Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Wrapping Up the Butterfly Unit!


 Today’s science class was bittersweet as we taught our last lesson to the second graders. In order to wrap up our butterfly unit and bring some sense of closure to the class, we decided to end our last lesson with a read-aloud of the book From Caterpillar to Butterfly by Deborah Heiligman and a group activity. This week we also focused on the instructional skills of differentiation and assessment. These are two important aspects included in all of our lesson plans, which help teachers to individualize instruction as well as assess whether or not objectives have been met.
     The book we chose to read aloud to the students suited our last lesson well. Like our second graders, the book told the story of a class that raised painted lady butterflies. Students were very familiar with the life cycle stages as we read through the book and they answered the questions we posed while reading with accuracy. This summary of our butterfly unit led into our next activity during which students made a class alphabet book of the butterfly life cycle facts. Each student received a page with a letter of the alphabet on it. They each chose a word that started with their letter and which related to something that they had learned about the butterfly life cycle. They drew a picture of their word and wrote a fact using the word in a sentence. In order to differentiate this activity for struggling students, we selected letters that would be easier to link to a word related to the butterfly or its life cycle. We also made informational books about the butterfly available to those students who could not think of any words on their own. We posted all of the visuals and posters that we had made throughout the unit that related to the butterfly on the whiteboard, which also helped students with the activity. Another form of differentiation that we included in this activity was our time allotment. Some students took more time to complete their pages than others. In order to give these students the time they needed, we allowed the students who finished earlier to complete another letter page or a cloze writing activity that reviewed the butterfly life cycle. This proved to be helpful because all students were able to complete their pages and stay focused on a task.
     The overall objective of this final lesson was for students to be able to write one fact about the butterfly or its life cycle. The alphabet book project proved to be a great activity that easily measured whether or not the students had met our lesson objective. We used a checklist as an assessment tool, which assessed if students wrote about, illustrated and verbally shared their facts with the class. After the students finished their alphabet pages, we gathered them together in alphabetical order in the meeting area. One-by-one, each student read their fact and showed the class their illustrations. In the end, all the pages were contributed to the class book and each student was awarded a “Butterfly Expert” badge of honor! Two things I will always remember about this final lesson were how all of the students applauded one another after the last student had read his word for the letter ‘z’ and how they all cheered when we showed them the science packet of their completed work that they could keep and take home. Their excitement was definitely evident and it was clear that they had all enjoyed learning about the butterfly life cycle over these past few months. I am thankful for this experience and look forward to more exciting adventures with science in the future! 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Teaching...Day Six!

     This week’s focus skill when planning was to make engineering and technology connections within our lesson. What does engineering and technology look like for second graders? Well, useful skills like using scissors and glue properly and safely are a part of the Massachusetts frameworks for this area. It worked out well making this connection because these skills fit in smoothly with the activities we had planned.
     This week’s lesson was based on the butterfly life cycle. Students created butterfly life cycle folders that included a cover, a cut and paste activity and a writing/gluing activity. The cut and paste activity required the students to cut out six images that represented the growth from egg to adult butterfly. The images were  pasted in the correct order onto their folders. Next, the students pasted labels that corresponded to the appropriate images.

     Another activity that the students completed also involved ordering the four stages of the life cycle. Yet instead of using paper images, the students glued various pasta pieces onto the correct places on their worksheets. Egg pastina pasta was used to represent the butterfly eggs, spiral rotini pasta represented the caterpillars, medium shells pasta represented the chrysalises and farfalle pasta represented the butterflies. The students loved gluing their pasta onto their life cycle folders. Overall, this was a fun activity that helped the students understand the four stages of the butterfly life cycle.

     Regarding their use of the scissors, glue sticks and liquid glue, the students did a great job using these tools appropriately and efficiently. The students also used these tools safely. They didn’t play around with their scissors or glue, but properly used these tools to help them with the activities. Overall, my wonderful co-teacher and I had a good experience teaching more about these beautiful insects with our second-grade scientists!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Teaching...Day Five!

 Today was a very hectic day with our second graders! You can definitely tell that it is Thanksgiving week! Like always, our lesson was divided into two parts by the students’ recess break. One of the activities that the students did during the first half of the lesson was write about their scientific observations in their science journals. Our lesson incorporated instructional technology as we showed the students a brief movie on the laptop, which showed a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis. After viewing this video, we asked the students to write 2-3 sentences about what they saw and learned from this video. In groups, the students also observed their butterflies and chrysalises in their nets. Again, the students recorded their observations through drawings and writing in their journals. Writing is an important aspect to include in science lessons because it provides students with the opportunity to communicate their ideas about science.  Science usually involves many hands-on activities, but including writing is just as important because students need to practice expressing their thoughts and ideas through the art of writing. 

