Deconstructing a Science Unit

For the last five weeks, I have been running an inquiry unit in a Grade 3 classroom as a cover teacher. Having to jump into a class mid-year adds additional limitations to a unit, but I left the 6 weeks feeling refreshed and sharp.

Like jumping into an ice lake, I imagine.


Central Idea

Extreme weather phenomena impact individuals and their communities

Teaching Note: I broke “phenomena” down into two concepts. A phenomena is an event that is both unique and difficult to understand.


Lines of Inquiry

  • Scientists investigate extreme weather in different communities
  • Climate change impacts extreme weather
  • People advance technology to prepare for extreme weather

 Where did we do our learning?

We compiled our digital resources on our class’ Weebly and also activated the classroom as the third teacher. I will get photos of the finished product in my next post.



Here is a breakdown (by week) of this Unit of Inquiry:

Week 1

We started our new unit of inquiry. The kids already showed a solid understanding of different types of extreme weather but had an thirst for more knowledge and experience. We tore through a number of helpful resources on our Symbaloo, and some students added some of their own to the class Padlet.

We immediately confronted the burning questions focused on how weather occurs and how people prepare for those events. Many of the kids wondered about lightning, so we have started a focused study of lightning, including a balloon and spoon experiment!

The children were fascinated by the diversity of extreme weather phenomena around the world, and we played a few different disaster scenario games to better understand how scientist learn about weather and decide on emergency procedures.

Week 2

In the second week of unit inquiry, we are reflecting on what we have learned about the features and emergency preparation procedures for many different types of extreme weather. Grade 3 combined their knowledge of different extreme weather and natural disaster scenarios to create PHENOMENA: The Extreme Weather Game.

Much like the children’s game Shipwrecked, Phenomena is a call and response game. These are the call and response pairs designed by students.

We will be practicing the call and response pairs to help us remember how to prepare in different scenarios. Hopefully, we will be ready to demonstrate by Showcase! Come play with us!

Week 3

During Week 3, Grade 3 strengthened their conceptual understandings of the information gained in Weeks 1 and 2. This was a great week of experimentation and exploration.

The children expressed an interest in learning about different survivors, so we focused on the harrowing story of Winston Kemp, a man who just wanted to save his pumpkins. The children then spent time independently learning about other people who have survived extreme weather events.

We also discovered a box tornado simulator that we then constructed in class for Showcase. Luckily, we were able to complete some of the tornado simulators by Showcase. We had originally planned to play Phenomena, but Showcase was a rainy day.

Week 4

In the fourth week of inquiry, we tackled some complex subjects, specifically the topic of climate change and Earth’s atmosphere. We read a NASA book that explained the basics of what an atmosphere is and discussed the children’s burning questions. The Grade 3 kids made strong connections to their Grade 2 space unit, and already understood that the atmosphere protects the planet from meteors.

To learn about how the atmosphere helps balance temperatures on Earth, we conducted some outside experiments and digital experiments using a helpful atmosphere simulation. We learned that sunlight carries heat and light energy. We also learned that greenhouse gases hold heat.

The kids were able to connect rising greenhouse gases with warmer temperatures on Earth.

We ended Week 4 by looking at some new technologies that are trying to help people prepare for the more extreme weather trends in the future.


Week 5

In this last week, Grade 3 brought our unit to a close by reflecting on what we have learned and pursuing actions that show our understanding. We conducted interviews and created posters showing how we can organize our knowledge to create a better conceptual understanding of the challenges people face with climate change and increasingly extreme weather.

One of the types of technology we looked at that could help people coping with heat waves was the EcoCooler.

Since the temperature shot up to 30°C this weekend, I’m sure we’ll be grateful for having these EcoCoolers come Monday morning!


YouTube Collab & Innovations in the Classroom

My favorite, classroom innovations mostly come from day-to-day interactions in my classroom.

Whiteboard Desks

The whiteboard desks were a result of me needing to do something with large strips of whiteboard surfacing that I had ordered incorrectly.

I covered half of each of my tables to give the students equal whiteboard and computer/paper space. Over the past months, we have tried the whiteboards in all kinds of arrangements. They have been a huge hit amongst the students for math work and collaboration, especially. Now the rest of the middle school teachers have them, and they will be moved to the primary school next year.

Youtube Collab

At the beginning of the year, I decided to sort my students’ science videos into two experiment playlists. There I published ongoing experiments from their units. It is an easy way for me to organize our videos all together. When they reflect on their units, the videos are all ready for them.

A month ago, two of my sixth graders started their own official Youtube Channel, Teenagers Life. Since then they have spent the past weeks showering the adults around them with their videos. As a result of their aggressive campaigning, I am subscribed to them on all three of my active gmail accounts. Kids today know all about the importance of subscribers. They also know about the signal-boosting power of Youtube Collabs.

When the Grade 6 started their Mission to Mars unit, by contacting Alexandria De Wolfe at University of Colorado Boulder via Youtube video, I could see that the kids were pumped about recording their project progress on video. As we pursue our study of the Red Planet, we have been building a physical model simulating Mars’ surface and assembling a rover to test out.


Click here to see the Mission to Mars Playlist!

Early on, the two boys offered to take over filming and editing the reflection videos. To me, this is a productive use of their time. It makes them consider why we are doing these various experiments and really show off what they know for their audience. It fulfills the standards set by the IB MYP programme, while being engaging and relevant to the learning.

I have always encouraged students to develop meaningful creative projects to demonstrate their learning, and collaborating on Youtube serves this purpose. Their production value is way ahead of my own, and they are constantly finding new ways of explain the what, why and how of our projects.

