Crosscutting Concepts Part 2: Structure and Function
Posted: Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015
by Valerie Joyner
In January we explored, the NGSS crosscutting concept of patterns in the primary grades through the lens of earth, space, and ocean sciences. This month we will take a look at the crosscutting concept of structure and function as it relates to the life sciences.
While structure and function are not taught in kindergarten, they are covered in 1st and 2nd grades. The early study of structure and function is necessary for laying the groundwork for all students’ science education throughout the grades. The importance of early childhood science in grades K-2 cannot be emphasized enough.
“In grades K-2, – students observe that the shape and stability of structure and designed objects are related to their function(s)” (NGSS, Appendix G). Just as a fork with prongs makes eating noodles easier, and a spoon with a bowl makes a better tool for sipping soup, plants and animals have structures that assist them in their survival. Take for example:
- red tubular flowers attract hummingbirds, pollinators with long slender beaks
- many berries have protective thorns; small animals shelter in their thorny thickets
- African trees grow tall to avoid grazers; giraffes have long necks to reach them
- kangaroos use their tails for stability so they can stand and bound on two legs
- bats and foxes have big ears to catch more sound so they can hear and hunt better
In first grade 1-LS1-1, students “use materials to design a solution to a human problem by mimicking how plants and/or animals use their external parts to help survive, grow, and meet their needs.” Coming up with simple investigations to illustrate these connections between structure and function can be challenging but here are a few ideas.
Have students make tiny chairs, each with one Dixie cup and no more than three toothpick legs, with a mini marshmallow as a base for each toothpick leg. If you have them start with two legs each and graduate to three, they will notice and appreciate the stability added by the kangaroo’s third appendage, its tail.
First grade scientists can also draw and cut out different size and shape paper ear extensions to see if their hearing improves. Show some basic examples like small triangle cat ears, tall skinny rabbit ears, and large triangle fox ears, and direct students to make any size or shape animal ears they want. Then switch styles among themselves so they can all try several different sizes and shapes (making sure no one actually inserts anything into their ears).
In second grade 2-LS2-2, students “develop a simple model that mimics the function of an animal in dispersing seeds or pollinating plants.” Here are a few possibilities for compelling investigations still simple enough for the age group.
Have second grade students make simple Dixie cup “flowers” with fuzzy sticks (pipe cleaners) sprinkled with cornstarch for stamens and pollen. Students can visit the flowers with bees they make from fuzzy sticks and note how the “pollen” sticks to the “bees”.
As a follow up, make Dixie cup “seed pods” by putting some wild bird seed in each cup, covering with tissue paper and securing with rubber bands. Students then go outside and poke small holes in the “seed pod” with a pencil and sprinkle seeds, mimicking behavior of animals that disperse seeds by brushing against or eating flowers and letting some of the seed scatter about.
Hands-on models for demonstrating to kids how structure and function relate to each other are even richer when they complement experiences outside the classroom, like guided hikes, sock seed walks (with old socks on over shoes and pant legs to collect and examine “hitchhikers”), and outings with family and friends. It helps to invite students to make observations about structures throughout their days and share them in the classroom during science time. Kids can speculate together on what functions different structures may serve for the observed plant or animal.
As teachers, we’re always looking for more variety in activities so we can adapt to different student needs and classroom settings. As you integrate this concept into your teaching toolbox, keep an eye out for ideas and investigations to help primary kids connect structure to function. Above all, please share ideas and experiences with colleagues in your school and with us in this newsletter to enrich science learning for all students.
This article is the second in a series exploring crosscutting concepts and offering ideas for applications in the primary grades. Crosscutting concepts “provide students with connections and intellectual tools that are related across the different areas of disciplinary content and can enrich the application of practices and their understanding of core ideas.” (NRC, 2012, pg. 233)
There are seven fundamental crosscutting concepts so necessary for students to learn effectively, throughout all grade levels in all disciplines. These are 1) patterns, 2) cause and effect, 3) scale, proportion, and quantity, 4) systems and system models, 5) energy and matter: flows, cycles, and conservation, 6) structure and function, and 7) stability and change.
