Inquiry Based Instructional Model
To intertwine scientific knowledge and practices and to empower students to learn through exploration, it is essential for scientific inquiry to be embedded in science education. While there are many types of inquiry-based models, one model that I've grown to appreciate and use is called the FERA Learning Cycle, developed by the National Science Resources Center (NSRC):
A framework for implementation can be found here.
I absolutely love how the Center for Inquiry Science at the Institute for Systems Biology explains that this is "not a locked-step method" but "rather a cyclical process," meaning that some lessons may start off at the focus phase while others may begin at the explore phase.
Finally, an amazing article found at Edudemic.com, How Inquiry-Based Learning Works with STEM, very clearly outlines how inquiry based learning "paves the way for effective learning in science" and supports College and Career Readiness, particularly in the area of STEM career choices.
In this unit, students will first develop an understanding of the biotic and abiotic factors within ecosystems, the characteristics and classification of living organisms, and how plants and animals obtain and use energy to fulfill their needs.
Then, students will delve deeper into the NGSS standards by examining the interdependent relationships within an ecosystem by studying movement of matter between producers, consumers, and decomposers by creating models of food chains and food webs.
At the end of this unit, students will study ways that individual communities can use science ideas to protect the Earth's resources and environment.
Summary of Lesson
Today, I will open the lesson by showing students in an inspiring video about living organisms. Next, students will learn of the 6 kingdoms of living things. Next, students will explore four of the kingdoms further by studying bacteria (archaebacteria & eubacteria), protists, and fungi. At the end of the lesson, students will reflect and apply their new understanding of these four kingdoms by sharing their research.
Next Generation Science Standards
This lesson will support the following NGSS Standard(s):
5-PS3-1. Use models to describe that energy in animals’ food (used for body repair, growth, motion, and to maintain body warmth) was once energy from the sun.
5-LS1-1. Support an argument that plants get the materials they need for growth chiefly from air and water.
5-LS2-1. Develop a model to describe the movement of matter among plants, animals, decomposers, and the environment.
5-ESS3-1. Obtain and combine information about ways individual communities use science ideas to protect the Earth’s resources and environment.
Scientific & Engineering Practices
For this lesson, students are engaged in the following Science & Engineering Practice:
Science & Engineering Practice 8: Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information
Students will obtain ideas and describe how they are supported by evidence by conducting research on bacteria, protists, and fungi.
To relate ideas across disciplinary content, during this lesson I focus on the following Crosscutting Concept:
Crosscutting Concept 6: Structure and Function
Students will be identifying living organisms by their structures and function. For example, some protists have flagella that help with movement whereas other protists have finger-like structures called pseudopods.
Disciplinary Core Ideas
In addition, this lesson also aligns with the following Disciplinary Core Ideas:
PS3.D: Energy in Chemical Processes and Everyday Life
The energy released [from] food was once energy from the sun that was captured by plants in the chemical process that forms plant matter (from air and water). (5-PS3-1)
LS1.C: Organization for Matter and Energy Flow in Organisms
Food provides animals with the materials they need for body repair and growth and the energy they need to maintain body warmth and for motion. (secondary to 5-PS3-1)
Plants acquire their material for growth chiefly from air and water. (5-LS1-1)
LS2.A: Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems
The food of almost any kind of animal can be traced back to plants. Organisms are related in food webs in which some animals eat plants for food and other animals eat the animals that eat plants. Some organisms, such as fungi and bacteria, break down dead organisms (both plants or plants parts and animals) and therefore operate as “decomposers.” Decomposition eventually restores (recycles) some materials back to the soil. Organisms can survive only in environments in which their particular needs are met. A healthy ecosystem is one in which multiple species of different types are each able to meet their needs in a relatively stable web of life. Newly introduced species can damage the balance of an ecosystem. (5-LS2-1)
LS2.B: Cycles of Matter and Energy Transfer in Ecosystems
Matter cycles between the air and soil and among plants, animals, and microbes as these organisms live and die. Organisms obtain gases, and water, from the environment, and release waste matter (gas, liquid, or solid) back into the environment. (5-LS2-1)
Choosing Science Teams
With science, it is often difficult to find a balance between providing students with as many hands-on experiences as possible, having plenty of science materials, and offering students a collaborative setting to solve problems. Any time groups have four or more students, the opportunities for individual students to speak and take part in the exploration process decreases. With groups of two, I often struggle to find enough science materials to go around. So this year, I chose to place students in teams of three! Picking science teams is always easy as I already have students placed in desk groups based upon behavior, abilities, and communication skills. Each desk group has about six kids, so I simply divide this larger group in half.
