March/April 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 6

Patterns of Survival

Posted: Friday, May 20th, 2016

by Joey Noelle Lehnhard

To develop a scientific understanding of the natural world, students need lots of time to observe that world and notice patterns. In fact, the Next Generation Science Standards tell us, “noticing patterns is often a first step to organizing phenomena and asking scientific questions about why and how the patterns occur.” This may be different from the way we’ve guided student observations in the past. Before, we might ask for detailed sentences about color, size, and shape. We might have encouraged students to add an illustration and stopped there. However, focusing students on pattern identification can foster authentic engagement with a phenomenon and can lead to opportunities for deeper meaning making.

Finding patterns in the natural world often requires getting out of the classroom. To both contextualize content and develop a conservation ethic, it’s important for young students to study their local environment, rather than exotic ones. So exploring your schoolyard, a field site, or local habitats exhibited by your area zoo or aquarium is an excellent way to engage students in this crosscutting concept. Educators at the Monterey Bay Aquarium recently developed the following PreK-2nd grade curriculum piece, which you can lead with your students at any informal science institution or outdoor site. We’ll use the rocky shore as an example, but you can use any habitat that is accessible to you or available on your next field trip. (We’re a bit biased, but we think the rocky shore is pretty amazing.)

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Our activity centers around the focus question, What patterns do we see in animals that live in the rocky shore? You might choose to begin this activity by introducing the focus question to students. First, we access prior knowledge about the habitat by asking if any of the students have ever been to a tide pool. We discuss the various creatures they saw there and create a shared list. Then, we read the book In One Tide Pool by Anthony D. Fredericks aloud with students and add to the list of animals they think they might find in the rocky shore.

Lehnhard_May-16-Image1At the Aquarium, students spend time exploring the rocky shore touch pools. Coming back together, each student or group of students chooses three animals they saw in the touch pools. They return to the touch pools, as well as other exhibits, to carefully observe those three animals and record their thoughts by taking photos with an iPad or other mobile device, sketching the animal in a science notebook, or talking about what they see with a chaperone. Then students use a sentence frame to construct an explanation about patterns they observed in animals that live in the same habitat. For example, one recent student wrote: “In the rocky shore, the sea star, sea urchin and anemone all stick to rocks.” Other patterns they identify in the rocky shore might include: needing water, having a hard shell, or eating kelp.

Lehnhard_May-16-Image2Each student then shares the pattern they found and tries to think of why that pattern might be helpful to the animals that live in that habitat. This can be facilitated in small groups by each chaperone or as a whole group in a quieter part of the facility (the back deck of the Aquarium works well for this). In response to the next sentence frame, a student might write: “In the rocky shore, I think sticking to rocks helps animals survive. I think this because of the strong waves.”

Later, back in the classroom, students use their photos, illustrations, observations, and completed sentence frames to create a screencast to communicate their thinking. We use the free version of Educreations, but any screencast program or application would work. Depending on time, students can share their screencasts with a partner, a small group, the whole class or at a school event.

Lehnhard_May-16-Image4Finally, we return to our focus question: What patterns do we see in animals that live in the rocky shore? We review the patterns we identified and the reasons we think those patterns are helpful. This often leads to more sophisticated discussions about adaptations (body parts and behaviors) and the needs of living things. One way we help solidify student understanding is to end the activity with a meaning-making science talk.

Content Connections:

This activity could support a variety of NGSS performance expectations including

  • K-LS1: Use observations to describe patterns of what plants and animals (including humans) need to survive.
  • 1-LS1: Read texts and use media to determine patterns in behavior of parents and offspring that help offspring survive.

The current draft of the California Transitional Kindergarten Science Standards also includes this standard that may be applicable: PreK-LS1.3: Recognize that living things have habitats in different environments suited to their unique needs.

If you decide to have your students create screencasts, a variety of Common Core State Standards can be addressed as well, including:

  • Language Arts, W.K.6, W.1.6, W.2.6 Writing: With guidance and support from adults, explore a variety of digital tools to produce and publish writing, including in collaboration with peers.
  • Language Arts, SL.1.5 Speaking and Listening: Add drawings or other visual displays to descriptions when appropriate to clarify ideas, thoughts, and feelings.
  • Language Arts, W.K.2 Writing: Use a combination of drawing, dictating and writing to compose informative/explanatory texts in which they name what they are writing about and supply some information about the topic.

Lehnhard_May-16-Image5Field trips to the Monterey Bay Aquarium are always free. Register for next year in May.

Joey Noelle Lehnhard is a Senior Education Specialist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and CSTA member. Find her on Twitter @JoeyElle or Email: jlehnhard@mbayaq.org.

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.

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