Look for another crosscutting concept featured in the next issue, and in the meantime, we’d love to hear from you about your experiences with teaching any of these fundamental connecting concepts to primary students.
Posted: Tuesday, March 14th, 2017
The pre-publication version of the new California Science Curriculum Framework is now available for download. This publication incorporates all the edits that were approved by the State Board of Education in November 2016 and was many months in the making. Our sincere thanks to the dozens of CSTA members were involved in its development. Our appreciation is also extended to the California Department of Education, the State Board of Education, the Instructional Quality Commission, and the Science Curriculum Framework and Evaluation Criteria Committee and their staff for their hard work and dedication to produce this document and for their commitment to the public input process. To the many writers and contributors to the Framework CSTA thanks you for your many hours of work to produce a world-class document.
For tips on how to approach this document see our article from December 2016: California Has Adopted a New Science Curriculum Framework – Now What …? If you would like to learn more about the Framework, consider participating in one of the Framework Launch events (a.k.a. Rollout #4) scheduled throughout 2017.
The final publication version (formatted for printing) will be available in July 2017. This document will not be available in printed format, only electronically.
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
The 2017 Award Season is now open! One of the benefits of being a CSTA member is your eligibility for awards as well as your eligibility to nominate someone for an award. CSTA offers several awards and members may nominate individuals and organizations for the Future Science Teacher Award, the prestigious Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, and the CSTA Distinguished Contributions Award (organizational award). May 9, 2017 is the deadline for nominations for these awards. CSTA believes that the importance of science education cannot be overstated. Given the essential presence of the sciences in understanding the past and planning for the future, science education remains, and will increasingly be one of the most important disciplines in education. CSTA is committed to recognizing and encouraging excellence in science teaching through the presentation of awards to science educators and organizations who have made outstanding contributions in science education in the state and who are poised to continue the momentum of providing high quality, relevant science education into the future. Learn More…
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
CSTA is now accepting applications from regular, preservice, and retired members to serve on our volunteer committees! CSTA’s all-volunteer board of directors invites you to consider maximizing your member experience by volunteering for CSTA. CSTA committee service offers you the opportunity to share your expertise, learn a new skill, or do something you love to do but never have the opportunity to do in your regular day. CSTA committee volunteers do some pretty amazing things: Learn More…
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
by Marian Murphy-Shaw
If you attended an NGSS Rollout phase 1-3 or CDE workshops at CSTA’s annual conference you may recall hearing from Chris Breazeale when he was working with the CDE. Chris has relocated professionally, with his passion for science education, and is now the Executive Director at the Explorit Science Center, a hands-on exploration museum featuring interactive STEM exhibits located at the beautiful Mace Ranch, 3141 5th St. in Davis, CA. Visitors can “think it, try it, and explorit” with a variety of displays that allow visitors to “do science.” To preview the museum, or schedule a classroom visit, see www.explorit.org. Learn More…
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
by Joseph Calmer
Probably like you, NGSS has been at the forefront of many department meetings, lunch conversations, and solitary lesson planning sessions. Despite reading the original NRC Framework, the Ca Draft Frameworks, and many CSTA writings, I am still left with the question: “what does it actually mean for my classroom?”
I had an eye-opening experience that helped me with that question. It came out of a conversation that I had with a student teacher. It turns out that I’ve found the secret to learning how to teach with NGSS: I need to engage in dialogue about teaching with novice teachers. I’ve had the pleasure of teaching science in some capacity for 12 years. During that time pedagogy and student learning become sort of a “hidden curriculum.” It is difficult to plan a lesson for the hidden curriculum; the best way is to just have two or more professionals talk and see what emerges. I was surprised it took me so long to realize this epiphany. Learn More…