The beginning of the school year is always challenging for students, they have so many wonderings and questions about their new grade. Most of the lessons I teach begin with a hook, a personal story that I may have from my own experience or a Mentor Text to increase the interest of the students in the lesson that will follow. This is the first lesson I begin my school year with. Gathering a bit of information from the students to see what they know about science, what they remember from their First Grade lessons, generally any background knowledge they have is good place to begin.
I explain that we are going to work as teams this year, and that the grouping of the student desks offers the perfect chance for teams to form. Due to the size of my classroom and the number of desks I have available, I form my groups with four or five students in each group. This number gives me six groups in my classroom and makes for easy management for all types of activities.
I physically walk around the room and touch each desk to demonstrate the desks that are included in the grouping of students and who will make up that designated team. Each team member must then choose a color to represent themselves: purple, blue, pink or green. I chose these colors specifically because I do not change the colors at all during the school year. Students keep their color as long as they remain in their team. The colors make it helpful when I want to call on random students to answer questions or to retrieve materials for group work. For example, I may say, "Green team mates, please stand up and be prepared to answer the following question."
To alleviate the future disagreements that could arise from "who is in charge?" The teams must decide who will be the "team leader" for each day. It is the responsibility of the team to decide who the next leader will be and to create a pattern for their team so they always know who is in charge. If a leader is absent, I explain that it will be the team's job to have a back up plan. I do not get involved in how the children work these situations out. I believe it is important for their social growth to be able to work out situations such as this. Sometimes, this can be challenging. It is so natural to want to step in and take charge, but that is part of their growing is to allow the resolution to uncomfortable situations.
We talk about how teams work and support each other; but that the whole team cannot be in charge. We must take turns to be the "team leader." The teams will have to determine on their own which student will be the first leader and who will succeed each day after that person. The team leader is also the person who speaks for their team each day.
I pose this question to the children..."can anyone explain to me what science is?" I wait for a few minutes while the students are thinking. I don't offer any suggestions, or lead ins. I just wait. This can be really hard, the dead air space is difficult. It is important to all the children to allow time to formulate their own ideas and thoughts. GLAD strategies call this "10/2." The rationale behind it explains that it is important for every ten minutes a teacher talks to the class, the students need two minutes to process or discuss.
Generally, the teams will share ideas like; "We think a scientist does experiments." Or "I believe a scientist asks lots of questions." Anything the children share is right on target. I want them thinking about the possibilities of what a scientist does to make our class discussion much richer.
I have a library bell sitting on my desk. When I ding the bell, all conversation stops and the team leader stands up. When the leader stands up, they must be prepared to speak up and report what their team discussed. Hopefully, it is the answer to the question. I call on each group one by one, to share their discussions.
Sometimes, groups cannot agree on what to say. They must put their heads together again, and quietly discuss their ideas. It is only the team leader who speaks for the team. This builds confidence in the team and responsibility in the individual students.
When all the teams have had a turn to share their conversations, I ask them to come and join me on the carpet (our meeting place).
When all the children are seated comfortably on the rug, I tell them I have a book I want to share with them. I show them my book, What is a Scientist?
The book is written in a simple language and outlines the process skills of scientists during their exploration into an investigation. I explain that this book may offer some more ideas that may help us to understand what a scientist is and does.
"Boys and girls, this book is going to share some new words and ideas for us about what scientists do. I think we may be able to learn more about how scientist do their jobs when we read this book. Try to listen really carefully for any new words or ideas you hear as I am reading. We will talk about them after we have read the book."
I begin reading, encouraging with my facial expressions and continued reading to finish the book in its entirety. I try not to stop reading and read continually through the first setting. I believe it is important for the continuity of the information.
After I have read the book, I have the students turn to someone sitting next to them. "Boys and girls, would you please have a short conversation with someone sitting next to you and talk about what this book we just read was about."
I listen closely to as many conversations as possible. I like to hear the language that the children use. It gives me a good indication of the language they picked up from the book or perhaps the language they already may have in their speaking vocabularies.
Now, that the children have had a chance to hear and listen to a great mentor text book with rich language and concepts explaining what scientists do, it is time to put their new knowledge into a new format. I use anchor charts for many of my lessons. My preferred chart for the beginning of concept learning is the What is a Scientist Circle Map. Circle Maps offer a great way to brainstorm ideas, or gather information in a central location about a specific topic or concept.
