In this lesson, students will learn how worms help create healthy soil. This lesson aligns to Essential Standard 1.E. 2.1, 'Summarize the physical properties of Earth materials, including rocks, minerals, soils, and water that make them useful in different ways'. Today's essential question is: "How do worms help soil?" Listen to my Explanation of Essential Standards and Essential Question to find out why I teach the Essential Standards.
This lesson relates to this lesson on Composting from my unit on Stewardship that I taught a few months ago because worms are an integral part of composting, too!
*Paper plates with ridges (to keep the worms on!)
*Worms - (I buy them at a local bait shop)
*Popsicle sticks for students who don't want to touch the worms
To start this lesson off, I first pose the essential question for the day, which is : How do worms help the soil? After I ask my students the question, I ask them to write what they think at the top of the page. Then, I take a few verbal responses and after I get a few answers, we watch this video about how worms mix up soil. Then I say,
"How did the worms help the soil?"
I listen to some answers and then I restate it because it can be hard for first graders to articulate how a demonstration actually shows something, so I say,
"The worms move up and down inside the jar, and as they do, they move the soil and sand up and down, too. The movement aerates the soil - that means it adds air, which makes it healthier. That's an important vocabulary word - aerate. We are going to add that to our important soil vocabulary words. You should add it to your journal page, too".
Then, I tell my students that today we are going to learn all about worms and what they do to help soil, so naturally as good scientists, we need to look really, really closely! I say,
"We are going to take about 10 minutes and look closely at some real worms. Now, if you are a good scientist, how would you handle a real live animal?"
It is important for my students to understand how important it is to be kind to the worms and to not hurt them before we start to look at them, so I make sure everyone understands the expectations. Then I say,
"As you look at your worms, it is okay for you to gently touch them with your finger. It is okay for you to gently nudge or move them with your popsicle stick. It is not okay for you to do anything rough, like try to cut them in half or press down on them because it will hurt them. When we are done, we are going to put them where they belong - back outside in the soil in our school garden!"
It is so important for students to fully understand the expectations of how to handle the live worms before they begin this exploration. If they do not, and someone hurts one, it becomes another issue to deal with. So, I make it clear before we start! Then, we move to the tables and begin our observation.
To make this more engaging for students, I have one paper plate set up for every two students. Each paper plate has several worms, two popsicle sticks to be used to gently move the worms to see them, and two hand lenses. As the students begin looking closely at the worms, I walk around and make sure everyone is following my directions about how to work with the live worms. I also listen to conversations so that when I teach about worms in a few minutes, I can address any questions or curiosities as well as misconceptions that I hear.
After about 10 minutes, I say,
"Okay, please leave the worms and your observation tools and bring your journals and pencils to the carpets".
When they get to the carpet, I say,
"Take one minute and write down something that you noticed about the worms so far".
Recording thoughts and ideas as writing or drawing in first grade supports Science and Engineering Practice 4, Analyzing and Interpreting Data. Although my students are not sharing this information right now, it is important for them to record their thoughts as they go through this observation exploration, and we will discuss what they thought and learned at the end of the lesson.
To further engage my students, I want to add a little more information about the actual worms to this lesson just to deepen their knowledge. I show this website on the SmartBoard and I ask students to quickly sketch it in their journals. As always, I am encouraging scientific behaviors, so I ask,
"What else should we do to this sketch?"
We label the parts of the worm. Then, I say,
"Now, you have about 10 more minutes to observe your worm. This time, you have some different things to look for! See if you can carefully identify the body parts. Who can remind us how to handle the live specimens?"
As my students return, I again walk around and make sure that everyone is working appropriately with the worms. I also help them to connect their sketches and labels to the actual objects.
The sketches and labeling support Science and Engineering Practice 2, Developing and Using Models, as students clearly distinguish between their drawings and the actual worms in this lesson.
After the last part of the observation, I say to my students,
"Please stop working, leave the worms and tools, and bring your journals and pencils back to the carpet".
Then, I get either my assistant or 2 responsible students to collect all of the worms and put them back into a big tub and to collect all of the science tools again. They also wipe off the desks so there are no germs from the worms!
On the carpet, I say,
"Take one more minute and write what you found out during today's observations!"
This lesson is really about what students find out for themselves while they look at and touch the worms as well as what they learn with me from the media on the Smart Board, so this serves as a very quick formative assessment for me. Then, I say,
"Let's share some important observations that we made about worms today by answering our essential question, which was 'How do worms help the soil?' Who can answer that, and then we can also talk about what you found out?"
As I let the students talk about the essential question and their observations, I make sure that they understand the connection between worms and soil. The conversation supports both Practice 4 as they share their drawings and data from the observations and Practice 8 as they communicate about their ideas and information.