Student Projects

Big Ideas from Small Creatures

Author: Patricia Lim

Grade: 1st

Subjects: Art, Language Arts, Math, Science

Drawing of ladybug
Drawing of spyder
wood carving with: If you want to find spiders, look under the bridge
display board with questions and answers
Charts: Making decisions as a class.
Gardeners with their vegitables
Display board with big bug
Child in garden
Child wearing bug eyes and holding drawing.
Child with drawing in garden
Child wearing bug eyes and holding drawing.
Big black bug in child's hand.
Looking at the ground with a magnifying glass

Students started off doing some field work in our own school garden and in the HTHMA garden to collect data about what animals live in the garden.

Each student chose an animal to study closely. The students worked with a partner and did some research to learn about that specific creature by observing, reading (read-aloud, small group, independent reading), watching videos, and setting up experiments. Students worked on this project with their classroom teacher and the science teacher (in the lab).

To record what they’ve learned, they drew models. They had to “think like a scientist” while drawing—they made sure to include details and tried to be as accurate as they can. Their goal was to draw models that could teach people information about their animal. Students also had to write the information in sentences and paragraphs. From observations, experiments, and field work, students learned to record and organize data in a variety of ways. All this work was collected in a science journal.

During Reader’s Workshop read-alouds, we read the Diary of a Worm/Spider/Fly series. We read each book once to enjoy and understand the story, and reread while thinking like scientists. We had to think, “What kind of information did I learn about the animal from this fictional story?”

We also read many nonfiction informational books about the animals. We compared the structure of these books with the fictional Diary of a Worm/Spider/Fly stories.

In partners or small groups, students read books to learn about their specific animal. In these small group lessons, students learned about the structure of nonfiction informational text, practiced decoding strategies, comprehension strategies, and reading fluently.

In the science lab, students asked, “What are some ways plants and animals meet their needs so that they can survive and grow?” Through hands-on experiences students were able to develop an understanding of how plants and animals use their external parts to help them survive, grow, and meet their needs as well as how behaviors of parents and offspring help the offspring survive. They also developed an understanding that young plants and animals are like, but not exactly the same, as their parents. First graders observed pill bugs, earthworms, crickets, snails, slugs, ladybugs, and butterflies up close. Each student was given two mealworms to observe and document their metamorphosis to adulthood. To prepare the students for their own experiments with garden animals, we conducted a class-wide experiment with pendulums. This classic Galileo experiment helped teach the scientific method and concept of variables. Students then worked in groups of two to design and conduct their own experiments. They came up with a testable questions (e.g. Do earthworms prefer to live in leaves or soil? What color flower do painted lady butterflies prefer: white, yellow, purple, or red and orange?) and made hypotheses. The students ran multiple trials, collected data, and developed conclusions. Finally, they used their newfound knowledge to inform decisions they made when making improvements in the school garden.

During Writer’s Workshop, students learned how to write informational paragraphs. Students used what they learned (recorded in their science journals) and published books to teach others about the animal’s adaptations. They learned about having a topic and writing details about that topic in an order that makes sense so someone can read their work and learn from it. They learned more about sentence structure, capitalization and punctuation.

Students engaged in many art activities, honing their illustration skills. They tried to make realistic drawings of the animals. Students practiced and drew drafts. Models that would later be part of their books went through a critique process with peers.

Now that we know so much about these garden creatures, we are working on inventing something for humans using ideas from the animals’ adaptations. We will think about this question: How can we copy or mimic the garden animals’ adaptations to invent something for humans?

Students learn about inventors, engineers, biomimicry,

These Concepts are part of this project’s learning goals:

  • Structure and function
  • Engineers solve problems.
  • Engineers can mimic animal structure and function to solve a human problem.
  • Designs have criteria (e.g. You have to reach the basket and bring it down. You have to use real materials. You have to put the design on your body to make it work.)

Part 1

Who lives in the garden and how do they live?

Is our garden a good home for these animals?


Part 2

How can we copy or mimic the garden animals’ adaptations to invent something for humans?

Part 1

Students published books include nonfiction informational writing about the animals, illustrations, and models. These bookscan be found in a mailbox in the garden so visitors can learn about the animals.

Inspired by the book, Creature Features by Jenkins and Page, students made beautiful, colorful signs that teach others about the animals with illustrations and writing in first person, to feel as is the animals themselves are answering visitors’ questions. These are printed on a PVC material to be weatherproof.

Other signs were drawn and written by students to inform garden visitors about what to do when they encounter some of the animals. The drawings were laser-cut onto wood.

Together, the books, colorful signs, and wooden signs teach our community about the animals. We first presented to our 12th grade HTHMA Environmental Science class buddies. We wanted to teach them about what we have learned. Since we did some data collection in their garden, we learned that they have very similar creatures that reside there. We hoped that teaching them about the animals would help them figure out what they can do for their garden. Since they are experienced presenters, we asked them to critique our presentations so we could learn what we are doing well and what we could improve for Exhibition Night.

During exhibition, some students dressed as the animals (they made their own costumes), and talked to guests as if they were the animals themselves. Other students wore their lab coats and presented their findings from their experiments and shared their science journals and charts around the classroom to talk about their project process. A huge part of the product is the garden itself. We made changes to make it a good home for the helpful animals based on their research. We found ways to make it a garden that is rid of animals that are not good for the garden. With the help of the HTHMA Environmental Science class, we successfully grew many crops and ate delicious veggies from our harvest.

 


Part 2

Students will present their inventions. They will show their design process and reflections. They will try to make prototypes, demonstrate what is working, and describe what they think will need more work and how they plan to work on it.

 

Students were truly connected with this project. They knew that the idea came from them and their passion for animals and the garden (which they designed and built in a previous project). They now understand that they are real scientists, artists, writers, and teachers. At our exhibitions, guests learned from the 1st graders and noticed their expertise on the subject of animal adaptations and gardening, and sensed how proud students were of their work.

Our project was about what small animals can do. I learned about what snails can do. The hardest part for me was writing a lot. My favorite part was making the experiment. This helps others because I can tell others all I learned. –Stella

 

I felt like a real artist and that’s what I really want to be. –Blanca