     Speaking of hands-on activities, the second half of our lesson involved the students constructing a model butterfly. Each group of students was given two model butterfly body parts. As we read clues describing the functions of these parts, the group who believed they had the correct part raised their hands. The correct group brought their butterfly body part to the front of the room where Katie and I constructed a giant 3-D butterfly. Also, as each part was added to the model, the students followed along and labeled the part on their worksheets as we also labeled a poster of the butterfly body parts. After all eight parts were discussed, labeled and put together on the model, our butterfly took shape and became a great teaching tool to show the students the butterfly body parts in 3-D.
Overall, despite the initial chaos in the room, the students were given opportunities to write about science, utilize instructional technology and learn about the interesting body parts of these beautiful insects. I look forward to our next lesson when we will teach about the butterfly’s life cycle!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Teaching...Day Four!

     Today was another exciting lesson with our curious second graders. Throughout the week they have been carefully observing their caterpillars grow and change shape. An important aspect of our lessons that has helped the students to talk about these observations has been the content vocabulary introduced each week. Today the students used last week’s vocabulary words as they told us about their caterpillar observations. This week’s content vocabulary centered on words related to the molting process and the chrysalis. After introducing words such as molting, shed, exoskeleton, frass, head capsule, and chrysalis, the students were able to describe their observations using these terms. I believe that helping students identify content vocabulary and giving them the opportunity to use these new words in conversation helps students to understand the words in their contexts rather than through mere memorization. We also included a vocabulary review game in today’s lesson with which the students matched the vocabulary word with its corresponding meaning and picture. Using video clips and pictures that illustrate the various words are also useful tools that help students understand such sophisticated science terms.
     This week our lesson flowed smoothly as we reviewed last week’s word wall terms and transitioned into discussing the molting process and the change into the chrysalis. Our lesson was structured so that there were not any time delays. In fact, we actually had the opposite challenge of keeping to our allotted time! Today we did not have enough time to close the lesson with our planned review of the vocabulary game because the students needed to get to their next class. Although I think it’s great that we’ve had more than enough activity time planned for our lessons, we definitely need to work on keeping to our designated science time!
     As the class discussed their observations of their caterpillars, many of the students agreed that their caterpillars had become cocoons. Because this is a common misconception about caterpillars, we explained to the students about the differences between cocoons and chrysalises. Another false idea that the students had was that the caterpillar waste they observed was caterpillar eggs. We explained that this was not eggs, but frass. We also explained how the larger black material was actually the head capsules the caterpillars had shed during the molting process.
     Overall, I feel that the students were introduced to many important words and concepts today. I was very impressed that these seven-year-old students accurately used last week’s vocabulary words in conversation. They also started to use some of the words they learned about today during class discussion time. I look forward to next week’s lesson with our second grade scientists! 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Teaching...Day Three!

  It was great to be back with the students today after missing last week’s class due to the unexpected effects of an October snow-storm! This past week has definitely gone to show how flexible teachers need to be when unexpected circumstances arise. This blog will focus on three more important aspects to consider when teaching science: classroom management, process skills, and the lesson conclusion.

     In order for any lesson to be a success, a very important factor is that of classroom management. Teachers need to keep some form of order in the classroom and establish routines that students can easily follow. In our science class, Katie and I have used a variety of classroom management techniques that help us to gain students’ attention. Some cues we use to help refocus students when needed are the echo clapping in which students repeat a particular clap and the “One, two, three- look at me!” cue after which students respond “One, two- look at you!” Because these routines are familiar to students, they usually respond immediately when these cues are used. Another great technique Katie used today to gain students’ attention during an activity was to ask the students to touch their heads, shoulders, knees, etc. if they could hear her speaking. This strategy definitely got students to stop what they were doing and focus on Katie while she gave the next directions. Another strategy that we have used is to include both whole group instruction as well as small group work. When students work in groups of three, we also assign a number to each student in the group. In doing so, we can easily assign specific tasks to certain number students to help the activities to flow more smoothly.

     Another important aspect of teaching science is the incorporation of process skills.  Today our students used the skills of observation and collecting data. Using hand lenses, the students carefully observed the caterpillars. Building upon previous lessons in which the students learned how to make safe observations using four of their senses, students continued to use this process skill to observe the appearance of the caterpillars. The students then recorded their observations in their science journals through detailed drawings and sentences.

     The lesson ‘finale’ is also an essential part of the science lesson. The words spoken during this time may end up being what students remember the most from the entire lesson. During our conclusions, we usually gather the students at the classroom meeting area. We review our key questions of the lesson through a brief discussion in which students may share what they have learned. We also review any key vocabulary terms we have introduced during the lesson. These words are then posted on a science word wall and categorized into groups so that students can visualize how some words are connected. We also tend to make some reference to next week’s lesson in order to keep students engaged and to heighten their curiosity for our next class.

