“Do you know what symbiosis is?” So reads the first line of the book Evolving Ecologists, published by second graders in the Nature or Nurture project. The book goes on to illustrate the various types of symbiotic relationships between organisms: mutualism, parasitism, and commensalism.
Rhea Manguil and Marissa Adams wanted to create a project that would facilitate social and emotional learning about relationships. Since both teachers were passionate about ecology, they decided to try a scientific lens.
This project was featured in the 2021 book Changing the Subject: Twenty Years of Projects from High Tech High. You can learn more about the book and the projects within by visiting the official website.
To launch the project, the teachers created a “Mystery Objects” slideshow, featuring images of intertwined animal and plant organisms. A guessing game ensued, which eventually led to the theme of relationships among living things. Field work for the project included outdoor observations and a trip to the zoo, where zoo educators taught the students about some of the relationships among the animals.
Each pair of students focused on a specific relationship in nature, such as bees and flowers; barnacles and whales; or cattle egrets and cows. They researched the relationship, wrote about it, and drew scientific drawings of each species. The final product was a book describing each species and its symbiotic relationship with another.
Revision and critique was an important part of this project. The class watched Ron Berger’s “Austin’s Butterfly” video many times, to learn how to give kind, specific, and helpful critique. Students made multiple drafts of their scientific drawings and were gratified to see their improvements.
The final exhibition featured copies of the published book, as well as displays of multiple drafts. Since critique was such an important part of the process, the teachers saved post-it critique notes and displayed those along with the drafts to showcase the evolution of the art work. Students also videotaped short responses to questions about relationships and critique using the app FLIPGRID to show their learning.