The noisy environment is filled with excitement and questioning. Designers create, collaborate, and redesign their models based on new information. Engineers discuss the strengths and weaknesses of their designs. Scientists conduct and evaluate experiments.
Sound like a wonderful place to work?
Well… it is!
Welcome to my first grade classroom, where six-year-olds make science and engineering seamless, and their teacher is learning so much along the way.
Last year, I used video to reflect on my practice and to grow as a teacher of science. I chose to record my students during a series of explorations that culminated in an engineering challenge.
Unit Plan: It’s All About The Beaks
My unit plan is a living document that’s revised based on student and teacher feedback.
The objective was for students to design and build a bird beak that could pick up noodles (K-2-ETS1-1). This post highlights a series of lessons that build toward designing a solution to a problem (1-LS1-1).
The essential question going into this activity was, “Are all beaks the same?” Students visited six stations in our classroom, each with a hands on simulation of a bird beak. The following videos will give you a glimpse into each station.
The stations were very realistic and the students loved them!
What Would I Change?
- I would change the pelican tub to Swedish Fish instead of beads, to make it more realistic.
- I feel this activity needs to be broken into two days, with three stations each day.
- I observed my students engaging in the task without discussing the beak structures. In the future, I’d create a slideshow with question stems. I may even video myself asking the following questions:
- What do you notice about this beak?
- Is it different than the others?
- Why do you think they’re different?
- Can I use this beak to eat _____?
- How are they alike?
At this point, students moved on to the design challenge. They used their prior knowledge about beak structure and function to create their own beak models. They used this document to draw their model and label it. The following video is a student sharing his design with the class.
Here are some photos of student created models (click the pictures to see a larger version):
- I was really impressed with the precision that was evident in the students’ drawings.
- Most students were able to explain their models and label all the parts.
- Having the building materials at the bottom of the page for reference was very helpful to my ELL students.
- It was evident that the presentation of their models provided students with new ideas; many of them used this feedback to revise their models.
- This is a very time consuming process, so you may want to do this in small groups instead of individually.
Students explored the materials they chose and at times became frustrated with the building process, but I encouraged them to persevere. We tested models and we discussed strengths and weaknesses. Based on their results, they had to decide how to redesign their models (K-2-ETS1-3).
Here are some videos of the building process and testing:
- I think I would add question prompts for the students to use to help judge the effectiveness of their model.
- Instead of testing individually with their teacher, I feel that students would benefit from a small group share out before coming to me.
- Redesign feedback may also come from an “At Home” piece. Students could take their models home and their families could provide feedback on their ideas.
These are the recording sheets that were used during the testing phase:
Evaluating and Communicating
The final activity involved students analyzing their models and comparing them with another student’s design. Students used question stems to drive the discussion. (Question stems are also helpful for ELL students.)
- Formative assessment data was collected during this activity.
- The question stems were very helpful for all students.
- Some students needed to work in a small group and others worked in pairs.
- I may include opportunities for students to share their designs with a kindergarten class. They’ll have to explain their designs and demonstrate their effectiveness.
Check out these two videos of Bird Talk:
Overall, I feel that this entire unit hits on the standards I was trying to cover.
It has many different opportunities for kids to be successful. The unit is moving toward the full standard, but at this point, I haven’t figured out how to develop this problem into a situation that people want to change.
I’d love to see your ideas about how you’d culminate this unit in the comments below!
Sandy Cappelli is a first grade teacher at Horgan Elementary School in West Warwick, Rhode Island. She’s been teaching for 27 years. She is a Rhode Island Federation of Teachers NGSS Facilitator, AFT National Thinking Math K-2 and Google Apps Trainer. Sandy is a Lead Teacher in her district and Peer Evaluator. She’s a member of Teaching Channel’s Next Gen Science Squad and AFT Next Generation Science Standards Review Team. Connect with Sandy on Twitter: @scappelli3, or visit her blog: My Chromebook Adventures in First Grade.