Building a Nest of Essential Questions

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SWBAT ask and answer questions about how animals survive.

Big Idea

A little birdie told me... that we are starting a new Life Sciences unit! Today we build the foundational "nest" as we introduce Essential Questions.

Field Guide (Instructional Notes)

Welcome to the beginning of an NGSS-aligned first grade unit on Life Sciences: Structure, Function, and Information Processing.  I chose to center this unit on a particular type of animal, namely, birds.  This way, my students can have a greater focus and depth within each of the content standards.

In today's lesson, we unpack the Essential Question: How do birds meet their needs to survive?  I find that Essential Questions truly ground a unit, as we continually revisit the question and add to our understanding.  I display the Essential Question on a science-specific type of KWL chart called a KLEWS chart.  Anchor charts, such as the KLEWS chart, help me (the teacher) and students organize new learning in a memorable, visual way.  

Before teaching a unit, I like to unpack the enduring understandings that we are moving towards.  In this unit, we are addressing how birds have specific adaptations that help them survive in nature.  By the middle of the unit, students will be able to describe what it means to meet needs for survival (finding food, using external parts, and adapting to changes in habitat or environment).  Students then focus on defining problems that we have at school, and design a product mimicking an external part of a bird.  The last section of this unit then focuses on how adult birds help their offspring survive.  The final NGSS content standard 1-LS3-1, which states that young animals are like, but not exactly like, their parents will be embedded as well.

Today's lesson addresses a portion of NGSS standard 1-LS1-1 by assessing prior knowledge students bring about how animals survive.  This is an incredible meaty standard.  I'll cite it when I address the external parts or survival components of the standard, and also later when we begin engineering a solution to a problem.  This lesson also incorporates the Science Practice of asking and answering questions, as we ask and begin to answer our Essential Question.

As a final note, at the beginning of this unit, I send home a project packet with students to incorporate STEAM (STEM + Art).  I love involving families in our learning, and these art activities and recipes are all bird-themed.  Most of these ideas were on Pinterest, and I gathered them together, so if you search me on Pinterest, look for my board that has them all.  I ask families to complete any two of the activities.  I also send home a bird template on cardstock with each student.  Families can help the student create a unique bird that represents the child (maybe painted in a favorite sports team colors, or covered in pink glitter and feathers!).  I bring in a large stick to hang from the ceiling tiles horizontally, and then I hang the student birds from the stick with clear fishing string so they "fly."  

Take-off (Warm-up)

5 minutes

I start out by asking students to visualize as I play sound clips of birds chirping.  The video below is one of many online.  I play about 1 minute of it. 

Close your eyes and make a picture in your brain-- visualize-- as you listen to this recording.  

Then, I play the clip a second time as I ask students to "make their picture bigger."

Now, I am going to play the same sounds.  As I play it this time, I want you to make your picture bigger.  Zoom out from what you see.  What is happening in your brain's movie?

After listening a second time, I ask students to turn-and-talk to share what they visualized. Discussion is so important!  It gives *all* students the chance to process the question, get their ideas together, and practice listening and speaking skills.  Discussion also works wonders for your shy students!  I have students turn-and-talk, and then I call on a few to share with the larger group.  Hint: While students are sharing, I make sure all friends have found a partner.  Then, I try to listen in and find unique ideas that will take our conversation farther.

Today as I listen in, I want to hear if students are using actual names for birds (like cardinals) or more generic terms (like red birds).  Essentially, I am assessing their schema, or background knowledge, about birds.

After students share, I like to think-aloud about how joyful and peaceful I feel when I hear birds chirping.  I ask if bird sounds make them feel good on the inside as well.

Soaring to New Heights (Exploration)

20 minutes

I introduce the KLEWS chart, and at the top is written the Essential Question: How do birds meet their needs to survive?  I tell students that we are beginning a new science unit and that we will be recording our thinking on this chart as we go.  I read the Essential Question to them, but I am not expecting them to answer or even discuss it yet.  We can't lay the eggs before we've built the nest, right?

Under the K section, what we already Know, I have written our first discussion question for the day, What is special about birds?  I have students write their schema on sticky notes and put them right under the K column.  While students write, I circulate.  If students give a short answer like "birds fly," I follow-up with something like, "How does ___ make them special?"  Extending student responses will often lead to richer conversations!  Student many times give specific examples of birds here, like owls hunt at night.

I play a transition song, and I read student responses.  I link together sticky notes with similar information.

Next, I uncover the second discussion question that will help me assess their prior knowledge, What birds do we know?  Do we know key details about them?  I explain that they will complete this task with partners.  In this case, students will work with the person next to them at their desks.  I arrange desks in groups of 4, so that everyone has an "elbow buddy."  

In your Science Journal, we are in a new unit.  Turn to the first empty page in your journal.  (I literally wait until *all* students are ready before moving to each next step because this is the first time we are entering a new unit.)  Great.  Put a sticky note at the top of your page so that it hangs out at the top, like a bookmark.  Write the word "Birds" on the part sticking out.  Great.  Next, you will draw a line down the middle of the page.  On the left, write the title "Birds."  Now on the right side, write the words "What I Know."  Those are the details, or important stuff, you know about a bird already.

I model writing one key detail in my journal.

I know a bird called a flamingo.  (Oohs and nods here.)  I will sound out and write the word flamingo as best as I can under the word "Birds."  I know flamingos are pink and sometimes stand on one leg.  I will write "pink" and "stand on one leg" under "What I Know."

Now, students work with partners and write in their Science Journals.  I use marbled composition notebooks for each student, but you can use the Know Response Sheet or any lined paper instead.  I give the groups about 5-7 minutes to write types of birds and their knowledge.  While they are writing, I circulate and assist by keeping selected students on track.

Landing (Closing)

5 minutes

I play a transition song, and students bring their Science Journals to the carpet.  We come back together to share a few examples.  

It was my plan to reread the Essential Question: How do birds meet their needs to survive?  I planned to ask students to look over what they know so far about birds.  Do any of their key details have to do with things birds need to do to survive, like eat?  I would write those specific examples under the second discussion question in the Know section.  However, we ran short on time.  I will begin with this idea in the subsequent lesson warm-up.

After the lesson, I consolidated the student sticky notes and wrote the information on the KLEWS chart.

Here are some student work samples!

The Baltimore answer  I think it's funny that many students in my class think Ravens are actually purple. I will need to correct this misconception!

Student work I think the 2-page spread layout was confusing for many of my students. In retrospect, I should have modeled how to draw lines between different birds, or provided the response sheets. You can see this friend began by writing across the pages, but then wrote only on the right side.

Accelerated student work My students often ask, "How can I challenge myself?" Today, I told them that the challenge was to write *more.* This friend did just that! And, he included a fact from an article we'd read earlier that day; woodpeckers build a nest in the fall.

Basic student response This friend copied my example, that flamingos stand on one leg. Then, he wrote about "red" birds. Many of my students do not know proper names for birds, so I will incorporate them throughout the unit and also send home a sample field guide.

Sample student work This friend has some good schema about birds. For example, hawks have beaks and robins are red. This is a good basis for where we will go in this unit.

Student with good experiences "That a blue heron stands on one foot. A red bird came to my Poppy's feeder." This friend has some great experiences with birds, including herons which are popular in our area. He will be a good source of information in this unit.