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!


New developments, new inquiry

I hit the ground running as the Science, Math, Design and ICT (technology) teacher at the brand new middle school of Deutsche Schule Kobe / European School Kobe. This school year has been one of exciting development and growth, and I am just now getting enough breathing space to share these experiences on this blog.

Though I have remained at the same school, the change of scenery has been refreshing and invigorating. My new position allows me to experiment with my teaching units and really dig into student-centered inquiry.

I am also learning firsthand how a school moves through the International Baccalaureate accreditation process.

Please check out the school’s new website, which I was the primary developer for. As part of their Design classes, the students are learning to code and layout their own pages on various online programs, including Squarespace, Blogger and Weebly.

I will be trying to update this blog more faithfully.


Happy 2016, everyone!

Science Inquiry for Early Years

Each Monday at my new school, I have an hour long lesson with a class of 3-4 year olds, many of whom are English Language Learners (ELL). All of my lessons are centred around science inquiry. One may wonder if inquiry is even possible with a group of children this young, but, so far, I have been impressed with what my students can handle. Last week, we looked at materials and tried to discover which Japanese coin cut through ice the fastest. The kids enjoyed trying to melt holes through their own blocks of ice with various coins. I asked the kids to make predictions, and, once we all had a chance to test out every coin, I had the kids vote on which coin they thought cut best through ice.

This week, I have started a seedling project with the kids. My goal for this week was for them to practice making inferences and predictions from observable information. We are practicing being IB  Thinkers and Inquirers. To scaffold, I showed the kids the unopened seed packet filled with runner beans and explained to them that I had a surprise. I told them that I wanted them to take one object from the bag and look at it in their hands. Once everyone had a bean and had had some time to look at it, I asked them what they knew about the object by looking and touching.  The kids had a lot of great descriptive words, including colors and textures. Then, I asked if anyone knew what the object was. Lucky for me, some of the kids are already budding gardeners, and they saw immediately that the seed was a “bean” or “tane”. Together, we brainstormed about what seeds need to grow and checked our understanding by learning this song about planting. Once we all agreed that plants need water and sunlight, I introduced the activity:

“Today we are going to plant our beans…but we are not going to go outside!”

Understandably, the kids were shocked. I asked them to think about how I could plant seeds inside, and, to help them, I showed them the activity materials: a paper towel, a plastic bag, tape, and water. The kids tried their best but couldn’t quite figure out how we were going to plant our seeds. From there, I did a guided inquiry, which means I demonstrated how to dip the paper towel in water, wrap it around the bean, and place it in the plastic bag, while asking the kids why I was doing each step. They were able to guess why the paper towel had to be wet. They were also able to guess why we were going to tape the bags to a window (for sunlight). Lastly, I asked the students the big prediction question:

“How many days do you think it will take for the seed to sprout?”

I had the students write their number on their bag. Because they are learning their numbers 1-10, most of the predictions fell in that range. Every day I see students checking their seeds. Some of them swaddled their seeds like babies, and some folded their seeds in neatly. Some had lots of water, and some have none at all. We are excited to see which seeds sprout first!

Lesson materials:

  • Beans/seeds
  • Quart sized plastic bags
  • Permanent markers
  • Paper towels
  • Water