I ring my chime to get the class’s attention. I announce that we are about to begin the fourth 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.
To better understand the structure of a spider and connect to the ones we see every day, I ask the students to move around the room in a very different way. “Take a minute to lie on your back and look at the ceiling. Now put your feet under you legs, like this.” I demonstrate the first part before I continue. “Now put your hands on the floor, underneath your shoulders, like this.” I wait to see if the children could get the correct posture before I continue. After I show a few how to correctly place their hands and feet, I continue. “Now try to lift your body up like a table and walk around the room a little bit, a step to the right..backward and forward. How does this feel?” I give them 20-30 seconds to explore this action before I bring them back to their carpets squares with the ring of our chime.
“Our study of Animal Habitats has helped us learn about a few different kinds of animals. Can anyone help us remember them?” “Fish.” “Frogs” “Worms”. “That’s right, we studied those animals and a few more like snails and hermit crabs.” The reality of our classroom is that we have many, many spiders around. I know that they’re not the type that will harm us. To keep all livings things coexist in peaceful ways (e.g. not get squished!), I want the students to learn more about them so they can understand them better as learning opportunities.
“Where do we most often see a spider web? “ “On the ceiling. Behind the doors." "In the corners” “This makes sense for a spider. They like to live in places where they can stay safe and easily find prey. Their favorite place to live is near the best source of food.” I introduce web examples using a book, Spider's Web by Christine Back (although the book is out of print, used copies are readily available on Amazon.). I love this book because it gives detailed instruction on each stage a spider follows to create it's web. “A spider makes a new web every day.” “That makes no sense!” “Maybe, but there are a couple of great reasons. First, spider webs are really sticky and they prefer a clean web. It would be like you changing the sheets on your bed every day because they kept getting really dirty.
"Spiders have these tiny tubes called 'spinnerets' that creates a super strong, thin, and sticky fiber. This sticky fiber catches all sorts of things besides prey. What else do you think floats around the air?” “Dirt? Bugs? Paper?” “All good guesses. The spider likes a clean habitat, so they either create a new web or make their current web bigger, plus they are always looking for new sources of food.
“Now I want you to look at your finger tips. Like your fingerprints and snowflakes, no two webs are ever alike. Different kinds of spiders will create different kinds of webs. One thing they all have in common is the fact that they start with a frame. That's the first things a spider spins from his..who remembers what they call those tiny tubes?" "Spinner things!" "Close..spinneret. They use this thread to create a woven pattern, in and out, in and out.” I show this weaving motion with my hands as I pass around a few pictures of different spider webs. I intentionally chose webs that were very different from each other. I want the students to see these differences so they could better create a realistic model later in the lesson. Additionally, since spider webs are a way of life on our classroom, the more understanding they have, the less afraid they'll be when they see them. “This design is part of their natural instinct, things they are born to do. Take a minute to talk to a partner about things you notice.” My goal with this lesson is to revisit previous lessons on habitat and camouflage and give the students a quick overview of instinct. Since I covered those goals, I move on to the next part of the lesson.
• Black construction paper
• Thin string/thick thread, white, different lengths (2"-6")
After the whole class instruction finished, I tell them “It’s time for us to be engineers and design a web for a spider." I use the chime to dismiss the students by group to the tables before I pass out pieces of black construction paper (cardboard would work as well) to act as a contrasting background for the web where it can be easily seen. I display multiple copies of pictures from the book -both at the front of the room and on the tables- that students can use for reference. Before they begin, I provide a few simple instructions:
How to Design a Spider Habitat:
1. Examine the pictures of the spider webs. Notice the repeating pattern.
2. Plan the kind of web you think would best support your spider. Think about the thread spacing. You can even use a pencil to lightly sketch it out on the paper to help you plan.
3. Use a thin line of glue to begin the web before you gently press a piece of string on it. This will make your action like a spider's, creating a web one thread at a time.
4. Use strings to connect the support threads, starting with the inside and moving....” "Out!"
Once the instruction was complete, I pass out the string to the table. To assure an accurate model, I have them lay out their web design before I pass out the glue. While it didn't completely solve the problem, it did seem to help their organization and planning process. In advance of the lesson, I prepared strings of different lengths to be used on the different sections of the web, e.g. longer pieces would be used for the frame and the shorter for the connecting threads. I circulate among the students as they completed this activity. I want to spend adequate time listening to their comments “The spider needs more space to move.” “I’m putting in more lines” “He has to have a big web but not too big.”, asking for clarification “Tell me more about that.” when necessary.
After the spider web designs were complete, I use a chime to signal the end of this lesson piece. I ask the Daily Helpers to collect the webs so they could be displayed near the Science area, then asked the remaining students to crawl like spiders back to their carpet squares. I figured, I may as well make it fun! To act as a whole class recap, we gathered again to share out the features of the spider webs. “My spider web looked like a triangle.” “I put lots of lines on mine so it could move better”. “I wanted mine to catch food.” The ultimate goal was to use some recent design thinking lessons to encourage the students to apply engineering to create a model of a spider habitat. The resulting design acts as a formative assessment. The activity helped them better understand both the function of a spider web and gain valuable perspective of the animals around them.