Hey, it’s my turn to teach science again! I couldn’t be more thrilled. Seriously.
Here’s some books to start us off on our ecosystems unit. Since I know that my readership may be somewhat diverse, I’ll note that pretty much every book we’ve looked at for this unit so far accepts that both evolution and climate change are accepted scientific theory (and, it probably should go without saying, so do we).
I thought that Earth Matters from DK was appealing and interesting in the way that DK books generally are. The photos in Yan Arthus-Bertrand’s book Our Living Earth were stunning, having been mostly taken from above and giving a sense of the scope of the place being shown. The Janice Van Cleave book about ecology gave some starting points for experiments and explorations. I didn’t find one, great narrative book about ecosystems and biodiversity for kids. However, that’s in part because the book I was sure would be great, the book Biodiversity by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent, who wrote the book Shaping the Earth, which we loved for earth science last year, couldn’t be gotten at the library after all! I’ve ordered it instead, so hopefully it will live up to my expectations.
It was soggy out when we got together to start our studies, so my original plan to take us outside and actually, you know, see some ecosystem action, didn’t seem right. Instead, I started us off with some metaphorical Jenga. The kids built a giant tower of blocks that I then told them represented biodiversity. We slowly removed blocks until the whole thing came crashing down. I think you probably get the metaphor. So did they.
That idea came from the “Biodiversity” episode of Bill Nye, so I followed that up by showing them the episode, then bombarding them with vocabulary notes. I usually don’t do that, but I wanted to get all of us on the same basic page so we could actually go outside and observe and use our shared vocabulary. Much of the terms were things I knew they had picked up from watching TV shows like Wild Kratts or attending nature programs over the years, like food chain, habitat, or predators and prey. Others were things they’ve covered slightly in their study of plant life over the last few months, such as producers and consumers or adaptations.
Finally, I wanted to see them do something to apply their understanding, so I spread the table with giant paper and art supplies and asked them to pick a biome to illustrate. I had written the terms we just learned on sticky labels and told them that I had to be able to come along after them and add the labels. After some discussion, they decided to do a desert – a weird conglomerate desert with bits of wildlife from the American southwest (which everyone knew a bit about), the Namib (which my kids obviously knew about), and the Australian outback (which our friends knew a bit about). I’m pretty sure wolves and hyenas have never actually met under a saguaro cactus, but they met on our giant desert mural.
Despite the geographic amusements, the kids got the concept really well. They drew little habitat burrows for animals in the sand, birds nesting in the cacti, human trash littering the ground, food chains of various sorts, and a great deal of biodiversity. I came along after them with the labels, adding bits of information that they told me, giving the whole thing the feel of an Usborne look inside book.
At the end, they were so thrilled with their art that they asked could they do the same thing for other biomes, especially a rainforest. I said yes, though I do really want us to get outside. We ended by listing all the tools we have for exploring our world: measuring tapes, thermometers, microscopes, magnifying glasses, pH paper, and so forth. I encouraged them to think about the ecosystems we can access and come up with some questions that we could ask and find the answers to by using our scientific toolkit. Part of our goal this year with science has been to get the kids to ask their own questions and find ways to answer them through the scientific method. So we’ll see what they come up with.