Principal

Travelling to Australia to Learn About Biodiversity: Teaching Grade 6

The Grade 5/6 class requested a music lesson but the teacher wanted to challenge me a bit more and push me out of my comfort zone. So last week I taught my first science lesson! The assigned topic: biodiversity.

This was a good challenge indeed. I struggled with staying focused, wanting to map out a whole unit. Science is awesome! Since the students were in the early part of the unit, the focus needed to be on classifying and organizing species. My preparations kept leading me to ecology and the impact of biodiversity on our planet. I only had 50 minutes of teaching/learning time with the students so I needed to be intentional with my laser beam learning focus. I learned before students can truly understand impact, they needed to understand the scope of what’s out there. The teacher graciously answered my many, many questions as I prepared this lesson.

My Goals

  • To continue with using a 3-part lesson, learning goals, and success criteria.
  • To include opportunities for feedback.
  • To design and implement an open task that provided multiple entry points, cooperative learning, opportunities for inquiry, and opportunities for students to share their thinking.
  • To have a high level of student engagement.
  • To ensure the Grade 5s (who are studying the body could still participate without prior knowledge of biodiversity).

The Lesson: Come to Australia

Minds On

Using power point slides I introduced the lesson. A few years ago I went on a school trip to Australia (it’s true). When we think of Australia we often think of soft, cuddly koalas. How is wildlife different in Australia than in Canada?

Here is a quick overview of the power point slides: Come to Australia

When we first arrived in Australia, our tour guide shared this song with us:

First the class listened to the song. Then I gave each student lyrics to the song. We sang it together three times.

Lyrics for “Come to Australia”

Students loved this song! Their energy shifted and their minds totally opened to whatever the next hour would bring. The song caught them by surprise, appealed to their sense of humour, and gave them insight into a new perspective on Australia. (At the end of the lesson, the students begged to sing it again and again and again. Throughout the day, students were singing this song to me as they passed me in the halls).

Action

Learning Goal: We are learning to sort and classify species from Australia.

Success Criteria:

  • I can organize species into vertebrate classes.
  • I can describe species using details that help to distinguish them.
  • I can predict behaviours of species based on their appearances.

On our trip we visited Blue Mountains and hiked through a rainforest. We went to Bondi Beach and walked in the waves. We went to an aquarium and wildlife parks. I have hundreds of pictures of wildlife from the trip–but now I’ve forgotten the names of what I photographed!

I need the help of zoologists. What do zoologists do? They ask OGY questions (zoolOGY)–Oh gee why? And they look deeply. They look into the species rather than at the species.

In groups, students were given an envelope with 30 pictures of wildlife from Australia and a large sheet of paper. They needed to sort and organize the pictures, beginning with “Oh gee why” questions to spark discussion and then looking deeply into the pictures for clues as to where they should be placed.

The Task:

Use a classification system of your choice to sort the pictures:

  • Physical appearance
  • Structural characteristics
  • Class within the animal kingdom
  • Scary factor
  • ???

Checklist–Does your classification system…

  • Group species in a way that makes sense?
  • Use labels that show characteristics?
    • Physical
    • Behaviour
    • Habitat
  • Show what you know about wildlife?

Big challenge (if you want it): Create groupings where the wildlife can only belong to one of the groups (no overlap in characteristics).

The class went to work immediately, pulling the photos out of the envelope and laying them out across the desk. They had more questions than answers and could not name most of the wildlife in the pictures. One group decided to sort the pictures based on “cuteness” but were surprised to find that they could not reach consensus on defining “cute.” Some groups tried to use predator and prey as their headings, developing hypothesis’ as to which animals would be in each category based on appearance. Groups with Grade 6 students who have already been introduced to biodiversity organized the pictures using the class system (what they could remember of it after two introductory lessons). While students worked there were a range of discussions from debating kangaroos to questioning the differences between reptiles and amphibians. One student mentally departed from his group to map out a more complicated system. As you can see from their work, there are many interesting choices here and opportunities for students to share their thinking and justify their choices. The student work also shows where more learning is needed.

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Consolidation

After the students were finished with their systems they did a gallery walk, moving around the room looking at how the others had organized the photos. Then we had a discussion using these questions as prompts:

  • What was similar and/or different in how other groups organized the photos?
  • What questions do you have now? What will we need to investigate next?
  • What did you like best about a system another group designed? What did you like best about the system you designed?

