activities like “Bird Beak Buffet” (working on that write-up — I’ll post when complete), watch Bill Nye’s Locomotion, do a little book-work from our Life Science Daybook, so on and so forth… Then, we start talking about behavioral adaptations.  Once my students are familiar with the two definitions, I set them free to investigate various adaptations via an Animal Adaptations Web Quest.

I have divided adaptations into four categories – environmental, defensive, locomotion, and feeding. Because we discussed locomotion and feeding prior to completing our web quest, I only have my students do the Environmental Adaptations and Defensive Adaptations pages.  That said, I still included in the document the Locomotion and Feeding pages to give all you readers more options.

Animal Adaptations WebQuest_Page_03

Basically, students use our school’s iPads to define each adaptation and identify an animal that uses that adaptation to survive.  They also are asked to identify whether the adaptation is structural or behavioral (for the environmental and defensive adaptations).  For the locomotion and feeding adaptations, students have to explain what structural adaptations enable that type of movement or diet.  I direct my student’s to BBC’s Nature page on wildlife adaptations because it has great summaries and examples for each, but you could probably do this activity with a good book about adaptations – or a collection of books about various animals. You could even use these pages simply as graphic organizers and present the notes yourself. I do include an “answer key” with information about each adaptation in the PDF file.

Animal Adaptations WebQuest_Page_10

Overall, the activity is designed to touch on the following NGSS standards:

·      an organism’s growth is affected by environmental factors (LS1.B)

·      animals engage in behaviors, like being part of a group, that increase the odds of survival and reproduction (LS1.B & LS1.D)

·      animals use their perceptions and memories to guide their actions (LS1.D)

I follow up this activity with an individual research assignment where students take a closer look at one specific adaptation.  Then, they share their research with the class via a SHORT presentation.

Animal Adaptation Research 2_Page_1

Animal Adaptation Research 2_Page_2

This drawing is probably my favorite:

Animal Adaptation Research 3

So now that we have wrapped up our study of animal adaptations, we are moving on to plants! Stay tuned…

Curriculum & Planning, Lesson Plans, Science

A Book of 5th Grade Science Memories

I posted a few weeks ago a template for a “Science Discovery Book” that I had planned to use with my 5th graders to bring a close to the year.  I asked them to write a paragraph about their favorite science memory this past year and then draw a picture to illustrate it.  I also took a photo of each student dressed in a lab coat, safety goggles, and other science accouterments.  I scanned their drawings, added their photos, and compiled all of their memories into a single PDF file. I have just a few more pictures to add, and then I’ll upload the completed file — probably to Google Drive — and send out the digital file to all of the parents… That way, they can save and/or print their own copies.

If you’d like to try this with your class, you can find the template for this project at my TeachersPayTeachers store.

Check out some of the memories and artwork below:

Education, Lesson Plans, Middle School, Science

Scientific Investigations – Group vs. Independent Work?

This year, my sixth grade students worked in small groups to design a scientific investigation of their choosing that connects to the watershed content we were studying with the help of Allegheny College’s Creek Connections program.  Students first gained an understanding of watershed science, participated in water testing for Cascade Creek, and completed a biological and physical assessment of Cascade Creek’s health. Then, I assigned them to groups based on expressed interest (biological, chemical or physical studies) as well as my perceptions of their ability levels and leadership skills.  Students began background research in class, composed the first two sections of their final reports (introduction and methodology), and finally, were released to carry out their investigations. While several groups designed and carried out excellent studies, some groups really struggled with the group-work aspect of the project.  While it was my intention for the grouping to be an aid to students who may have otherwise struggled with carrying out such an extensive science project, the grouping actually became, for many, the most challenging aspect of the project.