Reflection on Science Teaching (Order vs. Chaos)

Unfortunately, due to budgetary concerns, the middle school I helped develop will be closing after only two school years. This news, delivered not long after we all returned from Winter Break, came as a shock–not just to me, but also to the middle school students who have been pouring themselves into making our programme great.

To say that I am heartbroken would be accurate; however, I am now moving forward, hopefully in a direction that will allow me to provide support for my students and continue the innovative, inclusive brand of education that I so enjoy.

I’d like to dedicate my next few posts to BALANCE. Balancing teacher and student control. Balancing classroom tidiness with creative chaos. Balancing new technology and old technology. Balancing behavioral management styles. Teachers deal with BALANCE all the time.

Order vs. Chaos

I work in a open learning space with one or two other classes always occurring at the same time as mine. I oscillate between teaching mathematics and science.

At any time, my students have to navigate themselves around a number of ongoing experiments for their science classes. We try to keep them out of the way, but space is finite. Currently, we have a wave simulator (giant bin of water and sand), semi-working Mars rover robot, and pinhole cameras made from matchboxes. Science is a subject based on recorded experimentation. Outside of their lab notebooks, where they practice orderly application of the Scientific Method, the kids focus on proving the various scientific theories and facts that they find in their research.


My classroom can look like chaos, and I like it that way. I want them to catch their moments of inspiration and run with them, even if it doesn’t directly feed my plans for the unit. For example, in our Mars unit, the kids are choosing materials to represent the types of terrain on the Red Planet. We found two bags of perlite rocks, and I asked the kids how they want to dye it.

This led to a discussion of the different liquid solvents we have in the classroom: water, ethanol and isopropyl alcohol. From our experiments making soap, candles and molecular gastronomy, the kids already know that the solvent is important.

Now, I could’ve told them how to dye the perlite best to get them back to the project, but this tangential experiment still serves the central purpose of science class. It is inspired, engaging and allows the kids to practice the application of the scientific process.

From the chaos, we find avenues of order. From the explosive forces of creativity and experimentation, we can derive meaning.

This, I think, is authentic learning. What I teach my kids rings true to my experience in lab work and field work. Science is the making of ordered thinking from observed chaos.

The science classroom should reflect that!


Excursion Report

Statement of Inquiry

Environmental pressures lead to changes in different organisms.
~Grade 6, Science

The Middle School ventured out to Kobe Animal Kingdom to test our observational prowess and knowledge of animal adaptations.

Types of Adaptations

Structural Adaptation

What the animal or its parts look like

Behavioural Adaptation

What the animal does/How the animal acts

Physiological Adaptation

How the body processes work

The kids came face to face with many animals from different taxonomic classes. Grade 6, the acting experts on evolution, shared their knowledge of the three major types of adaptation.

Stay tuned for exciting updates about the rest of the middle school’s science units!

An Update from the Science Corner

Grade 6

Grade 6 started their exploration of molecular gastronomy with spherification. We did two rounds of experiments. In the first round, we used the procedure provide by Ms. Lee. In the second round, we got to test our own procedures and measurements. Through these experiments, we are learning about how different chemical reactions work. Next week we will be jumping into the history of the atom!


Grade 7/8

Grade 7/8 continued their investigation of the Laws of Motion using the Rokko Liner! We held a class using the train for experiential learning.

What better way to learn about acceleration than to feel it? We took over an empty train carriage to conduct some motion experiments of our own.

Slowly, we are building our understanding of how mass, force and acceleration connect to one another!


Moving right into the spring term, the Grade 6’s started off strong with their experiential study of the human management of resources. We began with a provocation to ignite curiosity and provide inspiration for inquiry.

Originally an economic theory, the Tragedy of the Commons refers to the phenomena that occurs with shared resource systems–people acting alone will tend to act in their own interest and against the common good.

To bring this to life for the learners, we played “Tragedy of the Commons.” This is a game where players manage a pile of tokens (resources) in the center of a table. A collection of 5 tokens can be traded for a treat. In the original version of the game, there was only one rule: Any tokens left in the center after one round is doubled. Each round lasts 10 seconds.

The first game lasted one round, with a few kids managing to snatch the majority of tokens to the chagrin of the class. The second game sparked a dialogue between students about how to better manage the tokens in the center; some learners wanted to let the pile double over a few rounds and then evenly divide resources among the students. Despite initiative to act in a way that suited the greater good, game after game ended with a few token-rich snatchers and some unfortunate token-poor players.
As the Grade 6 kids grew more frustrated with the gameplay, they tried a game without the aggressive Grade 7 students. In a smaller group, the students made and held agreements about letting the tokens increase over time. At the end, though, it was still every person for themselves.
To give the learners experience creating management policies, we suggested they devise their own rules for another version of Tragedy of the Commons.

Collecting samples from the ocean

Using their handmade plankton nets, the Grade 7 braved the strong winds and winter weather to gather seawater samples from Suma and Ashiya beach. The students learned firsthand what fieldwork is like for real marine scientists.

Finding plankton at the aquarium

Many of the students have been to Suma Aquarium, but few have looked for plankton there. Many kinds of sea animals begin life in planktonic form, and if you look closely at the water, you can see the tiny meroplankton (animals that are plankton as babies and grow into adult forms) moving around. With that in mind, we made it a goal to check out Suma Aquarium.
We even got lucky because there was a special Clione, or sea angel, exhibit, and Clione start off life as plankton.

Processing samples

After two days of collecting samples, we have begun processing and recording data. So far, the Grade 7 students have found a bunch of zooplankton and some phytoplankton in their wet slides. The kids are excited to continue their search in the next class.

Grade 7 is hoping to discover a new species in their water samples. Anything is possible!