Having a Whale of a Good Time!

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SWBAT explain the adaptations of a whale's body to survive.

Big Idea

Whales are one of the largest animals on the planet. They are beautiful and fascinating. This lesson will focus on recognizing and explaining the structure and functions of their body parts in order to survive.

Setting the Stage

5 minutes

This lesson is the beginning lesson that leads from the Polar Regions into the Waters of the World. Whales are some of the largest animals on the planet, it is amazing to think of how they survive and maintain their survival given the enormity of oceans.  Beyond this amazing thought, the adaptations of their bodies to survive lead to a behavioral adaptation that is different than a structural adaptation. 

Migration is a new concept of adaptations.  Most of diversity lessons I have taught up to this lesson have been focused mainly on physical adaptations.  Migration is more of a behavioral adaptation. Demonstrating how whales migrate will be the first step in explaining to my students that this is another way animals will change their lives to survive.  

Another reason to use the whale to demonstrate this concept is the path that whales take to migrate. It is the perfect segue from polar waters to warmer waters.  Whales migrate back and forth from both cold and warm seas because of survival.  Which offers a nice connection for the students to see how the environments continue to be interconnected.  Which has been a recurring theme in my teaching.

Not only does the connection of the whales make a great concept, it demonstrates again the Unity and Diversity standard 2-LS4-1.    


5 minutes

I have my screen ready to go... the Whales ....Clicker Questions are on and the children will know what is coming.  I ask the team leaders to get the clickers for each of their teammates.  As all the children are preparing, I will also be ready and wait for them to key in and be ready.

Once all the children are ready, I explain that we are going to learn about some really big animals....whales.  But that I first want to know what the children know, so we are going to answer some questions.  We work through each question quickly.  I do not want to spend much time on the questions..if I linger too long, it opens the door for the children to begin sharing about the television show they watched, or their trips to the zoo or aquarium where they saw some whales.  

Do not misunderstand, I do want to hear their stories and value what they have to share, but when time is limited it is important to keep them focused.  If someone does manage to get a word to lead to their connection, I ask if we can save the story and share it at a later time. The children all know that this means: when we are cleaning up, getting ready to go home or some other transition time during class.  

After we have answered all the questions and I have a strong sense of what the children do or do not know about whales, we are ready to move on with the lesson.  I will know more about their understandings simply from watching the percentages of answers that will pop up on my smart board screen after each question.  


5 minutes

I explain to the children that during some of our previous lessons we learned about ways that animals adapt their bodies in order to continue to survive.  I ask them to share with me what we have explored up to this point.  I expect them to share with me, animals bodies will change or have special features that enable them to survive in cold temperatures. 

After a few minutes of discussion, I ask them to work in their teams to look at some picture cards and words and see if they can match them up.  I have laminated and cut the cards apart and pass them out to each table team.  Two of the words will be easy and quick for the students to match, teeth and flippers should not cause them any question.  However, baleen and fluke may not be quite as simple. I am using this strategy to grab their attention and to assess any prior knowledge my students may already have.  

The children work together and try to match the correct words to the correct photograph.  Again as in the beginning of the lesson, I try to keep the pace moving along.  I want the children to work together to match the words and picture cards, but don't want to spend the bulk of our learning time on this activity.  As soon as I hear the sounds of the classroom begin to elevate, I know it will be time to discuss what the children believe about the whale body parts. 


10 minutes

After the children have had time to explore what they believe are the correct words and body parts, I get my big book to share with the students.  The song is really a song that comes from the Math Learning Center.   It is a free resource on the site and I have downloaded it.  I enlarge it and make it into a class big book, as well as, smaller versions for all the children to have in their hands to manipulate.  

I love to use music and poetry to teach science concepts.  Not only does it reinforce strong reading skills, but if you choose correctly, you can use songs to deeply embed strong scientific language with your students. This is a win-win for all students, regardless of whether they are ELL or high achieving students.  

We sing the song together and then I pass out the smaller versions. I have used this strategy before with my students and they love to have the words in their hands.  

After singing the song a couple of times, I direct the children to look at the screen. I want to teach them some more direct information about whales and their adaptions.  The song does a great job of explaining the body parts and what they are used for, however, I want to lay the ground work for migration and the body parts are physical adaptations, not behavioral.  

I work through reading the Little Whale, Little Whale Power Point with the children.  I patterned the language after similar books I had written in previous lessons. The children are very familiar with the rhythm and it makes it easy to refer back to. 


10 minutes

I quickly change screens and direct the children to look at the new Whale Migration Power Point.  I anticipate that they will ask,  "What does migration mean?"  

I assure them we will discuss this.   I work through each slide, asking questions from the screen and allowing the children time to absorb this new idea and the language.  Up to this point in our lessons, we have discussed in great details adaptations that are physical, but we have not discussed behavioral adaptations.  I will introduce the differences between the two adaptations later, but for now, I simply want to introduce this adaptation as just that another type.  

I will classify the two types later for the children in deeper lessons.  

When we reach Slide six, I remind the children about our previous lessons about plate tectonics and how the continents came to be.  I begin to label the continents on the screen and then the ocean names as well.  I explain to the children that whales need to migrate between the oceans to survive. The map shows the great amount of space they must travel to do this.  

Slide seven has hyperlinks that lead to sites that actually show the paths the whales will take.  One site is in real time and actually shows the tagged whales movement around the Hawaiian Islands... and the other two are interactive and demonstrate the whales movement and paths they take from warmer waters to colder waters. 

After about ten minutes of exploration, I pass out maps to the children to draw in the paths the whales take to glue into their journals.  


5 minutes

When the maps have been completed, I explain to the children that I want them to glue them into their journals.  I further explain that after we finish the next lesson, we will revisit this information and combine both to see what we have learned.  

As the children are gluing their map into their journals, I am circulating through the classroom listening to conversations. I hoping to hear the children explain and share with each other something to the effects of how far the whales must travel.  

I do this mainly because teaching time is dwindling and I know that our music program is coming.  I have to combine lessons to preserve time.