I picked up this idea at the Charlotte STEM conferences at UNC Charlotte in January, 2018. This conference was an amazing start to the year! I presented on #innovate4littles and attended some amazing sessions by educators around North Carolina. This activity was shared by presenters from Carolina Wolf Trap. This organization pairs artists and teachers to create integrated experiences for young learners. They moved all the tables out of the way and set up a pond in the middle of the room complete with plants, animals, and water. They played music. We danced, we moved, we did yoga all while learning important vocabulary about a pond. They shared strong texts to pair with this activity because we know that a print-rich environment is best for students. I was inspired by this experience and decided I was going to recreate it for our organisms unit in the Spring. The presenters shared a book with me that would pair well with the organisms I we learn about and make connections to a garden – Up in the Garden, Down in the Dirt. I started gathering materials in January and finally was able to complete the experience with my students and some visitors in April!
The Set Up
It was field day. After the games, I had 1 hour with my students. The day before, we completed our unit on communities. This was the perfect storm for an experience like this. I laid out a piece of brown fabric. On top of that, I placed fabric leaves, plastic insects, seeds, and rocks. Then came the green fabric, more leaves, insects, and rocks. I also added sticks, garden gloves, a spade, a hand rake, a hoe, fringe for tufts of grass, and pictures of flowers. I set up while my students were out of the room because I wanted it to be a surprise for them. I put on Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and went to bring my firsties into the room for the big reveal.
I invited 2 other teachers to join us for this experience and they joined us! We had 50 first graders in the room! Welcomed everyone and began by asking students to turn and talk with a shoulder buddy about what they could see. I had a few firsties share out what they saw. Then I introduced our first vocabulary word – organisms. I mentioned the items the kids said they saw that were organisms and then examples they shared that were not organisms. I know that providing examples and nonexamples is a great way for students to define words. Then I asked students what they thought organisms are. We defined it as, “living things.” Students then shared some other things they saw that were organisms. We decided the leaves and sticks were part of an organism.
I then had students grab an organism from our classroom garden. We watched to make sure what they took was for sure an organism as a quick assessment of their understanding. I turned up the music and asked students to move their hands like an organism while trying to match their movements to the music. We selected a few students to get up and move their whole body like an insect to the music. We defined some ways that insects move as we observed our firstie insects. Some of the plastic organisms were amphibians. I asked if they thought amphibians would move the same of different from the insects then students began moving their hands to the music like an amphibian. A few others had the opportunity to move their whole body like an amphibian while we defined their movements with a vocabulary word.
We then looked at some of the tools in our classroom garden. I first asked students to name them so they could connect their schema to the new vocabulary word. Then, students modeled a safe way to use the tool.
And then it was time to look beneath the surface. We called on some more students to take a piece of the green, plant life, fabric.
The slowly lifted and lowered the living layer of the earth. Everyone scooted closer so they could get a good look at what was beneath the surface.
The surface layer students the lifted the fabric again and we removed it. We were not looking at the organisms and non-living things that live down in the dirt.
I love in this picture how everyone is as close as they can get to the dirt layer and kids are standing behind them so they could get a good look.
We repeated some of what we did with the surface layer with the organisms and nonliving things that are found down in the dirt. In addition, we talked about the seeds and the organism they will grow into.
I then asked students to stand up and plant their feet in the ground. Everyone moved in even closer so they could plant themselves in the dirt layer in the middle of our circle. We imagined our roots reaching deep into the ground and what they are pulling into our plant bodies. Students complained about being squished, a perfect opportunity to discuss that plants also need SPACE to grow. Students immediately spread out around the room so they could grow bigger. I asked for other plant parts and firsties called out, “stem, trunk, branches, leaves, flowers.” Students grew taller and reached their arms into the air. I turned the music up again and had the firstie plants move and sway with the music.
The next day, we talked about our experience and I read the book Up in the Garden, Down in the Dirt. They made connections to what they saw the day before and we identified the organisms in the book that were garden friends or garden foe. And I told them that we will be spending time in our school garden as we learn more about organisms and they will see out there.
North Carolina Science Standards
L1.1 Understand characteristics of various environments and behaviors of humans that enable plants and animals to survive.
L1.2 Summarize the needs of living organisms for energy and growth.
E1.2 Understand the physical properties of earth materials that make them useful in different ways. We connected back to our work with rocks and identified rocks and soil. Rocks help provide space and air in the soil. Soil is a mixture of rock material and dead organic material. (We need to revisit this as we continue our organisms work.)
Next Generation Science Standards
LS1-1 Use observations to describe patterns of what plants and animals need to survive.
ESS3-1 Use a model to represent the relationship between the needs of different plants and animals and the places they live.
LS1-1 Use materials to design a solution to a human problem by mimicking how plants and/or animals use their external parts to help them survive, grow, and meet their needs.
LS1-2 Read text and use media to determine patterns in behavior in parents and offspring that help offspring survive.
LS2-1 Plan and conduct an investigation to determine if plants need water and sunlight to grow.
Common Core Standards
SL1 Participate in collaborative conversations with diverse partners about topics and tesxts with peers and adults in small and larger groups.
SL4 Describe people, places, things, and events with relevant details, expressing ideas and feelings clearly.
SL6 Produce complete sentences when appropriate to task and situation.
L4 Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on content, choosing flexibility from an array of strategies.
- I need plastic worms, fake flowers, and other plants to add to the setup.
- Begin with the protocol: see, think, wonder not just see.
- Model a way to not use the tools. (I chose not to this time because there were too many students in the room.)
- Students should have the opportunity to act out the growth from seed to plant.
- Close up the experience with this is what you will see in our garden as we work.