As this became clear to me as the project evolved, I began to make adaptations to the assignment to increase accountability to their work and to their group.  While students were expected to carry out the investigation together, some students ended up doing the bulk of their project alone.  To recognize those students’ hard work, I asked all students to turn in an individual written report for their project.  This report was designed on the traditional format for all organized research and included the following sections: introduction, methodology, data, and conclusion. While all students were required to turn in a separate report, students who worked together and wrote their reports together could simply turn in two copies of the same report.  For students who felt they carried the weight of the project, they could write and turn in a report of their own, and they were under no obligation to share that report (or any aspects of it, such as data, research, ideas, etc.) with their group members.  In this way, students who had no part in the project were not able to skate by on their group members’ work. However, students still received a group grade for the display, as only one display was turned in.  Finally, I asked students to write a reflection of the project in class – How were responsibilities divided? Who did what, in terms of the work? How would you grade yourself and your group-mates? Is there anything I should know about the project? What would you do differently? What recommendations would you give me for next year? Etc.  I found students were very honest, admitting their own lapses and recognizing their partners’ hard work. I added a “participation” grade to their project based on my own observations, these student reflections of others, and the student reflections of themselves.

As I continue this project next year with the new sixth grade class, it is my intention to complete more of the project in class, so I can personally see student involvement.  Also, I have not yet decided if I will group students for this assignment, or ask them to complete an investigation independently.  I believe there are pros and cons to both approaches. The ability to work in a group, and for some to take on leadership roles, is an incredibly important skill, and scientists in the “real world” are constantly working with others, even when they may not be thrilled to!  In that way, this project simulated an authentic scientific investigation, and I think that experience is valuable. At the same time, I don’t want this project to cause more grief than learning.  I also want to be able to truly assess student understanding and mastery of science practices, and group work may make that assessment more difficult if one student carries more of the weight. Whatever way I choose to go, I will definitely make some improvements in terms of accountability.

Do you readers have any thoughts or recommendations? How do you hold students accountable during group work?

Curriculum & Planning, Education, Middle School, Science

Closed Ecosystem Challenge

As we have been working our way through a unit on ecology, I have found the tropical aquarium and frog terrarium in my classroom incredibly helpful.  For concepts like populations, communities, the carbon dioxide – oxygen cycle, and nitrogen cycle, students are presented with concrete examples from classroom pets they have observed all year.

To wrap up the unit, I wanted students to consider and observe the two very important cycles to the preservation of life — the carbon dioxide – oxygen cycle and the nitrogen cycle.  To do this, I divided students into groups and asked them to design a closed ecosystem in which the needs of all organisms are met.  You can check out the assignment pack I gave them, as well as some images of their ecosystems below:

 

Students test their ecosystems for water quality parameters like dissolved oxygen, pH, nitrites, nitrates, and ammonia.
Some students chose to house betta fish in their ecosystems.
Curriculum & Planning, Lesson Plans, Middle School, Science

End Of Year Activity – Science Memory Books

My first year as a 5th and 6th grade science teacher is nearly over.  I have to say, it truly flew by and I absolutely love it.  Science has been such an enjoyable subject to teach, and I have been able to do a lot of really great, hands-on, interactive activities with my students this year. And I have even more ideas for next year as well!

I was brainstorming ways to wrap up the year just last week – I’ve seen memory books, DVDs with photos, slideshows, etc. done before – when I came up with a way to combine all of those awesome things — classroom memories, reflections on learning, fun photos, a take-home copy — into a Science Discovery memory book.

cover page 2

Each student records his or her favorite science memory, and all of the pages can be compiled into one classroom book.  In addition, all students will sign the “Our Scientists” page.  A final page with a quote by Sir William Bragg ends the book.

In my class, I have decided to add a photo of each student dressed as a scientists — lab coat, lab goggles, beakers and other paraphernalia — on their science memory page.  After I collect all of their memories, I will scan each page to create a digital book that can be downloaded and printed by students and parents.

My students have just started this project, so I’ll be sure to post photos of the final product! If you’re interested in using my template, check out my TeachersPayTeachers store: Science Discovery Books by Nicole Fuhrman @ TeachersPayTeachers

Curriculum & Planning, Education, Lesson Plans, Resources, Science

The Next Generation Science Standards & Lesson Planning

At the NSTA’s Boston Conference this year, I attended a Professional Development Institute on the Next Generation Science Standards. Since then, I have been looking forward to taking the time to review the standards in greater depth and consider how I can incorporate them into my curriculum.

