The Animal Kingdom: Vertebrates (Day 1)

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SWBAT classify vertebrate animals into phylums according to certain physical similarities.

Big Idea

In this lesson, students research the vertebrate animal kingdom using an online resource. Then, each team of students create a Powerpoint Presentation to present information on the vertebrate phylums.

Lesson Overview

Inquiry Based Instructional Model

To intertwine scientific knowledge and practices and to empower students to learn through exploration, it is essential for scientific inquiry to be embedded in science education. While there are many types of inquiry-based models, one model that I've grown to appreciate and use is called the FERA Learning Cycle, developed by the National Science Resources Center (NSRC):

1. Focus

2. Explore

3. Reflect

4. Apply

A framework for implementation can be found here

I absolutely love how the Center for Inquiry Science at the Institute for Systems Biology explains that this is "not a locked-step method" but "rather a cyclical process," meaning that some lessons may start off at the focus phase will others may begin at the explore phase. 

Finally, an amazing article found at, How Inquiry-Based Learning Works with STEMvery clearly outlines how inquiry based learning "paves the way for effective learning in science" and supports College and Career Readiness, particularly in the area of STEM career choices. 

Unit Explanation

In this unit, students will first develop an understanding of the biotic and abiotic factors within ecosystems, the characteristics and classification of living organisms, and how plants and animals obtain and use energy to fulfill their needs. 

Then, students will delve deeper into the NGSS standards by examining the interdependent relationships within an ecosystem by studying movement of matter between producers, consumers, and decomposers by creating models of food chains and food webs.  

At the end of this unit, students will study ways that individual communities can use science ideas to protect the Earth's resources and environment.  

Summary of Lesson

Today, I will open the lesson by reviewing key vocabulary. Students will then explore the vertebrate animal phylums by researching each phylum using an online resource. Each team will construct several Powerpoint Presentation slides on each phylum, including pictures, facts, and videos. 

Next Generation Science Standards  

This lesson will support the following NGSS Standard(s):

5-PS3-1.    Use models to describe that energy in animals’ food (used for body repair, growth, motion, and to maintain body warmth) was once energy from the sun.  

5-LS2-1.    Develop a model to describe the movement of matter among plants, animals, decomposers, and the environment.  

In order to truly grasp an in-depth understanding of the above standards, it is important to students to understand:

  • what organisms are animals 
  • why an organism is a animal instead of a plant & how this changes the organism's role in the environment
  • how different animals take in energy
  • what types of environments different phylums of animals live within and how these animals interact with the environment


Scientific & Engineering Practices

For this lesson, students are engaged in the following Science & Engineering Practice:

Science & Engineering Practice 8: Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

Students obtain ideas through researching, viewing, and discussing. Then, they communicate newly learned information by creating slides in a Powerpoint Presentation. 

Crosscutting Concepts

To relate ideas across disciplinary content, during this lesson I focus on the following Crosscutting Concept

Crosscutting Concept 1: Patterns

Students organize and classify the vertebrate animals into phylums. They also identify relationships, similarities, and differences between these animals. 

Disciplinary Core Ideas

In addition, this lesson also aligns with the following Disciplinary Core Ideas

LS1.C:  Organization for Matter and Energy Flow in Organisms

Food provides animals with the materials they need for body repair and growth and the energy they need to maintain body warmth and for motion. (secondary to 5-PS3-1)

LS2.A:  Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems

The food of almost any kind of animal can be traced back to plants. Organisms are related in food webs in which some animals eat plants for food and other animals eat the animals that eat plants. Some organisms, such as fungi and bacteria, break down dead organisms (both plants or plants parts and animals) and therefore operate as “decomposers.” Decomposition eventually restores (recycles) some materials back to the soil. Organisms can survive only in environments in which their particular needs are met. A healthy ecosystem is one in which multiple species of different types are each able to meet their needs in a relatively stable web of life. Newly introduced species can damage the balance of an ecosystem. (5-LS2-1)

LS2.B:  Cycles of Matter and Energy Transfer in Ecosystems

Matter cycles between the air and soil and among plants, animals, and microbes as these organisms live and die. Organisms obtain gases, and water, from the environment, and release waste matter (gas, liquid, or solid) back into the environment. (5-LS2-1)

ELA Integration

To add depth to student understanding, when I can, I'll often integrate ELA standards with science lessons. Today, students will work on meeting CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.5.7: Conduct short research projects that use several sources to build knowledge through investigation of different aspects of a topic. Students will use several sources (one on each phylum) to conduct research and will use this collected body of knowledge to present information about vertebrates.

Choosing Science Teams

With science, it is often difficult to find a balance between providing students with as many hands-on experiences as possible, having plenty of science materials, and offering students a collaborative setting to solve problems. Any time groups have four or more students, the opportunities for individual students to speak and take part in the exploration process decreases. With groups of two, I often struggle to find enough science materials to go around. So this year, I chose to place students in teams of three! Picking science teams is always easy as I already have students placed in desk groups based upon behavior, abilities, and communication skills. Each desk group has about six kids, so I simply divide this larger group in half. 

Gathering Supplies & Assigning Roles

To encourage a smooth running classroom, I ask students to decide who is a 1, 2, or 3 in their groups of three students (without talking). In no time, each student has a number in the air. I'll then ask the "threes" to get certain supplies, "ones" to grab their computers, and "twos" to hand out papers (or whatever is needed for the lesson). This management strategy has proven to be effective when cleaning up and returning supplies as well!  


