Tuesday, April 28, 2015


It's finally springtime and we have begun our foray into insects.  Our unit will encompass the last seven weeks of school.  2nd, 3rd, and 4th graders are in the process of researching arthropods - insects, arachnids, myriapods, and crustaceans. In doing so, each student will pick one favorite species on which to complete a full research report.  We began by finding out what we already know about this diverse group of invertebrates and listing some questions that we are interested in exploring further.

Here is a short excerpt from our recent discussion:

I'm curious about stink bugs, ticks, wasps, queen bees, ants, crickets, black widow spiders, dust mites, and springtails.
How do arachnids make their products (silk, venom, toxins, etc)?
I'm curious about how butterfly colors and spots are made.
I want to learn about how bugs [know how to] camouflage themselves.
How do arthropods eat?
Why do [honey] bees die after they sting?
I want to learn about the purpose of colonies. [How do eusocial societies work?]
What are all the jobs that insects have in colonies?
Process of building [insect] nests.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

City Planner Visit

After being city planners for the last two months themselves, students welcomed a professional urban planner/architect to school! From our visitor, students learned about how one becomes a city planner, the years of schooling - the many disciplines that need to be studied, the apprenticeship process, and most importantly the collaborative skills that are necessary for working with lots of other people. These skills are very familiar to us now after needing to negotiate several key issues along our city model project!

Our guest lead us through a scenario of an empty city block (vacant lot) located across the street from a school. We learned that before any construction can begin, the soil conditions must be determined. Soil samples would be sent to scientists for analysis. Even if the land looks unused or empty, he explained, you can't be sure of the contaminants or quality of the soil until it is fully analyzed by researchers. We learned that just because the lot is empty and may seem neglected, many people in the community may have strong feelings about what it should be used for. The people in the neighborhood will attend public meetings with the city officials and with city planners to discuss and debate the possible plans for the property. The city planning team might hear many different suggestions from the neighborhood community members and the planners would need to be responsive to lots of different perspectives. We understand now from our guest that there are meetings, meetings, and more meetings involved in city planning! From proposal project meetings, finance meetings, meetings with the city mayors office, meetings with the engineers, meetings with landscape architects, construction team meetings, and meetings with developers. Wow, sounds exhausting! When asked by a fourth grader, "What is your favorite part of city planning?" our visitor responded, "After the project is complete; seeing the people using the space or site that I helped to develop, that is my favorite part!"

Work in Progress
We too had lots of "meetings" and debates as our model city came together. Although we worked in separate teams within our neighborhoods: The City Park/Zoo Team, The Mountain Team, The Marine Nature Center Team, The Resort Team, The Airport Team, The Farm Team, and The Green Power Team, students also met up for several city-wide discussions. The entire group periodically came together and collaborated on carefully and accurately connecting each of the separate poster board neighborhoods. During one of our city-wide meetings, students agreed that an important detail was that they wanted our roads to sometimes be different widths within each of the neighborhoods but then to become the same width where the roads connected across neighborhoods! 

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Bird Cradle

Recently the K/1 class momentarily put themselves into the role of avian parents! They braved the damp and chilly morning to begin constructing their own bird nests. With twigs, pine needles, straw, mud and leaves, (collected on a previous nature walk) students created beautiful works of art!

The cradles varied in size, material, and design - reflecting many of the different bird species' nests that we have been investigating. As a finishing touch, students placed small rocks inside their nests as place holder for eggs.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

City Underway!

Our 2nd, 3rd, and 4th graders have been hard at work developing and negotiating their city plans with one another.

They now have seven diverse neighborhoods well underway: City Park Zoo, Green Power Plant, Mountain Camps, Community Garden & Farm, Marine Nature Center, Luxury Resort, and Airport! The last remaining neighborhood, the main city hub (government center) is still in planning phase.

Roads have been laid, sidewalks set, grass "planted" and many buildings (made from recycled boxes) have been designed, cut and constructed.

Students are now thinking about exteriors.

We have looked at several cities from real life to help inspire us. Students are designing facades including: twig/log cabins, painted brick factories, granite textured buildings, pastel stucco hotels, a brightly colored school, and a glass and steel ATC Tower.

So far their creations are revolutionizing color scheme design as we know it!

Investigating Birds

In mid-March, the Kindergartners and 1st graders began an intensive focus on birds. What is a bird, how are animals grouped or classified, and what qualities make birds unique compared to other animals?

Our class compiled an impressive list of attributes that they feel define birds. The list stated, among other features, that to be a bird you must have:

a beak
two feet
and lay eggs

Teachers also added to the list, explaining that birds are vertebrates, have specialized (monocular) vision that is different from ours, excellent hearing, a food crop and gizzard, and a preening gland.

Students then investigated how the beaks and feet of different birds are specialized for the types of food each enjoys. To start, they compared the beaks and feet of the Eagle, Quail, Pelican, Robin, Ostrich, and Woodpecker to each other. We began to notice the different features of beaks; that beaks for cracking seeds are quite different from beaks used for probing nectar.

Our investigation led us to the bird identification guides where 1st graders scanned the pages looking for several examples of bird beaks that fit into each category: the seed eaters, the meat eaters, the nectar drinkers, insect eaters, plant eaters, fish eaters, and fruit eaters. Later they matched how the feet, of these same birds, paired with the types of foods that each bird must find; they found grasping feet, scratching feet, swimming feet, perching feet, running feet, and climbing feet.

Students are getting a feel for form and function, how the beak and feet are designed to complement each other in helping each bird to find and to eat their food!