I ring my chime to get the class’s attention and ask them to return to the carpet squares and ‘Show Five’. Once seated I announce that we are about to begin the first Science lesson in our study of the Sun. I really feel that it’s important to teach the habit of observation because it’s connected to real Science practices.
I wait a few seconds before I ask them,“If you were a plant, where would you live?” “In the sun!” “Perfect! Now do this...” I wrap my arms around myself like I’m cold. “We’re in the shade.” "Does it feel better to be in one place more than the other?" "It depends!" "Let's study how living things are affected by place where it grows!" When this step is complete, we are ready to move on.
Many years ago, I was given a great book called Living Sunlight. It is readily (and inexpensively!) available on Amazon. There are many children’s books about gardens, though I particularly like this one because it mixes a description of garden life with other subjects. Integrating curriculums is always a smart teaching strategy, ultimately making life easier for you!
I start the instructional piece with and interesting question. “Why do you think gardeners need to place their plants very careful in the garden?” “Because some parts are more hot.” “Right. Some plants- like tomatoes- need more sun because it helps them ripen and develop the natural sugar..” “Sugar!?!?…” “Haha! Not like ‘candy sugar’. It’s the kind of sugar called glucose that feeds plants and makes the vegetable and fruit taste good. Do you think all plants need lots of sun?”. “Yes!” “Nope, some plants need more shade than sun because they’re leaves are more thin and dry out if they have too much sun.” The brief instruction provides a good starting point to the lesson, as well as integrating the concept of quantity, an important part of the Math CCSS.
I ask the class, "What's the first thing we need to do to investigate if a plant is growing in the right place? "We need to look at it and see if it's alive." “Good idea. Let's go outside and look in the garden for sunny and shady parts of the garden so we can better understand which place is the best for certain plants to grow.” I use the chime to dismiss the students by table group to line up at the back door.
Once they line up, I say, “Let’s review some rules first. First, walk in the assigned area. Second, stay on the ground. Third, be gentle to the environment and each other.” We straighten our line as I remind them “Lines are…” “Straight” “And…” “Together” “And..” Calm”. I prepare several clipboards and paper so we can record our observations, if necessary. We may very well not write down anything, though it never hurts to be prepared! We gather them and begin our walk to the school garden.
When we arrive, I model what I would look for by thinking out loud “Where would I find different plant homes? Let’s look in middle of the garden and next to the fence.” I demonstrate how I use my eyes to observe the plants, no hands needed. I dismiss the children one at a time to look different plants, noting “When you look for plants, be sure to pay attention to the structure of the plant so you can figure out why they grow best in one place or the other.” This reminder has the added benefit of adding the ‘why’ piece and supporting the investigative process. The observation itself essentially acts as a pass/fail formative assessment because they showed mastery over the material by looking in the right place and finding, analyzing, and reporting/recording information about the plants. The investigation takes about ten minutes by design since we now have an adequate amount of information to use for future observations. I give them a one-minute warning with a hand clap pattern. We line up again, checked our form (“straight, together, calm”) and head back.
Once we are back in the classroom, I collect any observation materials. After everyone washes their hands, I ask them all to head back to their carpet squares. “Let’s share some of the places we found plants.” “Next to the tree” “Was it shady or sunny?” “It was shady.” “What kind of plant grows there?” “A really tiny flower.” “Some delicate flowers need shade so they won’t lose moisture and have time to mature.” I take every opportunity to raise the vocabulary (e.g. ‘delicate’ instead of ‘small’, ‘mature” instead of ‘grow’) of my students and expand their vocabulary. As each idea is shared, I add it to the list we created at the beginning of the lesson. After all observations are shared, we review the contributions before posting it near the Science area so the students could refer to it during future Science lessons or drawing/writing activities.