During third term, I have spent part of Thursday mornings at Lee Elementary, learning with Sandy Rasoda and her grades 6 & 7 students. Sandy has been teaching this grade level for many years and asked me if we could look at a science unit she has traditionally done by using the science text book and instead, look at the topic of “diversity of life” through an inquiry-based approach.
I looked at the three prescribed learning outcomes for this life sciences topic for grade 6:
•demonstrate the appropriate use of tools to examine living things that cannot be seen with the naked eye
• analyse how different organisms adapt to their environments
• distinguish between life forms as single or multi-celled organisms and belonging to one of five kingdoms: Plantae, Animalia, Monera, Protista, Fungi
After looking at the learning outcomes, I tried to think about the big ideas we needed to get to and what experiences we might provide to the students to help them get there.
On my first visit to the class, we had a short discussion about what makes a living thing a living thing and then went for a walk in the neighbourhood looking for different examples of living things.The students were very curious about the names of many of the plants we found in gardens and along the ditches. We were lucky to hear a frog croaking and to see mushrooms, lichen and moss just outside the school. I took photographs along the way.
What makes a living thing a living thing?
What living things can we observe in our community?
When we got back to the classroom the students recorded the living things they observed and added questions they were wondering about.
The next week, I brought a ditch dipper so that we could collect some water samples along with other specimens to look at with magnifying glasses and microscopes. We had petri dishes and pipettes available and there is something about using real science equipment that elevates students’ engagement. We discussed the difference between viewing something with the “naked eye” and with a magnifier of some sort. The students were hesitant with the microscopes and had difficulties adjusting the focus and had to move the illuminator around to get enough light. The students recorded their observations, comparing what they could see with and without a magnifier/microscope.
What tools can we use to examine living things?
During another class, I gave each group of students a set of photographs of different living things we had observed outside. I read a simple picture book introducing the big idea of classification and the five kingdoms and then the groups worked together to sort their photographs into kingdoms. During this task, the idea of sub-categories within a kingdom emerged and students began to consider how to categorize different types of plants and animals by their features. We had given the students the three learning outcomes on a sheet of paper at the beginning of our study and they had this in their science notebooks and used it to record notes and new learning during our investigations.
How do we classify living things?
In-between my visits Sandy provided opportunities to extend their learning about both microscopes and the kingdoms and were given choices as to how they might show what they had learned. Some students did powerpoint presentations, some did booklets or posters and some use movie apps on the iPad to create their presentations. The students had opportunities to teach another grades 6&7 class how to use the microscopes as well as one of the primary classes in the school. Sandy was clearly able to see that they “got it” and this just came from repeated experiences actually using the microscope.
We had such great weather this spring and during one of my visits, Sandy suggested we take the microscopes outside to the picnic benches. The students learned how to safely carry the microscopes and their confidence was growing. One student even commented how great it would be to have a fine adjustment on the microscopes – they were learning the different functions of the microscope and its potential. The students looked at previously collected specimens and also found some new ones to examine.
We also looked at some amazing images taken through microscopes, including some amazing electron microscopes
We then used a Zoomy digital microscope to take our own images of various specimens, including a fly the students found in a windowsill and a ladybug and spiderlings the students brought in from outside.
Using some local examples and examples from recent news items, we discussed how living things have adaptations, focusing on structural and behavioural adaptations. Using the app HaikuDeck, the students created a slideshow of what they had learned about different adaptations.
How do living things adapt to their environment?
The following is one pair of students’ project.
I brought in glass slides and cover slips, tweezers and pipettes so that students could prepare their own slides to view under the microscope.
The students also has an opportunity to view prepared slides under the microscope, including microscopic organisms from the Protista and Monera kingdoms.
What do microscopic organisms look like?
At the beginning of June, we asked the students to consider a mini-ecosystem or habitat in the neighbourhood and we went outside with the iPads to take some photographs. The students were asked to synthesize what they had learned about the classification of living things as well as adaptations.
What have you learned about living things in our community?
The minimum criteria for this project was to include living things from two different kingdoms and highlight an adaptation. The students could choose from using the Skitch or Popplet apps.
The following are some examples of the students’ projects:
Throughout this experience I have heard comments from students such as “science is so fun!” and of course this makes my heart sing a little. Learning can be fun…complex concepts and big thinking can be fun. Meaningful engagement with any content begins with the students…where will they find connections? what will make this learning important and purposeful to them?
I think we got there with this class. High engagement and students able to fluently discuss concepts such as the classification of living things and structural and behaviour adaptations of animals and plants in their neighbourhood. The students were all able to confidently use a microscope and teach other students from other classes about how to use a microscope.
“This unit traditionally for me would be a ‘textbook’ unit with possibly one or two experiments. Instead, Janice took us on nature walks where we were out in our environment exploring and learning about Living Things. The students eagerly found specimens they brought back to look at through the microscopes. Every lesson was a hands on lesson where the students questions led them to finding answers and solutions through experimenting with materials from the real world. It was great for me to see how much the kids “loved” being scientists.” ~Sandy