We went around the room one group at a time. Students offered reflections on what they had learned and what they liked best about the system they designed. I also offered feedback to each group based on our learning goal and success criteria.

To finish this lesson we watched another short video clip (before singing the song a few more times!)


Reflection

While the students worked on the task it was challenging to ask probing questions, assess the progress of the group, and the progress of the individual all at once and then retaining this in my head. I didn’t develop a formal tracking system to use while the students worked. Ideally, I would have a clipboard with a list of look-fors to monitor individual students. I walked away from the lesson/task knowing how groups performed and how some individuals worked, but I would not be able to account for assessing each student’s learning without some monitoring system in place. Relying on my mind/memory to collect and synthesize the information would not be enough.

If I were to do this lesson again, I would create “assessment for learning” tools for making notes on groups and individuals.

The student feedback was excellent. Here are some of their comments on the lesson:

  • “For your first science lesson, that was really good.”
  • “Always put something at the end that makes students happy. Then we are happy when the learning is done.”
  • “I give it a million out of one.”
  • “You are a good teacher because you travel. When you travel you learn a lot.”

And the teacher hoped to extend the lesson the next day based on her observations of student learning and next steps.

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8 Comments

  • Alison Scott

    Jessica, LOVE this lesson! It is tricky to do these one-off lessons and I totally relate to your desire to map the whole unit. The assessment piece for one lesson is also a challenge but I think at this place it is about getting a sense of what the students know, understand and can do. Are you teaching other lessons in other classes? You rock!

    • Jessica Outram

      Thanks, Alison! Yes I am attempting to teach a lesson in each class this year. So far I taught Music to Grade 2/3 and this lesson. Grade 1/2 has requested Art. Kindergarten really wanted me to teach them how to ride a bicycle without training wheels (lol) but they decided to ask me teach them how to read and write books!! Definitely some challenging requests have come in! But it is fun to try and rise to the challenge!!

  • Tom Semadeni

    Very nice, Jessica!
    I liked many aspects and want to reinforce this with you:

    “The class went to work immediately, pulling the photos out of the envelope and laying them out across the desk. They had more questions than answers and could not name most of the wildlife in the pictures. One group decided to sort the pictures based on “cuteness” but were surprised to find that they could not reach consensus on defining “cute.” Some groups tried to use predator and prey as their headings, developing hypothesis’ as to which animals would be in each category based on appearance. Groups with Grade 6 students who have already been introduced to biodiversity organized the pictures using the class system (what they could remember of it after two introductory lessons).”
    This illustrates a very important scientific process: finding consensus on a system of classification. Of course there are an infinite number of classification systems, especially with modern genetic/molecular biology in addition to the classic taxonomies. So this is a wonderful opportunity to
    reflect to the learner the challenges in developing a “system” …. much more important than hammering the trite, boring, “Scientific Method”.

    There are some opportunities to have the learners RELATE/TRANSFER their organization results to “everyday life”… with fauna that they know something about …. eg rodentia (the largest of mammal orders)…. beasties like beavers, mice, chipmunks, squirrels etc, that the students are familiar with. Showing the classification difficulties with rabbits, hares etc illustrates that scientific conclusions are always changing and subject to informed challenge. …. similar to their difficulties in getting consensus with Aussie beasts.!

    Nice use of OGY and Looking into the subject!!!! (of course!)

    What is your next teaching challenge? Beauty and relationship of mathematics (especially counting arithmetic) to music (especially to chording, transposing etc)? Or even pattern recognition when transposing chords.

    Good to see this work, Jessica.

    Tom

    • Jessica Outram

      Thanks, Tom! You inspired the OGY and looking deeply–things I’ve learned from our chats. The students worked hard to reach consensus and those that had differing opinions had rich conversations and helped to stretch each other’s thinking.

      I love your lesson ideas!! I enjoy learning with the staff and students so this is something I hope to continue in my work as a principal.

  • John Davidson

    Jessica, this is just great. Love that you introduced it with that song! What an inspirational administrator. I’ll bet the kids in the upcoming lessons look forward to your lessons.

    • Jessica Outram

      Thanks, John. At first the students were not sure what to think of all this, but as I visit classes they are excited, inviting me back to teach them again. Since the students had specifically requested music I felt that I had a duty to integrate music into the lesson somehow. That song is hilarious and it’s always a bonus when the learning is also fun!

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