I ring my chime to get the class’s attention. I announce that we are about to begin the second Science lesson in our unit about animal habitats. I ask them to return to the carpet squares and ‘Show Five’. I always look for ways to directly connect the students with the material and this lesson is no exception.
Once seated, I ask the students a riddle “What is in our class that is black, green, and red all over?”. I wait for answers from the class as they look around and wildly try to think of an answer. "Backpack!" "Book" "Carpet square" “Nope. Keep thinking. What if I added a clue and told you it hops?” “A cricket?”. “Sooo close! Let me show you picture and see if you can guess.”
I display a picture of a tank with many hardscape structures like rocks and small branches, as well as plants. “Look familiar?”, I ask. “It’s our fire bellied toads!”, several scream, laughing. I pass around the picture, not that they haven’t looked at the tank, but more observation can’t hurt. Additionally, a picture gives options for classes that don’t have these animals in their room. I stop to ask questions about the appearance of the toad habitat, “What did the tank look like? What did you observe?" “Rocks. Wood pieces.” “Why do you think they need this structure? What do they add to their environment?” As I ask each question, I provide wait time for students to process the meaning of my questions. I transition into some more formal instruction to help the students get some context to the materials in the toad habitat.
“The first (and kind of funny) thing to share with you is that a fire bellied toad is not really a toad. It's actually a frog.” “Why did they call it that then?” “It’s probably because the bumpy and dark appearance looks more like a toad than the greener and smooth look of a frog. Another cool thing I learned about our toads is that they originate in places like China and Korea, the same places as you! I also learned that all the predators see is the toads' red belly. This red belly acts like a warning that they are toxic to animals, that it would be dangerous to eat them.” Again, I want to connect the animals to something that was meaningful to the students. As expected, the talk about origin and color produces instant excitement, particularly for the beginning English Learners.
I connect the toads’ environment to things that they observe. “Where do our toads live?” “In the tank with the plants.”. “Based on what we know, what is the purpose of the plants and water?” “Food. Moisture.” “Yes, that’s part of it. Plants do provide food for the toads when they are babies, plus places to live and hide." I want to give the students a quick overview of how the appearance of the toads and the habitat in which they live all work together for their survival. Since I covered those goals, I move on to the next part of the lesson.
After the whole class instruction finished, I tell them “It’s time for us to design a habitat for a fire bellied toad. We need to assure the toad will be successful in this habitat. What are some things we need to include?”. “Plants? Water? Wood? A fire belly!” I acknowledge their choices and let them know that those things could come in a variety of forms. I keep the instruction simple because I am curious to see the choices they would make when left to their own accord. I use the chime to dismiss the students by group back to the tables. I pass out the Habitat paper and provide a few simple instructions.
1. Examine the tank and the toad in the drawing.
2. Look at the habitat elements at the bottom.
3. Add the elements with some drawings that would best support the life of a fire bellied toad. You are welcome to accurately color the habitat if you have time.
I always mention accuracy when I talk about color to both focus on the learning piece and instill a little discipline so they don't go off and create something that looks like a Pixar movie character! I circulate among the students as they complete this assignment. I want to spend adequate time listening to their comments (“The toad needs a red belly.” “I’m giving him another rock”. “I’m putting in more plants.” “He has to have a big pool but not too big.”), asking for clarification (“Tell me more about that.”) when necessary. I am particularly interested in various ways the students organize the elements of the toad's habitats, as seen in the sample work. This acts as a formative assessment, to access prior knowledge (we learned about camouflage and habitat in our Slimy Snails and Wiggly Worms units), and ties it all up nicely.
After the Fire Bellied Toad habitats designs were complete, I use a chime to single the end of this lesson piece. I ask the students to put their Habitat papers away in their bags and return back to their carpet squares. "The natural environment for fire bellied toads is humid areas- warm, wet places- that provides lots of plant life and adequate- but not too much! - sun and water sources. Too much sun would dry them out; too much water would drown them." We share out design choices, “My habitat had a plant the toad could eat.” I respond, "So you made sure they had a food source." “I made a rock wall to protect him." "So you included a safe place for it to live." “I put in another toad so he would have a friend.” That is an element that I didn’t even think about so I was happy that they had a chance to learn from each other and see that lessons can have learning opportunities for me too!