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!


Combining Tech to Adapt Down

Teaching technology skills to the early grades can seem intimidating. The research is out, but it’s inconclusive as to what is “appropriate” for different age levels.

I approach technology differently (and you can too!). Tech should be a means to an end, not the goal itself. After all, most of us learn how to use technology because we want to do something, not “just because”.

One classic limitation we hit in the early grades is literacy. What can you do with students that have variable reading and writing skills? What about your ESL students?

For their units exploring world cultures, Grade 2 teacher Miss D’Amours and I developed a student-centered website combining Weebly, Symbaloo, Youtube and the Google Cultural Institute.

What we created connected students to museums around the world and gave them a platform to show their learning!

To start, the kids and I created their Weebly for their class together. This means, I had the editor open and projected onto their whiteboard. We voted on the name of the website, the layout and header design–a process that gave the students a sense of ownership.



The students already had some experience with Symbaloo (thanks to the work of Miss D’Amours), and we love it because it allows students to connect safely (no related videos to click) to Youtube and other media resources. For this unit, we added videos, simulations and custom-made galleries made using the Google Cultural Institute (each filled with art from a designated country). Click below to check out our Symbaloo below!

Screen Shot 2016-02-07 at 2.44.00 PM

After discussing what we were going to be looking for in the galleries (colors, shapes, materials, subjects), we released the children to explore their galleries and tell us what they were finding. Many of the children are of mixed race and/or cultures and were delighted to find authentic art works from their countries.

After a couple of sessions using just the Symbaloo and having kids write down their ideas on bubble organizer type worksheets, we decided to try integrating a Padlet as a Wonder Wall for the students to add their ideas and discoveries.

Here is an example of the Padlet the students used in their classes. The best part of Padlet is that it doesn’t require a login and anyone can add notes to it.  Go ahead! Play around! Leave me a comment.

Padlet was the perfect next step in sharing information. The students were motivated to write and show their learning because they could see what they and their friends were writing in real time! In the following weeks, some students even accessed the website from home with their parents and left comments to show off in class.

In my practice, I aim to make technology seamlessly integrated into the students learning journeys, but that doesn’t always happen. Experiments can succeed or fail. Luckily, this project really took off. It is a testament to the potential of team teaching and open-minded, future forward thinking.

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!

Provocation: The Egg Drop

The egg drop is a well-known physical science experiment used to help students apply their knowledge about physics, materials and crash science. Often it is used midway or last in the sequence of learning as an opportunity for practice.

But what if it was the first activity of a unit, not the last?

Our first Design & Technology unit introduces the Design Cycle and its processes to Middle School students (see below).


Image taken from IBO website.

To activate prior knowledge and provoke next-level inquiry, I had the students in my class complete a timed design challenge. They knew what an egg drop is, but I wanted them to make connections to other concepts they have been studying; the 7th graders are starting a unit on gravitational forces.

Before introducing the materials and procedures, I showed video clips of Mars Rovers landings on the red planet. The kids were asked to consider the design elements that were used to help the Mars Rovers land safely.

After showing the recycled building materials and explaining the procedure, I let the students decide if they wanted planning time and gave them 10 minutes to plan and 25 minutes to design.

This group of kids are risk-takers and sometimes impulsive, but they felt pretty confident about their designs. The ones who planned, burned through the extra time drawing goofy cartoons and chatting.

Every single one of the machines failed. No eggs survived.

And I was glad.

Why do this?

Why set up my own students for failure?

  1. Reflective practice: Instead of dragging my students through explanations of good design, I want them to actively engage in the development process and understand why different processes in the design cycle are essential.
  2. Schema activation: Design is natural in any creative process, and many of us engage in it without being conscious of how we are doing it. Expecting 12-13 year olds to be able to verbalize steps in this process during the first week of school is like pulling teeth. Giving them a hands-on experience is one of the best ways to help them break a complex process into steps.
  3. Question inspiration: Inquiry-based units begin with creating questions. By a few months into the year, children are experts at this process, but the beginning of the year presents some challenges. This active, visual experiment provides the students with a common experience from which they can begin to create questions.

My first days of school (as a teacher and a student)

This week I started Prep Week at my new school and graduate school in the Educational Technology Department at Boise State University. This is the power of technology!

I will continue to post about my classroom experiences on Miss Lee Makes Lessons, but my coursework for the EdTech program will be available at Lee Ung: EDTECH Learning Log

I am currently developing curriculum for an after school club that is both Inquiry-based and science related. It is a welcome challenge. My new school already has a raised garden bed, student-constructed pond, and worm compost. Hopefully my after-school club will contribute to the school’s overall green/sustainability Initiative. I can’t wait to get my hands dirty!

Stay tuned!