10 minutes

Lesson Introduction & Goal 

I introduce today's learning goal: I can classify vertebrate animals into phylums according to certain physical similarities. I explain: Yesterday, we learned all about the invertebrate animal kingdom. Today, you'll be working with your science team to research the vertebrate animal phylums. 

As a side note, yesterday, I intentionally provided heavy support while researching invertebrates as students tend to be less familiar with invertebrates. On the other hand, I feel that students have plenty of background knowledge on vertebrates (birds, mammals, amphibians, etc.) to successfully complete research more independently today. 


To expose students to vocabulary multiple times, I take a few minutes to review key vocabulary. First, I ask students to turn and talk: How are plants and animals different? Immediately, students begin talking. While I notice some students are able to explain the differences without any support, other students refer to the  Plants Vocabulary Poster and Animal Vocabulary Poster on our science wall. 

Next, I ask students to compare warm-blooded animals to a cold-blooded animals. Again, students refer to the Warm-Blooded Vocabulary Poster and Cold-Blooded Vocabulary Poster on the science wall. I proudly hear some groups discussing the fact that warm-blooded animals require more energy to regulate their body temperature than cold-blooded animals since cold-blooded animals rely on the environment to warm up or cool down. 

Google Presentation

During yesterday's lesson, I presented information on invertebrates using the following Google Presentation: The Animal Kingdom Presentation. You'll notice that the first half of the presentation is on invertebrates and is full of pictures, facts, and videos. The last half of the presentation is on vertebrates and will serve as a template for student research. 

For this lesson, I share the above Google Presentation for students to copy and add on to during their own research today. This way, each team of students can research and report information on each of the invertebrate animal phylums.

I love the idea of students "adding on to" a presentation that I have started, just as they are adding new knowledge to information previously learned.


30 minutes

Getting Ready

At this point, I invite two students (such as the #1 students and #3 students) from each team to get their computers. One student copies the shared presentation, The Animal Kingdom Presentation. The other student pulls up the following online resource: Critter Catalog. This way, students can toggle back and forth between the presentation and their sources with ease. 

I also take the time to explain how students can group together successfully by placing two computers on two adjacent desks. Then, the three students pull up three chairs to the two desks so that all three students can see both computer screens! Often times, when computers are spread out along three desks, collaboration becomes difficult. I want students to literally put their heads together! This is important because sometimes passive students are easily excluded.

The Vertebrate Presentation

To set students up for success, I explain and model how to complete the slides in the presentation.

I ask students to pull up slide 23: Vertebrate Facts. We discuss how vertebrates are different from invertebrates because they have an internal skeletal system. Also, some vertebrates are warm-blooded (birds & mammals) while others are cold-blooded (fish, amphibians, & reptiles).

Finding Fish Facts

Moving on to the next slide, Fish Facts Slide, I explain: Today, you'll be researching each vertebrate animal phylum. You'll start by reporting facts about each phylum using the Critter Catalog resource. We are going to complete this first slide together. 

I then direct students to click on the fish icon found on the Critter Catalog homepage and to begin reading for important facts about the fish phylum. After a few minutes, students begin share their finding and as a class, we complete the fish slide together: Completed Fish Facts.

Adding Pictures & Video

Once students complete the fish facts slide, we then discuss the Fish Pictures Slide and the Fish Video Slide. I show students how to insert and label pictures of fish: Adding a Picture to the Pictures Slide by clicking "Insert" in the headings bar and then selecting "Image" or "Video."

We discuss how to successfully search for educational and appropriate videos by typing "fish" followed by "BBC" or "National Geographic" or "science" or "kids" in the search bar. While I was slightly worried about students trying to find "kid appropriate" videos, this wasn't an issue at all.

Monitoring Student Understanding

Once students begin working, I conference with every group. My goal is to support students by asking guiding questions (listed below). I also want to encourage students to engage in Science & Engineering Practice 7: Engaging in Argument from Evidence

  1. What patterns have you noticed? 
  2. Why do you suppose ____? 
  3. What have you found so far? 
  4. Has your thinking changed? 
  5. What evidence do you have? 
  6. How did you decide _____?
  7. What conclusion can you draw about ____?
  8. What is the difference between ___ and ___?
  9. How are ___ and ___ alike? 

Student Conferences

Here, Making Connections Between Ampibians vs Reptiles, the students explain that most amphibians live part of their lives in water and the part on land. I ask students to imagine what it would be like to be an amphibian, living half of their lives underwater! I then encourage students to consider the differences between amphibians and reptiles as kids often mix up the two phylums, however, just like most science concepts, there are always exceptions that add to the confusion of classification! For example, an alligator lives in water and on land and is a reptile! We then discuss the importance of using multiple characteristics to classify animals, such as the fact that amphibians have smooth skin (frog) and reptiles tend to have rough skin (alligator). 

During this conference, Making Connections Between Birds & Mammals, I try to support student across content areas by helping students correct grammar as well as dig deeper into science content. To push this team's thinking a bit further, I ask them to compare birds with mammals. This becomes a little tricky! I love hearing one student say, "Oh, yeah!" 

Student Work

Here are a couple examples of team presentations. Students were extremely motivated to complete these projects! They loved adding pictures and videos in particular. Some teams were unable to complete their presentaitons during this timeframe, however, over the next week, if students finish assignments early in other subject areas, they excitedly ask, "Can we work on our Animal Kingdom presentations?"

As some groups finish today, they gather on the carpet to share their presentations with other teams.