I am pretty lucky to work at a private school that gives me a good deal of freedom with what and how I teach.  I have a set of standards for each grade level – but to be honest, they are nearly identical.  There are perhaps ten changes between fifth and sixth grade’s seven page documents.  I have been thinking how challenging it is to cover all of that material in one year’s time (and actually, in only three quarters of the year, because I am supposed to teach health as well!), and really, how unfeasible it is to truly explore the content.

As I started to brainstorm some approaches for next year, it occurred to me that because I teach two grades, and these middle level grades are all working towards the same school curriculum documents and NGSS standards, I could divide the curriculum in half.  Fifth grade could explore one half of the seven page list of standards, and sixth grade could cover the other half.  This allows us to take enough time to truly engage with the content and build science practices, instead of just memorizing and “spitting back” a cursory overview of the topic.

Right now, I’m leaning toward starting with the physical sciences in fifth grade (matter and energy), moving into earth science (energy resources/natural resources), and ending with a unit on weather, climate, and global warming/climate change.  Then in sixth grade, they would begin by taking a broad view of life science through the study of ecology, move into biodiversity, and end with a focus on biology (organisms, life cycles, adaptation, anatomy, etc.).  Additionally, I plan to include a “citizen scientist” project and/or a service learning component. With this approach, I would still meet all the standards I am required to over the course of two years, but students would have time to reach deeper depths of complexity and understanding.

Anyway, I will be posting my unit plans on the blog as I complete them, but in the mean time, check out the new lesson planner I created —

NGSS Lesson - Navy Chevron.pdf (Original)
NGSS Lesson Template

While the other lesson plan templates I have made focused on Common Core State Standards and 21st Century Skills, this template is designed for lessons that align with the NGSS.  There are spaces to checkmark which Science and Engineering Practices students are developing and also which Crosscutting Concepts are to be incorporated into the lesson.  It also has room to record the Disciplinary Core Ideas that the lesson will address, as well as the Performance Expectations students are working toward mastering.  On the second page, there are spaces for you to record your lesson’s Warm Up, Instruction, Activity, and Assessment.

I plan to create more designs for this template, utilizing different colors and patterns.  Do you have any designs you would really want to see? I am always up for suggestions!

Life Lessons, Middle School, Science, Uncategorized

NSTA14 Boston Conference Summary

At the time I applied for the Maitland P. Simmons Memorial Award in November, my goals for this conference were three-fold: improve my understanding and application of inquiry based learning; learn how to utilize technology into my daily instruction; and discover how to incorporate literacy-based activities into my curriculum and develop literacy skills. In the few months since my initial application, as I matured as a science teacher, I found that my goals had slightly changed. Inquiry-based learning and project-based learning still ranked first on my list of conference goals. Similarly, I still wanted to know how to incorporate scientific literacy into my instruction and how to develop my students into science writers through the use of scientific argumentation. Finally, I decided to use this conference as a way to build my content knowledge in topics that I could connect to my curriculum – such as citizen science, ocean acidification and coral bleaching, and climate change. Additionally, I shifted away from the focus on technology and instead directed my efforts to understanding the Next Generation Science Standards.

#nsta14 #nsta nsta
In case you were wondering what to wear at your next #NSTA14 NGSS PDI session… PS: Don’t judge my mirror selfie.

I spent my first day of the conference attending PDI-8 NGSS 101. Through this all-day session, I gained a greater grasp on the NGSS standards and how to use them. Prior to the conference, I found the standards overwhelming—particularly how the disciplinary core ideas, science and engineering practices, crosscutting concepts, and performance standards tied together. I came away from this session with, I believe, a much clearer understanding of the standards. The Disciplinary Core Ideas is the actual science content students should know. The performance standards reveal student understanding—they prove that students understand the DCI. The Science and Engineering Practices are the practices, or approaches, that scientists use as they study the natural world. These are skills that students, as scientists, need in order to find success in the sciences. Finally, the crosscutting concepts are themes or ideas that apply to the many disciplinary areas of science and engineering and unify each of these fields as a natural science. While I’m still not an expert, I feel much more comfortable using these standards and understanding how to truly know if my students have mastered them. I am very excited to take a look at my current curriculum and determine ways I can shift my units to address these NGSS standards!

On a slightly more silly note – I had a great time with these two ladies from Texas! Meet Lara and Kelsey:

nsta14

I also added another goal to my conference “to-do list.”

