After giving students an opportunity to consider their thoughts about what is living, I go right into a short video clip that I downloaded from Youtube called, Introduction to the Characteristics of life. It’s visually appealing and it ignites students’ interest and questions about the coming material. It also is the first introduction to material that may be in direct conflict to their misconceptions about what is living or non-living from the warm-up.
After this brief clip, introduce concepts related to the Characteristics of Life. Talk about the content and walk the room to monitor whether students are actively listening and taking notes during the introduction of new material. I always distribute guided notes to students for new content so that I can ensure that students are getting the most critical learning points on paper. The guided notes I use are always 3-hole punched before I distribute them so that students can easily add them to 3-ring binders that are required for my class. Binders help student learn basic organizational skills so I do require that students keep an organized binder for my class.
Literacy is also an important of instruction so be sure to emphasize content specific vocabulary by using a document I call a Vocabulary Map. The vocabulary map allows students to write scientific terms, along with the phonetic spellings, definitions, and word stems or roots that make up the term. Students maintain this list only for terms that have prefixes, suffixes, or Greek or Latin root words. Students maintain a growing record of these terms throughout the year and we add new terms as new content is taught.
The terms that are explicitly taught during this lesson include: biology, organism, homeostasis, autotroph, heterotroph, unicellular, multicellular and photosynthesis. Rather than teaching the definitions all at the start of the lesson, make only a brief introduction on the terms at the start of the lesson and point out that the words are also referenced on the word wall. Its best to wait to define the terms as they come up in material. I really like the vocabulary map because it allows student to “dissect” terms into their root words and this has proved to be very helpful to my students in building scientific literacy.
After teaching growth/development , reproduction adaptations/adjustments, stop the ppt to show between 2-4 organism adaptations from the Life video, Challenges of Life. This segment of the Life series is a great resource for this lesson that can be used to anchor student understanding about adaptations. It is not necessary to watch the entire video so only show 2=3 clips of adaptations. The narrated video provides exposure to the concept of adaptation in a highly visual way that also builds student understanding and increases recall for visual learners.
Distribute white boards and dry erase markers and display a set of images on the LCD projector. Instruct students to identify which characteristic of life is being shown in an image and write it on their individual white board. After they identify the characteristic, instruct students turn their white boards face down; and then call on individual students identify the correct response, one image at a time. After the student gives a response, count 1-2-3 and all students show their cards for image #1. Stop and discuss the “why” for image #1 before moving on the image #2, etc….
I like this activity because it allows me to quickly make a formative assessment of student learning and it allows for the discussion that inevitably arises when students disagree about living vs. nonliving. Look at the answers on the boards and listen to students’ defense of their opinions, using academic discourse prompts. Look and listen for lingering misconceptions about what is living so that corrections can be made
Use vocabulary from the lesson to create a set of vocabulary cards that are placed in a brown paper bag. Walk around the room and allow students to pull a vocabulary card from the bag. After everyone has a card, explain the activity called “Word Squares”. Word Squares involves students identifying any root words in the term, giving their definition of the term, a dictionary meaning of the term(from the notes), drawing a picture or symbol that depicts the term, and using the term in a sentence.
Display a student work sample_ as you explain and model how to complete each of the four squares. Provide markers and colored pencils for students to use the make the work product visually appealing. Allowing students to use markers and colored pencils better engages those students who are artistically inclined.
I tend to spend a lot of time on vocabulary instruction because the achievement gap for many of my students is based on a literacy gap. Using literacy building activities like the Vocabulary Map and word squares allows me to better equip students to close the achievement gap often exhibited on standardized tests. When students know the vocabulary of the content and how to decipher words that they do not even know because of their knowledge of word stems and prefixes, then they are better equipped for academic success.
Students will describe 4 adaptations that they saw in the Life video, Challenges of Life and explain how the adaptation benefited the species.