Observing Organisms

Standards Met: NGSS LS1.A; CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.5

What You Need: High Tide for Horseshoe Crabs, by Lisa Kahn Schnell; sketch pads and drawing pencils or camera

What To Do: Read aloud High Tide for Horseshoe Crabs. Ask students to share life cycles and journeys that happen close to home (e.g., migrating birds, hibernating insects), and tell them they will document organisms in their own ecosystem. Share the detailed diagrams of the horseshoe crab in the book, pointing out that the captions explain the function of each part. Then, have students scour the schoolyard for a plant, animal, or insect to document. Have them sketch their specimen in as much detail as possible or use a class camera to photograph it.

Next, have students do research to identify the parts of their specimen. They should create detailed diagrams, writing captions that explain how each part helps the organism adapt to its environment.

Survival Guide

Standards Met: NGSS 1-LS1-2; CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.4

What You Need: How to Swallow a Pig, by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page; posterboard or bulletin paper, markers

What To Do: Ever wanted to disguise yourself as a jellyfish? Gulp down a hairy, four-legged animal? As you read How to Swallow a Pig, discuss the tone. What makes the writing style unusual for a science book?

After reading, have students work in pairs to research the hunting, home building, mating, or camouflaging skills of an animal not in the book. Then, have partners create a how-to poster in the style of the book, with numbered steps to teach readers how to perform the survival activity. Encourage students to add humorous lines to make their instructions entertaining. After partners ensure their steps are in a logical order and enough detail is provided, have them illustrate each step and present their posters to the class.

The Lives Behind the Inventions

Standards Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.9; CCRA.W.3

What You Need: Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine, by Laurie Wallmark

What To Do: As you read aloud Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine, point out that the descriptions of the mathematician Lovelace’s inner life are every bit as colorful as the illustrations of her surroundings. (She is credited with writing the first computer program.) After reading, ask students to compare this biography with other biographies they’ve read. What elements do many biographies have in common? List ideas on the board (examples: childhood interests, important friendships and relationships, early projects, dates and milestones, most successful achievements). Encourage students to cite an example of each element in Lovelace’s biography.

Then, list the following inventions on the board: peanut butter, airplane, chocolate chip cookie, windshield wipers, telephone, and lightning rod. Have each student choose one invention and research the life of the person who invented it. They should create an illustrated biography of their inventor that includes several elements of biography listed on the board. Invite students to share their biographies and discuss which elements they decided to include and why.

From Imagination to Invention

Standards Met: NGSS ETS1.A; ETS1.B; ETS1.C; CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.1

What You Need: The Fantastic Ferris Wheel, by Betsy Harvey Kraft; The Inventor’s Secret, by Suzanne Slade

What To Do: To show how the engineering process can turn ideas into reality, pair The Inventor’s Secret with The Fantastic Ferris Wheel. As you read both books aloud, tell young inventors to keep their eyes and ears open for clues about the steps each inventor followed to create his invention. Then, ask them to generalize about the steps used in the engineering process. List students’ ideas on the board, making sure they supply examples and quotations from the books to support each generalization.

If students need help determining steps, share the following: (1) Identify the problem, needs, and limitations; (2) Research and brainstorm possible solutions; (3) Use drawings and diagrams to design a product; (4) Build prototypes and test them; (5) Refine and keep testing until the product works as intended. Then, go over the evidence students may have missed. For example, in The Inventor’s Secret, Henry Ford meets step 1 by determining that his car should be “easy to drive. Big enough for families. And most important—a car everyone could afford.” He meets steps 2–5 by brainstorming ideas, creating sketches, building prototypes, and refining his models until finally arriving at his ideal product: the Model T.

A Home Where Everything Floats

Standards Met: NGSS PS2.A; CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.5; CCRA.W.7

What You Need: Home Address: ISS: International Space Station, by James Buckley Jr.

What To Do: What is it like to sleep, eat, and work in zero gravity? Home Address: ISS offers a glimpse of daily life in the most out-of-this-world workplace. As you read the book aloud, point out the text features (headings, boldface vocabulary). Challenge students to use context clues in the text and photos to guess the meaning of each boldface word before looking it up in the glossary to check.

Tell students they will work in teams of four to five to investigate an aspect of life in a space station. Display simplified steps of the research process: (1) Identify a research question; (2) Choose group member roles; (3) Perform research; (4) Define key terms; and (5) Share findings. Then, have groups complete the research question “How do you _________ in the ISS?” with a daily activity such as eat, bathe, exercise, sleep, treat illness, entertain yourself, or clean. Group members will then choose their roles, such as research director, writer, illustrator, presenter, or technical consultant.

Guide students to the websites of NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency to conduct their research. Finally, have the teams present their findings to their classmates using text, speech, pictures, and a glossary of terms. 

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