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 introducing students to the environmental issue of global warming by showing a couple videos on this topic. Students will use online resources to further explore global warming by researching the problem, causes, impacts, and steps humans can take to help protect the environment. At the end of the lesson, students will reflect and apply their new understanding of global warming by engaging in a discussion with other students.
Next Generation Science Standards
This lesson will support the following NGSS Standard(s):
5-ESS3-1. Obtain and combine information about ways individual communities use science ideas to protect the Earth’s resources and environment.
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.
Scientific & Engineering Practices
For this lesson, students are engaged in the following Science & Engineering Practice:
Science & Engineering Practice 7:
Students construct arguments about environmental issues based upon their research findings. Students will also provide and receive critiques form peers within student discussion groups.
To relate ideas across disciplinary content, during this lesson I focus on the following Crosscutting Concept:
Crosscutting Concept 2: Cause and Effect
Students examine cause and effect relationships as they study environmental issues. For example, students will analyze the problem, causes, and impact on environment. They will also determine the steps that humans can take to help solve the problem.
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)
To add depth to student understanding, when I can, I'll often integrate ELA standards with science lessons. Today, students will work on meeting CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.5.7: Draw on information from multiple print or digital sources, demonstrating the ability to locate an answer to a question quickly or to solve a problem efficiently. In this lesson, students will be using multiple resources to locate key information involving an environmental issue.
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 two or 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 or thirds.
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!
Overview of Lessons on Environmental Issues
During this block of four lessons on environmental issues, students create a big book titled, "How Humans can Help the Environment." On each page of the book, students record research on four different types of environmental issues on Earth, including overfishing, deforestation, global warming, and water pollution. Today's lesson focuses on global warming.
To create a big book for each student, I stapled three sheets of 11 x 17 paper together so that students would have a book cover and four pages of research. Here are a few examples of what finished Big Books will look like at the end of this four-day block of lessons:
Lesson Introduction & Goal
I introduce today's learning goal: I can explain the steps humans can take to protect the environment.
So far, you've researched two environmental issues, overfishing and deforestation. Today, you'll be learning about one of the biggest environmental concerns on Earth... global warming, which is also referred to as climate change. What do you think global warming is? Turn and Talk! After some time, students agree that global warming refers to the warming of the Earth. One student remembers a prior class discussion, "Yeah, just like we've talked about, global warming has to do with the amount of carbon dioxide in the air, because carbon dioxide is the gas the traps the sun's heat."
Teacher Note: Knowing how heavy and overwhelming many environmental issues (such as global warming) can be, I continually remind students of the importance of having a positive and hopeful attitude when learning about problems in our global environments. The good news is... there are steps human can take to help solve all of the environmental issues that we will discuss.
Creating a Template for Note-Taking
I show students how to create a graphic organizer on the next page in their big books by projecting the following template: Environmental Issue Page Template. For consistency, students use the same template for organizing their research on each of the four environmental issues that they study during this 4-day lesson block of time. Students then write Global Warming as the title of the environmental issue that they will be exploring today.
Polar Bear Presentation
When you think of global warming, what is the first animal that comes to mind? The class quickly responds, "Polar bears!" Yes, the polar bear is often referred to as the "symbol of global warming." However, scientists have found that many mammals, birds, fish, and amphibians, such as frogs are also impacted by the earth's temperature rising. Today, I want to take a closer look at polar bears. We might all know that the polar bear population is having to adjust to climate change, but I want to make sure you know how!
I project and explain the following Powerpoint Presentation on The Polar Bear. We begin by discussing The Polar Bear Habitat and how, due to the melting of sea ice, polar bears have a shorter seal-hunting season. I ask students to turn and talk: How is the picture of sea ice in 1979 different from the 2011 sea ice picture? Students point out that the ice in 1979 stretched from Greenland to Russia and filled in the gaps between islands in Northern Canada.
Next, I present information on Polar Bear Characteristics, which includes information on the polar bear population, swimming dangers, health, and diet. To encourage active engagement, I ask students to turn and teach the information on the slide. My students are pros at this! They immediately explain all the characteristics of polar bears to a nearby partner.
Finally, the class discusses the Polar Bear Food Chain and how all organisms in the food chain are in danger due to the melting sea ice.
I want to inspire further interest in today's lesson and capitalize on student curiosity, so I continue by showing two videos on global warming (the National Geographic documentary below, followed by a video called You can Make a Difference).
By showing these videos, students are provided with even more background knowledge that inspires students to ask questions and to take as many notes as possible on this environmental issue!
Throughout the videos, I pause for students to discuss key points. The goal is to encourage activate listening and to help students connect this environmental issue with their own lives. Students also identify relevant details that help explain either the problem, causes, impact on the environment, or steps to protect the environment. They eagerly take bulleted notes on the Globar Warming page of their big books!
To model this note-taking process, I record student ideas on my teacher example during this time: Global Warming Teacher Example. (I toggle back and forth between projecting the video and projecting the teacher model.)
I make sure these are student generated notes by continually asking: How do you want to word that? What is most important? Where might that fact go on our graphic organizer? I also want to integrate ELA standards by modeling correct grammar and spelling.
Here are a few key facts that students thought were important during the video:
Following the videos and rich discussion, I know students are ready to continue researching on their own!
Now that students have some background knowledge on global warming, I provide students with the opportunity to work in teams of two to continue their research.
I ask each student team to show me "who is #1 and who is #2" by holding up a one or two on their hand in their air. I then ask #1 students to get a laptop computer. Sometimes when students decide which partner will get a computer, valuable time is wasted!
By only having one computer between two students, each pair of students is able to fit their big books and the computer on two desks. Sharing one computer also encourages students to collaborate and discuss. Here's an example of what students eagerly leaning in together to research information: Students Researching Together.
Prior to the lesson, I emailed the following online resources to students for their research today. Again, the simple action of providing resource links helps make the student research process more efficient and productive. We've all seen students take the entire research time looking for a credible and interesting resource!
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, Earth's Climate Changing, the students read about the difference between Earth's normal climate changes and the warming trend that has happened recently. I'm impressed with how interested both of these students are in this material... so much so that they are able to make sense of and explain these higher level concepts that they're reading about!
Here are a few examples of student notes during this time. This was definitely one of the harder environmental issues to study and understand!
Teacher Note: While I encourage students to put their research into their own words, this turns out to be a challenging task for several students. Copying notes word-for-word is often easier and faster. I will continue to support students with rewording research in future lessons.
Now that students have built meaning and understanding by observing, questioning, and exploring, it is important to provide students with the opportunity to share their findings. For this reason, I invite students to participate in a conversation with a Discussion Group.
To prepare for student discussion groups, I review the discussion prompts on the board: Discussion Prompts and remind students: Remember, your goal isn't to just share important facts about deforestation, but to also share your thinking.
To encourage a thoughtful conversation, I also ask students to take turns sharing one fact at a time. After students share a fact, the other students in the group share their thoughts about the fact.
Prior to today's lesson, I created a list of discussion groups by placing students in groups of three students. I took particular care to make sure students are matched with new partners (rather than placing them with their research partners). Students will continue to meet with the same groups throughout the 4-lesson block on environmental issues.
I take every opportunity possible to listen to student thinking and to take part in conversations. This is one of the most powerful ways to not only encourage higher level thinking, but to also identify common misconceptions. During this conference, Group Discussion on Global Warming, the students discuss how global warming is impacting the Earth and how humans can take steps to protect the environment. I love how one student suggest that we use natural sunlight in the classroom instead of using electric lights all day!