In order to teach this lesson, I either act fast when a student surprises me by bringing in a little creature of some type, or I lead the class out onto the playground in search of animal neighbors to observe. The most ordinary of animals can provide an opportunity for instant engagement. Thus far my students have befriended several types of caterpillars, ladybugs, grasshoppers, ants, earwigs, and that's just the insects! While I can't take advantage of every opportunity, if at all possible I try to lead them through a basic cycle of exploration, explanation and elaboration because natural curiosity is one of the ways in which the scientific process is initiated! So, the first step of this lesson is to observe the animal, either outside or in the classroom. I engage them with the following questions. They write notes in their science journals.
Students do not have to definitively identify the species they are observing in order to research it further, but it certainly helps. There is value in specifics. Science is specific. There are many different ways in which students can research the animal they observed on or brought in from the playground, the bus stop, or their backyard. The most common visitors to my class over the years have been caterpillars. They are easy to catch and they slip under the radar when a child is entering school Here is an example of how students could find out more specific information about a caterpillar species.
Birds are also very visible, and more often than not, the birds seen by children and/or on a playground tend to be those that are more common. Here is a link to bird lists for each state.
Whether students explore an animal very specifically or do so at the more general level of a group (what do amphibians need, what do caterpillars need), the goal here is for them to continue to develop their ability to make specific observations and reasonable hypothesis about the behavior, physical characteristics, and possible adaptations of animals in the local environment.
At the end of this activity, I ask students to give either an informal presentation about the animal, either written or verbal. I give them at least 10 minutes to reflect upon these questions and to then they present to one another in small groups as I walk around and confer with them. `
The students who are in the audience are expected to:
If it is early in the year, I might have them do this verbally as I write it and project it using a document camera, or as I type it into a document that I can then share with them through Google drive.