Gathering Supplies & Assigning Roles
To encourage a smooth running classroom, I ask students to decide who is a 1, 2, or 3 in their groups of three students (without talking). In no time, each student has a number in the air. I'll then ask the "threes" to get certain supplies, "ones" to grab their computers, and "twos" to hand out papers (or whatever is needed for the lesson). This management strategy has proven to be effective when cleaning up and returning supplies as well!
The 6 Kingdoms of Living Organisms
When constructing this unit, I grapple with the idea of inserting information on the 6 Kingdoms of Living Organisms. However, once I observe many students struggling with differentiating bacteria, fungi, and plants, I know that teaching about the 6 Kingdoms is a must! To make sure this activity aligns with the NGSS standards, I make sure to address the roles of organisms within each kingdom. For example, bacteria can be producers or decomposers.
Also, I don't want to overwhelm students with too much information by completing the entire 6 Kingdoms Poster in one day, so I decide to "chunk" the information across several days:
Decomposers: Today, students will begin learning about the 6 Kingdoms and will study the roles of archaebacteria, eubacteria, protists, and fungi. Over the next couple of days, students will build upon learning by studying the role of decomposers.
Producers: Thereafter, the class will return to the 6 Kingdoms Poster to learn about the plant kingdom. This, again, will be followed by a few lessons on the role of producers.
Consumers: Finally, students will learn about the last animal kingdom on the poster, the animal kingdom. Then, students will study the role of consumers over the next couple of days.
To avoid confusion, I will regularly point out the different roles of organisms within the 6 Kingdoms. While all plants are producers, not all producers are plants. For example, both bacteria and protists are producers. In fact, scientists believe that most oxygen on Earth is produced by plant-like protists (algae) through the photosynthesis process.
Lesson Introduction & Goal
I introduce today's learning goal: I can investigate the roles of bacteria, protists, and fungi within an ecosystem. I explain: Yesterday, we began studying the roles of living organisms within an ecosystem. You identified living organisms as producers, consumers, and decomposers. Today, we are going to take a deeper look at the classification of living organisms as well as the roles of organisms within different kingdoms.
6 Kingdoms of Life Poster
I refer to the 6 Kingdoms Poster and explain: All life on Earth can be categorized into 6 Kingdoms: Archaebacteria, Eubacteria, Protists, Fungi, Plants, and Animals. All organisms within each kingdom share common characteristics. Today, as we discuss and take notes on this larger poster, I would also like for you to create your own poster!
I pass out the following handout to each student, Student Kingdom Poster (blown up on 11x17 paper).
First, I want to begin by discussing a key question about life:
1. What does it mean to be alive? What characteristics do all living things share? Turn and talk!
I walk around and listen to student conversations during this time. I hear students commenting, "All living things need air," and "Living organisms need food." The goal of encouraging student conversations is to get students thinking about their prior knowledge.
I want to inspire interest in today's lesson and capitalize on student curiosity, so I show a video to motivate students to think deeper about the characteristics of life:
Throughout this amazing video that my students LOVED, I pause to discuss and record some of the characteristics of life on the top of our 6 Kingdoms Poster: able to move, reproduce, respond to their environment, made of cells, take in & use energy, grow & develop. (Not all of these characteristics are mentioned in the video, so I add in a few more!) Here's what the poster will look like at the end of this lesson: 6 Kingdoms Poster After. Students also record the same characteristics at the top of their own posters.
The powerful message of the video clip is the fact that many nonliving factors in an ecosystem share some of the characteristics of life, but not all. For example, water can move and fire can reproduce. However, a living organism must meet all the characteristics of life.
Archaebacteria & Eubacteria
We begin by discussing and recording notes on Archaebacteria & Eubacteria. As I take notes on the larger poster, students complete their own notes: Student Notes. I explain how archaebacteria and eubacteria kingdoms are both microscopic organisms that used to be joined together as one kingdom called the Bacteria Kingdom. However, scientists have since found a differing characteristic between these two kingdoms. Archaebacteria can survive in harsh conditions (such as the bottom of the ocean, in a salt pond, or in Yellowstone's geothermal features). On the other hand, eubacteria is everywhere else, but is unable to live in harsh environments.
