Saturday, March 15, 2014

What happens in spring? Our investigation

This month we are starting an investigative science unit organized around one central question: What happens in spring? I hope to increase the kindergarteners' observational skills through this open-ended, integrative unit. Each week we will look at a different aspect of springtime, including birds, worms, chicks, and bugs. I'll also have lots of ways for the kids to explore both outdoors and in, so that they begin to notice signs of spring all around us. Here are some ways we have started investigating:

Sit Spots
I first posed our essential question to the class at the beginning of March, when the weather was still freezing and snow covered the ground. We kicked off the unit by going outside and finding a "sit spot," where the students sat with their science journals and wrote or drew everything they saw around them. We'll do the same thing again several more times as the weather gets warmer and warmer.

The Wonder Table
We have a new Wonder Table in our classroom, complete with magnifying glasses, balances, and other tools for observation. Kindergarteners have been bringing in items to add to the Wonder Table, as they notice them outside in their yard and around their homes. So far we have collected a snake skin, a wasp's nest, lots of types of rocks, shells, and a bird's nest. Hopefully as the weather warms up we'll continue to add items to investigate! Below are some pictures of the kids exploring the Wonder Table. Particularly popular is the set of animal tracks that have suddenly appeared hidden around the room, plus the kid-friendly field guides for identifying animal tracks!

Learning about Birds
We have also been doing an in-depth study of birds from our area for the past week. I am lucky enough to work at the local nature center, so I have access to bird mounts and lots of other environmental education materials that I can bring into the classroom. For Mystery Bag Monday, I hid a bird mount of an indigo bunting, and the kids guessed what was hidden inside the bag based on my clues.

Then we passed around six different bird mounts and shared our observations about them.

Next I hid nine different types of stuffed birds in the school library, and the scientists had to work together to find them all and identify them from a checklist. This was SO exciting and definitely something to try again later!

Next we looked a great-horned owl mount, and talked about the parts of a bird. We focused in particular on bird beaks, and how different birds have different shaped beaks, in order to eat different things in their environment! We did a "Bird Beak Experiment," where each group of scientists got a different mock beak, to emulate the shape of a certain species of bird. For example, tongs emulated an owl's curvy, sharp beak; a straw emulated a hummingbird's long narrow beak; a tweezers emulated a robin's thin pointed beak. They then rotated between food stations and tried to see which item was easiest to eat - water (to represent nectar), gummy worms (to represent worms and insects), cookies (to represent meat), and sunflowers seeds (to represent nuts and seeds). They then shared their conclusions and we looked at which beak represented which type of bird! Here are pictures of the investigation:

For the last part of our bird study, we got to choose between searching for animal tracks, reading bird books (including an amazing one that plays bird calls for different types of birds), playing a bird matching game on the ipad, and making a Backyard Bird Field Guide. It was so much fun!

Last, we had a station during Literacy time where each pair of kids could make a bird feeder out of Fruit Loops. After recording the colors they used, they got to go outside and find a place in our playground tree to hang the bird feeder. Here are the little scientists pointing to their creations!

At the end of the week, we shared signs of spring we have observed so far. Here's to hoping that the weather continues to warm so we can learn and play outside even more!

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