Students have already shared their background knowledge with me about animals in yesterday's lesson. Now, it is time for me to find out what they know about plants. I like to teach plants and animals together at the beginning of the living organisms unit because they are dependent on each other in habitats. Beginning the unit with that knowledge helps the students understand that they are not separate topics but are actually quite similar in their basic needs and growth patterns.
Also, most first graders have already planted a seed of some sort (usually in a plastic bag and paper towel on a window somewhere!) and have some background knowledge about the subject, so it is important for me to figure out what they know and what they have misconceptions about before I begin actually teaching new content.
For this lesson, my guiding question that I post on the board is: 'What are the basic needs of plants?' which directly relates to the Essential Standard 1.L.1.1 about basic needs of plants. Click here to find out why I teach the Essential Standards for science. Also, this lesson provides prerequisite skills for 1-LS1-1, "Use materials to design a solution to a human problem by mimicking how plants and/or animals use their external parts to help them survive, grow, and meet their needs" because students will begin to understand the basic needs of plants that they need to live and grow.
*A variety of cups, containers, and things that students can choose from to plant their seeds.
*A variety of substrates, such as sand, silt, soil, rocks, etc.
*Gloves for students who may not want to touch these things
*A variety of seeds and things for students to plant, I use a variety bag of birdseed
*Science journal tags with Essential Questions
For this particular lesson, I am going to start with the activity and end with discussion so that students are 'hooked' into the learning completely, and so that I get a genuine understanding of what they already know, so the warm up is short!
"Today, I want to see what you already know about plants. Instead of asking you to write it all down, first, I want you to show me. There are some supplies on this table - you are going to use only what you need and plant something. Work at your own desk, and when you are finished I want you to clean up any messes you make and meet me back on the carpet with your journal and a pencil."
I purposefully do not introduce the materials or give directions before setting the students free to plant something! This might be tough, because I am not sure what I will see! However, my goal today is to see what they know, and chances are, they know how to plant a seed!
Although students are not formally planning how to conduct this investigation on paper, they are going to use their prior experiences with planting and growing things to determine what they do today. This supports Science and Engineering Practice 3 - Planning and Carrying Out Investigations. Practice 4 - Analyzing and Interpreting Data encourages students to collect and record information that explains natural phenomena and scientific relationships. By planting a seed in the way that students think will work and then watching what happens, they are beginning to understand that habitats determine the success of plant (and animal) survival.
As the students work at their desks, I watch to see who can plant a seed, who tries something new or creative, and who is watching other students. This lets know a lot about who my leaders in my classroom are - I may call on them later to lead small groups when we explore the habitats outside around the school. I walk around and ask my students questions like, "What materials are you using?" and "Why did you choose to do it that way?"
After everyone has finished, I ask the students to join me on the carpet. As they transition and we wait for everyone, we sing a quick song that we have been singing for a few days.
I ask two helpers to collect the cups from the tables and put them on my side table, so that they were all out of the way when we returned to the tables in a few minutes.
Then I say,
"Take about 3 minutes and start a new journal page and draw and write about what you just did. This is going to be quiet time, so if you need help spelling something, for now, just do the best you can!"
I give a few minutes for them to record what they did, trying not to interrupt or give them any more information that they already know because after the lesson, I use the journals to find out what their thinking was as they planted their seed.
As they begin to finish this part, I say,
"Now, start a new section on your page and write 'Prediction' and write what you think will happen to your seed. Remember to include details and a diagram if it will help you to explain what you are thinking!"
The prediction supports Science and Engineering Practice 3 which indicates that students should make predictions based on prior experiences. This writing also supports CCSS Writing standard W.1.2, writing informative/explanatory texts, because the students are including the information they know about the basic needs of plants and explaining why they planted their seed the way that they did.
When the group is finished, I collect the journals. Then I say,
"Great! I saw some excellent workers and some people really thinking about what they did! Who would like to talk about what you did today?"
As the students take turns talking, I listen and ask questions about their work like "Why did you choose to do it that way?" and "What made you think of that?" I also want to know why they did not choose certain things - like why nobody (or only a few students) chose rocks, and why some people mixed the sand and the soil. They may have done this for no scientific reason at all, but I will not know if I do not ask! I ask those students specifically, "Why did you choose to mix soil and sand?" and "Why did nobody use rocks?" Students learn from defining what things are, but also from defining what things aren't, so having in depth conversation about this is really important and should not be rushed. Having scientific discourse and listening to other student's ideas and then responding to them engages all students not only in learning information from me as the teacher, but also from their peers.
Since I now have their journals and I will look to see what their background knowledge is from those, I can now start to lead them towards the basic needs of plants. So, I start a new anchor chart to add to my science board about living organisms. At the top, I put "Living Organisms: Plants" and ask the students to tell me what they already know by asking questions like, "What are the basic needs of plants? Where can plants grow? Why do plants die?" I record their information that is correct. If a student says something that is not correct or that I do not know about and need to research, I put it at the bottom under a category called "Need More Info" and explain to them that I am not sure and we will need to research it to find out more. During our school day we actually have a few minutes for "research", so anything on that list I will ask our librarian to look up with the students. Then, those students can come back and report to the group what they found out and we will add to or change the anchor chart based on the information.
After we have recorded our thoughts on the anchor chart, I show the students a short video that has a chant 'military-style' that the students can sing with eventually to learn the needs of a plant! When we finish the chant, I say,
"Who can answer our guiding question for today?"
A few different students can answer the question to summarize our work for the day.
After the lesson, I look closely at the student's journals and record who has a full grasp on basic needs and who really needs more support. The students who already know a lot can become helpers in future lessons, and the students who need more support may need a mini lesson that is more specifically teaching the basic needs.