On Thursday and the first half of Friday, I traveled to research institutions at Cape Cod, Woods Hole, and Northeastern University’s Marine Lab to learn about ocean ecosystems.  This area is very much of personal interest to me – I studied coastal ecology during a short study-abroad session the summer after my freshman year of college, and I am still very drawn to that field.  Even though my students and I don’t live by the ocean, its role in the health of our planet is especially important today as threats of overfishing, climate change, and pollution threaten our stability and perhaps even the survival of our way of life. As a student in a landlocked state, I was never really exposed to the disciplines of coastal ecology and ocean sciences, and I truly wish I had been. I would have loved to study it in more depth during college and perhaps even pursue a career in the field.  It is my hope that by incorporating some ocean science into my curriculum through our examination of climate and climate change, I can expose my students to this interesting field, even though we are geographically removed from the ocean.

Through my field trip experiences, I gained an understanding of the work marine scientists do, their areas of research, and actual fieldwork techniques.  I enjoyed a presentation by a doctoral candidate from Northeastern University who is currently looking at the genetic diversity of algae in intertidal zones, as well as heard how researchers are using synthetic muscle to create robots that respond to “neural impulses” (or something like that. I don’t remember the specific vocabulary, as it was a pretty complex presentation).  It was also very interesting to hear of the work being done at the salt marshes in Cape Cod, particularly the efforts to quantify the “carbon sink” and “methane sink” abilities of saltwater marshes to open the possibility of using marshes as “carbon offsets” or “carbon trading.” I was also able to learn about the history of the region and its contributions to the field of science, such as the fossils that were discovered by Agassiz that filled in some gaps in the fossil record. Finally, I was able to participate in “fieldwork” as we examined the intertidal zone, identifying species and counting number or estimating percent cover in randomly selected plots in the lower, middle and upper intertidal zones.

At Northeastern University’s Marine Science Lab in Nahant, MA.

Friday night I was able to participate in the Teacher Awards Gala at the Renaissance Hotel.  Not only was it wonderful to be a part of the celebration and delicious food, but it was also inspiring to see the achievements of other science teachers.  I am motivated to continue to grow professionally and do what I can to earn another opportunity to attend NSTA’s awards gala. While the PDI on Wednesday allowed me to “check off” the NGSS content on my conference goals list, and through my fieldtrips build my content knowledge, Friday afternoon and all day Saturday were devoted to improving my instruction in the areas of inquiry-based learning and scientific literacy development.  I attended conference sessions on the use of interactive notebooks in science classes (“Writing to Learn Through Science Notebooks/Journals in Elementary and Secondary Classrooms”), the progression from hands-on to mind-based models in science (“Moving from Hands-On Models to Minds-On Models”),  and the utilization of NOAA’s resources for instruction on coral reef and ocean acidification (“Engage Your Students With NOAA’s Coral Reef and Ocean Acidification Resources”).  Additionally, I attended a presentation by Loree Griffin Burns on citizen science designed to engage, inspire and empower students to participate in the science community from a young age, and I learned about the Boston Schools Environmental Initiative’s partnership with Dennis Haley Elementary Pilot School, where an integrated thematic curriculum and a dedication to outdoor learning is engaging students in scientific practices and increasing the relevancy of classroom content.  While I plan to stay in my present position for a few more years, it is wonderful to hear about the success of school and community collaborations like this in the hopes that I may have the opportunity to work in a similar environment someday.

Comic Interlude: Penguins

Finally, although it is not the last session I participated in, I attended the presentation, “To Lead from the Classroom, Get Out of the Classroom!”  My goal in attending this presentation was to identify additional strategies to engage with others and take advantage of opportunities to develop as a scientist, instructor, community member and ultimately, a leader in the field of science education.

Overall, I am so grateful for the opportunity to attend the NSTA National Conference on Science Education, and I can only hope to be lucky enough to attend next year.  Not only was I able to connect with other professionals in this field and learn from their experiences, but I was also able to explore the New England coast and Boston’s city life.  I definitely have expanded my understanding of the Next Generation Science Standards and inquiry-based learning, and I am so excited and motivated to bring that learning to my classroom! Thank you, NSTA for the Maitland P. Simmons Memorial Award!