Linking today's lesson with yesterday's lesson, we then discuss how archaebacteria and eubacteria can be producers or decomposers. To help students visualize the varieties, I pass around some pictures: Pictures of Bacteria, Protists, & Fungi.
Protists & Fungi
Next, we discuss the fact that most protists and fungi are unicellular like bacteria. However, some can be multicellular, such as kelp (protist) and mushrooms (fungi). While protists can be consumers (animal-like), producers, (plant-like) and decomposers (fungi-like), all fungi are decomposers. Again, I pass around pictures to support visual learners: Pictures of Bacteria, Protists, & Fungi.
Plants & Animals
Even though today's research will focus on the first four kingdoms mentioned, I want to introduce students to all 6 Kingdoms so that they begin to see that fungi and bacteria are not plants or animals! At this point, we go over Plants & Animals. We discuss how all plants and animals are multicellular. While all plants are producers, all animals are consumers. This is because plants can make their own food while animals are dependent on other organisms (plants and/or animals) for food.
Teacher Note: At this point, each student's ability to conceptualize the roles of bacteria and protists within ecosystems varies, depending on individual interest and background knowledge. This is why it will be so important to incorporate videos into this lesson to help students actually visualize these living organisms!
Now that we're familiar with the 6 Kingdoms in which all living organisms are a part of, let's dive deeper into the study of bacteria (archaebacteria and eubacteria), protists, and fungi!
I ask students to flip over their Animal Kingdom Posters to make a 3-column graphic organizer for Bacteria, Protists, and Fungi. Here's what their notes will look like at the end of this lesson:
For today's research, I decide to create a Google Powerpoint Presentation with links to both videos and texts on all three topics: Bacteria, Protists, & Fungi. I ask students to begin by watching the videos and to go back and read the texts if they have time. After this lesson, I was so happy that I included video resources as students needed to SEE the bacteria, protists, and fungi to make sense of such tiny organisms that many students have little known experiences with!
Unlike yesterday's collaborative setting, students watch videos and take notes on their own. I'm okay with this as being able to work independently at times is important too!
As a side note: Most students were unable to read the text resources. As students finish early with assignments during the next week, I ask them to continue working on this research assignment.
Monitoring Student Understanding
Once students begin working, I conference with every group. My goal is to support students by asking guiding questions (listed below). I also want to encourage students to engage in Science & Engineering Practice 7: Engaging in Argument from Evidence.
During this conference, Bacteria Notes, I encourage a student to provide more details: How is all bacteria the same? Elaboration is a goal in all subject areas - science, reading, writing etc. I'm always looking for students to tell me more and to avoid vague language, such as he, it, they, stuff, and things! This is an important part of being a scientist and clearly presenting ideas.
Here, Protists are Consumers, I ask a student to compare protists and bacteria. She correctly points out that protists can be consumers. We continue on by discussing the fact that protists can also be producers and consumers (similar to bacteria).
Now that students have built meaning and understanding by observing, questioning, and researching, it is important to provide students with the opportunity to share their findings. For this reason, I invite students to join me on the front carpet with their notes.
I want to link the beginning presentation on the 6 Kingdoms to the students' new learning, so I pull the poster down in order to take additional notes above: Adding on to Poster.
At first, we discuss the meaning of prokaryotes. I go on to explain that archaebacteria and bacteria are prokaryotes whereas protists, fungi, plants, and animals are examples of eukaryotes.
One student brings up that the cells in our bodies are 90% bacteria. I write this down, but I had a hard time believing it, so I looked it up! Later on, I share that it's true: one out of every ten cells in our bodies are human! Although, the size of a bacteria cell is much smaller than our human cells. One resource claims that all the bacteria in our bodies can fit into a soup can!
Finally, students share their research on fungi. They point out that fungi has no roots, stems, or leaves and must disperse spores to reproduce. Most importantly, they also explain that fungi has to absorb nutrients from organic matter. Again, to help scaffold this material, I ask: What is organic matter? With some guidance, students come up with, "dead plants and animals, as well as waste."