Beginning-of-the-year explorations: get them ready for fall

Children holding an isopod.If you have not yet packed up for the summer break, consider picking out two or three lessons to begin the next school year. Choose the resources that will guide you, scan or read them, and pack them up along with the materials students will need so the school year can begin with a developmentally appropriate and seasonally appropriate inquiry. Choose a scientific concept that will fully engage children, thus helping them adjust to the expectations and culture of their new class. Choose activities that can be child directed so you can have individual conversations with children while the class explores the materials. And choose materials that are easy to clean up because the beginning of the year has many additional tasks requiring your time throughout the day.

Here are just two suggestions of activities to begin the year, that can be extended over months or revisited later.

Isopod, also called pill bug, or Roly poly, on pavement.Observing one of the small species of local wildlife, such as isopods (roly-polies, pill bugs) or crickets, is relatively simple because there are usually a few children who are comfortable with, and competent at, handling small “critters” to help put them in multiple containers so all children have an animal to observe. Watching these small animals introduces children to observation, a practice of science that is the basis for understanding the needs of living organisms. Children will have a reason to learn to use magnifiers and to collect data–their drawings of, and writing about, the animals. The excitement of sharing observations encourages children’s use of oral language as they seek to describe the body parts and actions of the isopods. In observing and recording their observations and questions using technology such as drawing, writing (or dictation), photography, and audio recording, children form beginning understandings about the way the structure of the animal’s body determines its functions (NGSS LS1.A) and that animals obtain food they need from plants or other animals (NGSS LS1.C).

Resources from NSTA for this kind of lesson includes:

Children using droppers to put water drops on cloth and plastic.Another activity for beginning the year is exploring small amounts of water using droppers (pipettes) to move water from small cups and dropping it on surfaces. Close observation of the shape of water drops on various surfaces, such as wax paper, tree leaves and bark, cloth, paper, or aluminum foil, will reveal differences. Children’s use of magnifiers improves with practice. They can observe the way water “sticks” to other materials (adheres), “beads up” on some surfaces, and flows. This introduces the idea that the properties of materials effect how other materials interact with their surfaces. They may notice that some materials absorb water as the drop penetrates the tiny holes in cloth or wood. The first time I introduced this activity to preschoolers I was amazed at how long they were engaged. They made drops, pushed them around on some surfaces, soaked a piece of cloth and wrung it out to start again. Through this work they are building a foundation for later understanding of the concepts in the Next Generation Science Standards PS1.A Structure of matter: “Matter exists as different substances that have observable different properties. Different properties are suited to different purposes. Objects can be built up from smaller parts.”

Resources to use include:

Any investigation may extend over a month or two, or you may find that your new class is not interested in settling into your chosen topic. Your observations of them will help you choose a topic to match their interests.

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