     Overall, these three aspects are key points that teachers need to consider when lesson planning. Classroom management is the key to whether or not students will ultimately learn the lesson objectives, process skills are tools students learn how to use which aid in their scientific explorations, and the conclusion is an important time to wrap up and bring a sense of closure to the lesson. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

Teaching...Day 2!

     Do you enjoy solving mysteries? Well, today our second grade students became detectives and helped us solve the missing cases of Annie Acorn and Eddy Egg. Building off of last week’s focus on observation skills, this week the students were introduced to an important tool in any mystery case, the hand lens. Using the hand lens, students carefully recorded their observations of acorns and water beads (used to represent frog eggs). In addition to the hand lens, another key objective of this week’s lesson was to teach students about the life cycle of the oak tree and frog. Because the missing cases of Annie Acorn and Eddy Egg were based on their life cycles, we did not introduce the concept of the life cycle in the opening of the lesson. Instead, we chose to engage the students in their work as detectives revealing four consecutive clues culminating in the complete life cycles.

     This lesson required the use of many materials. At different points throughout the lesson students used hand lenses to observe acorns, ‘eggs’, and a series of clues revealing both life cycles. Students also completed observation worksheets to practice their detective skills as well as two booklets to record their observations of the oak tree life cycle and the frog life cycle. Once again, co-teaching this lesson proved to be very helpful regarding materials management. While Katie led a class discussion or told the students the directions for an activity, I passed out the necessary materials and vice versa. It was also helpful to have a small corner table in the classroom where we could set out the plates of acorns and bowls of ‘eggs,’ which were readily available to collect and distribute amongst the students. Because there were two of us to handle distributing and collecting materials, I do not believe any instructional time was lost. However, if only one teacher taught this lesson I feel that a different system regarding materials management may be needed. Perhaps materials would be spread out on the corner table and specific students from each group would be designated to collect and return materials.

     This lesson combined a second grade life science biology framework about the life cycles of plants and animals as well as the inquiry skill of using a hand lens to collect data. Although our lesson opening focused more on the use of the hand lens because we did not want to give away the concept of the life cycle, the life cycle of both the oak tree and the frog was imbedded into the two activities the students completed as they helped us solve our missing cases. These two activities both concluded with a complete description of the life cycles. Using their great detective skills, the students helped us solve the mysteries of Annie Acorn and Eddy Egg who were not missing at all! Students revealed that Annie Acorn and Eddy Egg had actually experienced the changes of their life cycles and had become an oak tree and a frog!

     Overall, I really enjoyed teaching this lesson with Katie! Although it took us a lot of time to work out the details, I feel that the final version of this lesson kept students engaged and provided them with many opportunities to use the hand lens and experience the life cycles of the tree and frog. Next week we will continue our adventures in science as we ask our students to help us observe the life cycle of a mystery insect!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Teaching...Day One!

     Today was the first science lesson that my co-teacher Katie and I taught for a second grade class at a local elementary school! We presented the concept of making scientific observations using your senses. In spite of some initial nerves, we had a great experience and were excited to see the students so engaged and enthused to become scientific observers.
     Having a step-by-step lesson plan definitely helped us to present the lesson smoothly and effectively. I also recognize the importance of beginning and ending the lesson with some key questions that capture the essence of the material being presented. I feel that the ‘launch, explore, summary’ method of instruction that I have observed in some math classes, also works very well in a science class. Using this method, students are given the opportunity for both whole group and small group instruction. Objectives are introduced and repeated throughout the lesson and students are encouraged to explore the science topic being taught.

     This particular lesson also involved a few safety precautions to discuss and practice with the class. Students learned how to use the wafting method when using their sense of smell. They practiced handling objects in a mystery bag carefully when using their senses of touch, hearing, and seeing. We also discussed the idea that it is not safe to use our sense of taste during science because of the presence of germs or harmful chemicals that objects may contain. Katie’s idea to include glitter in the mystery bags to help students visualize the presence of germs really helped to capture this point! Overall, the students followed our directions well and carried out the activities safely.

     Another aspect of this experience that I believed benefitted the class was the fact that the lesson was co-taught. Having the presence of two teachers allows for more individualized student attention. Cooperation and teamwork are also modeled for the students. I personally enjoyed co-teaching this lesson and I felt that Katie and I worked well at balancing classroom management and delivering the lesson. Even during our lesson planning, I could see the benefits of being able to co-teach as Katie presented ideas that I wouldn’t have thought of on my own.

     Overall, I feel that this first lesson was a positive experience for teachers and students alike! I also appreciate the feedback we received from experienced teachers, which we will work at implementing during our next lesson. It is always helpful to have an extra pair of eyes and ears to make observations that we may be completely unaware of and to offer advice that will help shape us to become effective teachers.