In October we began a unit focused on the many different types of mammals that are alive today. Students learned about the traits that scientists use to classify a given animal as a mammal. Some of the distinguishing traits that we covered include: feeding young with mammary gland milk, possessing 3 middle ear bones and a single lower jaw bone, replacing teeth only once or not at all throughout their lifetime (rather than replacing teeth continually), having hair, and the ability to regulate their own body temperature (being warm-blooded).
After discussing these key features in detail, each student selected a mammal on which to research and complete individual reports. Some animals included the: grey wolf, coyote, raccoon, kangaroo rat, lemming, tree kangaroo, and chimpanzee.
Drawing from print and online sources, the students wrote their reports in a mystery book format and outlined unique facts that they found about their animals, distinguishing characteristics or clues, without revealing their mammals identity - that is - until the very end, as a lift-the-flap reveal with artwork.
The kindergartners, on the other hand, worked collaboratively to create an A-Z mammal book. Using large print sources with beautiful photos, they selected mammals by their first letter and made drawings of each animal – devoting one mammal per page (for example: “ape” Aa, “bat” Bb, “cow” Cc, etc.). The book also gave them a nice opportunity to sound out letters and practice their letter writing skills.
In November and December, we continued our mammal investigations, shifting focus toward learning about marine mammals in particular. Students decided to create a magazine devoted to oceanographic issues and started working on writing persuasive articles. I set up a collaboration with Grace Young, an extraordinary MIT student who generously agreed to come visit us and tell us about her work.
Through our connection with Grace, Birches students will follow Mission 31, an exploration led by filmmaker and oceanographic explorer Fabien Cousteau. For 31 days the mission, set in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, will be seen by students via Skype into the classroom. In April, students will be linked with scientists as they explore the underwater world using robots in the undersea lab Aquarius.
Through creating their marine magazine, Birches students are learning how to write effectively persuasive pieces that urge readers to take an interest in caring about the ocean ecosystem and to act responsibly in harvesting natural resources therein.