This lesson follows several other life cycle lessons from earlier in the school year. The previous lessons all focus on the life cycle of a creature, not a plant. Washington State is currently in a transition phase to slowly begin teaching the NGSS. While this lesson is connected to a First Grade Performance Expectation, in my state students would not have been exposed to this learning as first graders. It is important that I address it to fill in any holes that will be present in the phase in process for my state.
I chose to use the apple as my catalyst for teaching this PE and concept of life cycles, because of the community I live and teach in. We are an agricultural community dependent upon the apple. Our main commodity is the apple and it directly impacts a majority of our commerce. My school district requires all teachers to teach about local economy and the impact it plays on our valley. It is vital that students not only understand the part the apple plays in the sustainability of our valley, but also the scientific side of the apple. Otherwise, they have missed an incredible piece of the learning puzzle.
I gather all the children in their seats and ask them to put their attention on the screen. Because I so frequently teach with Power Points, the children know right away that we have a lesson coming.
I pose this question.... Does everything have a life cycle? (It is actually on the screen, and allows me to write the answers down to document the ideas the children share. This is a great way to document learning and continue to revisit the children's ideas before we dig in further to the learning. Beginning with a question (SP1) is always a good place to bring in the content and also use it as a way to gather a little bit of background on what the children already know about the content before getting too deep into a lesson.
Grappling with applying the knowledge from prior lessons into a new context of learning can be challenging. Helping to establish that connection between prior lessons and the lesson at hand, can be challenging. (Ladybug Life Cycle Lesson). There are always opportunities for conversations and dialogue to stray and a misconception to arise. Such as, "A house can have a life cycle." Struggling with applying the knowledge from prior lessons into a new context can be perplexing.
"Well, let's explore that a little bit more. I want us to hold on to that idea and we will come back and discuss it in a bit."
I read through the slides in the power point to demonstrate the elements that an apple tree must have to survive to allow the children to come to the conclusion themselves rather than explaining the answer. I believe the students own the learning and internalize it so much more when it is established constructively.
"I am going to bring each team a set of cards. I want the team leaders to sort the cards out. When your team leader has the cards organized, as a team, you need to organize these cards in any way you want."
I don't explain to the children how to organize the cards. I want them to observe the pictures and make their own inferences with the cycle of the apple. If they have internalized the lessons from earlier in the year, they will have a sense of the organization that needs to be present in the life cycle of the apple. Robert Marzano says that graphic organizers are one the nine highly effective strategies that teachers can use to ensure longevity in learning.
Most of the teams went to work immediately putting their cards into a circular pattern.
After about five minutes, all the teams have put their cards in placements that they feel confident about. I can tell they are finished when the hum in the classroom begins to get louder. I ring my bell, and wait for attention. Instantly, the children quiet down and the team leaders stand up and are ready to share out their teams thinking about the activity.
The team leaders begin constructing explanations for their teams based on prior knowledge (SP6); "we knew this needed to go in a circle, because the arrows were curved." and "this has to be a life cycle, because you can see from the pictures that the tree is changing little by little. That reminded us of the insects life cycles."
I then ask, "how do you know which picture is the first in the cycle?"
This leads to great discussion about which came first....it is the classic chicken or the egg conversation. I must admit, I do not know the answer to this, but I am curious what the children believe and their rationale behind it. It offers a great opportunity to explain to the children that scientists do not always know all the answers, and certainly their teachers will not always know everything either. Distinguishing between opinions and evidence can be tricky. (SP7)
Because a misconception was brought up earlier in the lesson, I want to make sure that I address it and not leave it hanging to further confuse the children. During the engage section when the original question is posed about everything in life having a life cycle, the idea of a house having a life cycle was discussed.
"Ok, everyone let's go back to something that we talked about earlier in the beginning of this activity. Someone mentioned that they thought a house had a life cycle. Do we still believe that a house could fit into this category of having a life cycle?"
The children all resoundingly say, "No." When probed further, their explanations range from "it isn't alive." to "it doesn't go through changes."