Communicating with Light: Animals

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SWBAT retell key details about how animals communicate with light.

Big Idea

Catching fireflies is a hallmark of summer days! Come see what other animals communicate with lights.

Instructional Notes

This unit is broken down into two main parts: sound and light.  This lesson investigates the essential question, "How do we communicate with light?"  This question moves students towards the culminating engineering design product for this NGSS standard:

  • 1-PS4-4. Use tools and materials to design and build a device that uses light or sound to solve the problem of communicating over a distance.

In the previous lesson, students learned some of the many ways that humans communicate with light.  In this lesson, we explore the animal world!  I think it's important to present animal examples as well because there is a growing engineering field called biomimicry.  Biomimicry engineers imitate nature in their designs, and my class learned about biomimicry in our life sciences unit (also available here on BetterLesson!).  

In today's lesson, students will be obtaining information through magazine articles and videos.

Throughout this unit, I use a KLEWS anchor chart to record our new learning.  This is a science-specific type of KWL chart designed with primary students in mind!  Check out this video I like to call KLEWS chart 101:




5 minutes

In the previous lesson, students learned about multiple ways that humans communicate with light.  Today, I set the purpose for learning by sharing the objective, Friends, today you will be able to retell key details about how some special animals communicate with light.  

Then, I review the KLEWS chart.

Let's read our essential question together, "How can we communicate with light?"  Earlier in the year, we learned how engineers have a special kind of design called biomimicry that mimics animals to solve human problems.  Perhaps we will learn from one of the animals today, and it will inform your engineering design.

I also want to tap any prior knowledge students may have by asking, "What animals do you know that communicate, or talk to one another, with light?"  I expect most of my students to know about fireflies, however, undersea animals are probably going to be new information!  Here is what we knew, displayed on our KLEWS chart.

And, here's what the KLEWS chart looked like by the end of this lesson!

Exploration ~ the wave crest

20 minutes

The NGSS standards for Science and Engineering Practice #8 Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating information calls on teachers to provide multiple sources of information from hands-on observations to texts to media or video clips.  Since I cannot bring fireflies into my classroom, texts and media will have to suffice in this case!

First, we conduct a shared reading of a National Geographic Young Explorer text, Living Lights.  This magazine if available for free online, however, I also order paper copies because I like students to reread the articles as they discuss and record information.  

In the past as we read, I listed the main topic and key details on a T-chart.  The main topic is easier for first graders to state after reading in this case, since the introductory sentence doesn't explicitly say it.  The main topic is living things with lights.  The T-chart will list the animals/plants on the left side and key details about how they use light to communicate on the right.  

As we read, we pause to retell key details about fireflies, including how they communicate with light.  (They communicate with one another for mating purposes, and they communicate to predators that they taste bad.)  Students refer right to the text during discussions.

After reading, we will evaluate the mushroom section.  For example, we know that the two animal examples use light to communicate.  Do the mushrooms use light to communicate?  The article said scientists don't know.  So, is the mushroom a good example of communicating with light, or simply a living thing with light?

Next, we'll watch a video clip to truly bring fireflies into the room with us!  I provide students with a mason jar note-taking sheet to record key details.  Here you see students are seated on the rug taking notes, a student work sample including the fact that fireflies are "really beetles," a student work sample including, "The boys light up to get a girlfriend, " and two additional student work samples.  

After watching, we evaluate the video by comparing it to the text.  I ask questions like:

  • Does the video give us the same information, or new information?
  • What key details does the video tell about what the fireflies are saying?
  • In what ways was this video helpful to us as learners?

Finally, we have a second clip, this time of underwater bioluminescent animals.

This video can be shown through 1:25 to highlight the reasons why some jellyfish and other eels may be communicating with light.  Again to evaluate the video, I ask similar questions.


5 minutes

At the end of our investigation, I play a transition song.  Students put their articles back in the designated bin and return to the perimeter of the rug.  

For today's assessment, students may draw and write in the Science Journals about animals that communicate with light.  What is so great about video clips is that they allow students to see the habitat as well, so I will model drawing the fireflies in the forest.

I also provide students with rainbow scratch paper, available at craft stores at teacher stores.  You can also have students make crayon scratch paper.  Students may scratch the outlines of the jellyfish and squid onto the black background.

Note: This year, my students recorded while watching the videos.  Thus, the assessment took place during the Exploration portion of the lesson.  This left some extra time at the end of our lesson, when students were able to explore some of our class books about light.