I have the map made ahead of the lesson on a large white piece of chart paper. "Boys and girls now that we have read this great book and learned about scientists and what they do, I want us to put all those new ideas on an anchor chart for us to remember our new learning. I am going to write the words What is a Scientist? here in the middle of the circle. "
"Please work in your table teams again and discuss what some of the ideas were that we just read about. Remember when I ring the bell, team leaders need to stand up and be prepared to speak for their team. If you are not the team leader today, you job is to support your team with positive conversation. Your leader will speak for your group."
I give students about four to five minutes to have their dialogue about what a scientist is. I ring the bell and we proceed. I usually will choose the first group that is quiet and prepared to speak. "Ok, thanks for being ready and prepared. What did your group discuss?"
"Scientists ask questions." "Great" I write this idea on the outside of the circle and ask the next group. We continue until each group has shared one idea. I have six groups, but there will be more ideas, so we continue discussing until we have included all ideas from the mentor text we read.
When the chart is completed, I focus on all the skills that it will take to become a quality scientist. I explain to the children, "well, it looks like we are going to have our work cut out for us this year. If we are going to be great scientists, we will have to work on all these skills too. I am pretty sure we can do it. What do you think?"
The response is always overwhelmingly, "YES!!!"
After we have filled in the Circle Map and spent a lot of time talking about what scientists do, I like to do it one more time. This time, however, it takes on a different format. Pinterest has many great suggestions demonstrating anchor charts for this subject. I choose one and have it prepared before we begin the lesson. My favorite is the anchor chart with the scientist drawn that looks like a crazy scientist.
I have the students put their heads together (a cooperative learning strategy) to discuss what they remember from their first discussions, reading the mentor text and the circle map. I usually know when it is time to bring the students back to the whole group discussion when I hear conversation that is not related to our topic. I ring the bell and ask all team leaders to stand up. Each table team is given an opportunity to share a process skill. I like to write that skill next to the part of the scientists body that would make sense for the process skill. I really want those words floating around and laying a foundation for future lessons. I try to bring this language out as often as I can. For example, I may write the word observation next to his eyes and the word communication next to his mouth.
When the chart is completed, I hang it in a prominent place in the classroom. One where is it is easy to see and allows me to refer to it often. It will become a big part of many lessons in the next couple of weeks.
I also take a digital photo of the anchor chart and reproduce it for the students in a smaller format at later time to glue into their own personal science journals.
As a final formative assessment to see how much the students were able to take in from the lesson, I give them the Scientist Tree Map and allow them to work independently. The map gives me a good idea of their understanding of the new vocabulary in the process skills and how they use them with the verbs on the tree map.
If the children are not able to do the tree map independently, another option is to have them work together in groups. It may be a good idea to first model the concept of how to sort the words into the three groups on a document camera.
The following day, after the class has had time to really think about all the discussion about what scientist's do, it is good to see what their have come away with. I like to give my students a probe.
I really love the Page Keeley Uncovering Students Ideas series. The probe, Doing Science, is really created for upper grade students is a good activity to see if your students really ingested the conversations and dialogue that happened in yesterday's lesson. Because the lesson is designed for upper level students, I adapted it down a tiny bit for my students.
I offer the page to the students.
"Boys and girls, I am going to ask you to look at this page with me. I will read all the text that is on the page, but I would really like for you to answer the question as best as you can on your own. Down below the page I would like you to explain your thinking. This means that I would like for you to tell me WHY you answered the question the way that you did."
I let the students work for about fifteen minutes on the probe. Much more than that and they really won't write anything. I want to get a feel for what they remember from the prior days lesson and what they have assimilated from the conversations.
After all the children have had a chance to finish, I gather all the papers. I take them home later to read and sort through. Sorting through them, offers me a chance to gather my own data on the students, their perceptions, ideas and maybe even still any misconceptions they may have. All this information will be filled away for me to use if necessary in future lessons.
If I find that many of the students did not pick up on what scientists do (the process skills), I will revisit the lesson again and review the book, anchor chart and standards.