STEM Lab: Evaluating and Communicating About Our Nests

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SWBAT determine how their nests score on the rubric and share what they have learned guided by the engineering design cycle.

Big Idea

How did we do? Share what you know! The last two steps of the engineering design cycle in action!


In this lesson, my students will evaluate their bird's nests that they built in the previous lesson. Then, they will communicate about their experience and share what they learned with other students.

This lesson addresses Essential Standard 1.L.1.1, "Recognize that plants and animals need air, water, light (plants only), space, food and shelter and that these may be found in their environment" because students have created a bird's nest and now are ready to complete the engineering design cycle. It also supports NGSS Standard LS1-2 because students are using texts and media to identify a pattern of behavior that helps birds survive - building nests! 


*Copy of the STEM Design Cycle

*Finished bird nest projects

*Bird Nest Rubric

*iPad or other recording device

*Narrative about making a bird nest (could be done in science journals)

Warm Up

15 minutes

To engage students in thinking about bird's nests, I show this video. Providing the opportunity for students to look at different kinds of nests even after they have built their own continues to grow their knowledge about diversity within this animal class. It also serves as a review of their basic needs, which is Essential Standard 1.L.1.1.

I invite them into conversation about the topic by asking,

"How does the bird's nest you built compare to the ones in the video? Why might they be the same? How are they different?"

I want my students to articulate the basic needs of birds, including shelter, determine where and how they build their nest. As we talk about the features of their own nests and the nest in the video, I purposefully engage students in thinking about features of the nests that are similar. This supports students in thinking about and describing patterns that occur in the natural world, supporting Science and Engineering Practice 4.


15 minutes

At the beginning of the STEM project, I introduced the rubric to my students as their guideline. Now, I review the rubric with them. I say,

"We have already seen this rubric at the beginning of the project, but now it is time for you to use it to evaluate your nest. With your group, you are going to think about each thing on the rubric and check 'yes' or 'no' for each one. Do not change your nest at this time - just evaluate your work with the rubric. You will have about 5 minutes, so work quickly!"

As students work to evaluate their design, I help with the specification that they must be able to pick up the nest without it falling apart. Sometimes my students will be a bit rough and inadvertently damage their design which causes heartbreak for them, so I help with that part. After 5 minutes, I say,

"Bring your rubric back to the carpet but leave your nests at the tables. Now, how did you do?"

I lead the conversation and invite students to discuss how their design worked out. Then I say,

"Part of being a scientist, an engineer, or a mathematician is to improve your design. Improving means to make something better. Do you have any ideas of how you could make your design even better if you had to change it or start over again?"

Communicating about the design and the evaluation supports Science and Engineering Practice 8 which states, "Communicate information or design ideas and/or solutions with others in oral and/or written forms using models, drawings, writing, or numbers that provide detail about scientific ideas, practices, and/or design ideas."


15 minutes

*I ended up having to split the Evaluation section of this lesson and the Communication part up into two days for unrelated reasons. To get everyone back on track the following day, I began by quickly Reviewing the Design Cycle.

The final part of the design cycle is communication, which also supports Science and Engineering Practice 8 as students discuss their design and their results. The design cycle that I created has two smiley faces on the circle with "Communicate" so that students share their new knowledge and experience in two different ways. The first way they are going to communicate about their bird nest is to make a video as a group explaining how they completed the design process. As I record this the other students will communicate through a narrative about making a bird nest. These will be shared with a Kindergarten class who might want to try to make their own nests, which will provide a purpose for writing for my students.

I say,

"Each group will have about 1 minute to make a quick video and explain how they designed and built their bird nest and then to tell what the results were when you tested it. While they are working and recording, let's be respectful and quiet so they can be heard on the video. By yourself, you are going to draw and write about how you made your nest. Then, we will share them with a Kindergarten class and maybe they will try to make their own nests!"

Watch as my students Communicating about the Nests & watch Communicating about the Nests Video 2.

The written part of this activity supports CCSS W.1.3, "Write narratives in which they recount two or more appropriately sequenced events, include some details regarding what happened, use temporal words to signal event order, and provide some sense of closure". We have been working on this writing objective during literacy so my students already have some understanding of how to write a sequenced narrative.

Wrap Up

5 minutes

At the end of this STEM cycle, I want to wrap up the learning about birds so we can continue learning about other living organisms and habitats. Since this is a longer lesson, my Wrap Up is short. I say,

"Turn to a neighbor and tell them about your favorite part of the design cycle and then tell them one thing you might change if you built another bird's nest". 

This gives one more opportunity for communication about our learning, supporting Science and Engineering Practice 8, and provides a quick review of the cycle. Sometimes with the design cycle, we go back and improve our design. With the project, for the sake of time and also the nature of the project being that we can never make a 'perfect' bird's nest, we just talk about improvements and do not devote time to actually implementing their ideas. However, I still feel that just a few minutes of thinking about how we would change our work 'next time' gives the students the opportunity to reflect further on their work.

Formative Assessment

Formative assessment occurs throughout this lesson, by listening to students as they work, as they explain their ideas, and as they reflect on their thinking when we talk about possible improvements. Also, misconceptions can come out when students are asked to engage in so much dialogue about the project - I want to make sure they know about basic needs and habitats!! Listening to students have conversations among themselves as well as informally questioning them as they work gives me as much, if not more, information that I would get on a paper and pencil test. If I discover that any students have misconceptions or do not understand certain concepts, I engage them in conversation about it. This usually happens in a direct way and I am clear with them that I want them to have accurate knowledge. If they say that all birds have three legs, and it is clearly inaccurate, I say something like, "That's not actually true- look at this book...birds actually have two legs. Here's another example on this page..." or "Not quite - birds have two legs. Help me find a picture that proves that..." First graders love to reason about things, but quite often scientific facts are just that--facts!