I will begin my unit with a field trip to the Eli Whitney Museum and Water Works. We will look at water life and how water is an important part of our environment. The Water Works has a knowledgeable tour guide who is familiar with the instructional levels of students from preschool through high school. They have models and experiments that illustrate the role of water within our environment. There will be many items for the students to observe and touch as part of the presentation. In addition, the class may hike through trails where nature can be observed and enjoyed.
As the class begins to study water, we will conduct a variety of experiments to enhance further our understanding of water. We will begin by examining the forms of water. First, we will look at water as a liquid that is part of our everyday existence. For our cooking class, we will use the water to make Kool-aid which we will then freeze into juice pops. In this way we observe the liquid turn into a solid. When we remove the juice pops from the freezer and begin to eat them, we will observe the juice pops melt back to a liquid form. In cooking class, we will also look at liquid becoming a gas. We will measure two cups of water and begin to boil the water. After several minutes of boiling and observing the steam evaporate into the air, the teacher will again measure the water to discover there is less water than when the class started.
After looking at the forms of water, we will discuss the buoyancy of water that supports floating or sinking. We will conduct several experiments in this area from the book entitled THE SCIENCE BOOK OF WATER. First we will place stones into a plastic bag and attempt to lift the bag. Then we will remove the stones, place the bag in a basin and return the stones to the bag. Next, we will fill the basin with water(not the bag). When we attempt to lift the bag a second time, we find that the bag feels lighter. The water pushes the stones up supporting their weight and making the bag feel lighter to us. This principle is especially helpful to injured people who use water-based therapy. The water supports the body and the injury and helps the person move more easily.
Then, we will continue our exploration of water by asking ourselves how big heavy ships float on top of the water while a penny sinks in a glass of water. Using THE SCIENCE BOOK OF WATER we gather modeling clay and marbles. We drop the marbles into a tank of water. We observe the marbles sink to the bottom of the tank. Then, we drop the clay ball into a tank of water. We observe the clay ball also sink to the bottom of the tank. Neither item was big enough to displace an amount of water that was able to support its weight. When we shape the clay into a boat and return it to the tank of water, we observe the clay boat float on top of the water. The boat was bigger and able to displace enough water to support its weight and float. When we add the marbles to the boat, it continues to float atop the water. Therefore, a large ship displaces a lot of water. It receives a strong push from the bottom which keeps it afloat.
After the class has experimented with the various properties of water, we will learn about the water cycle, or movement of water within our environment. The oceans contain most of the water in our world (97%). As the sun heats the oceans and other bodies of water on land, water evaporates into the air to form clouds (condensation). Water returns to the earth in the form of rain or snow. Ten percent of the water returns to the land and ninety percent returns to the ocean. The land water helps feed the plants, animals, and people. When too much rain falls on the land, flooding occurs (Gralla, 1994). To illustrate the concept of a water cycle, the class will create a self-watering terrarium. The students will observe the water condense and return to the ground.
Next, my class will participate in a whole language presentation of Lynne Cherry’s children’s book entitled A RIVER RAN WILD. This book presents the true environmental history of the Nashua River in Massachusetts. The book begins with the migration of a group of Native Americans to a river which was named Nash-a-way—-River with the Pebbled Bottom. With the arrival of the colonists and the development of the industrial age, the Nash-a-way River became polluted and began a slow death. Soon the fish and birds left the river valley for cleaner waters. In 1962, Marion Stoddart developed the Nashua River Cleanup Committee, however, the pollution continued. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health gave permission for Leominster, MA to dump 150 million gallons of raw sewage a day into the river. In 1965, The Clean Water Act began the slow process of cleaning up the Nashua River. By 1979, fish and birds returned to the the Nashua River valley (Cherry, 1992)
Using Lynne Cherry’s book, the students will learn about the hazards of water pollution to our environment and our community. We will take a closer look at the implications of pollution to our water supply through the use of experimentation. We will look at the differences between clean and dirty or polluted water. We will also look at the pollution we can see versus the pollution we cannot see with our eyes. To illustrate this point, we will conduct experiments on plants. We will grow three sets of plants—set A will be cared for using pure water; set B will be cared for using polluted water that looks dirty; and set C will be cared for using polluted water that appears clean such as water mixed with rubbing alcohol. As part of our study, we will monitor the health and growth progress of each set of plants. As part of our math class, we will chart and graph the results. These graphs will provide opportunities for discussion on the importance of clean water and the dangers of dirty or polluted water. We will compare the sick and dying plants to the fish of the Nashua River. The fish were sick and dying from living in the polluted water of the river. After a long time, the fish could no longer live in the water. When the fish left, life along the river changed. The birds left because their food supply in and around the river had perished. The cultures of the Native Americans also changed dramatically because they too had to change their way of life. The water could no longer support their village with fishing and fresh drinking water. (As a side note, a study of cultures based on ocean or freshwater life would be an interesting multi-cultural expansion of the unit. Those cultures that rely on the fishing trade for survival are especially affected by pollution and its affect on water life.)
Water also plays an important role in our weather. We will study the formation of clouds, rain, and snow using Walter Wick’s A DROP OF WATER. Using graphs and charts, the students will keep track on the number of days in each category of weather. This will be a daily activity during our class meeting time when we discuss the calendar and weather.
To reinforce daily living skills, we will discuss the appropriate clothing for varied types of weather. Using photo-language cards, the students will sort, classify, and categorize the articles of clothing to the appropriate weather symbol. This activity not only teaches daily living skills, but uses and develops expressive and receptive language skills. In this way basic skills are reinforced within the thematic unit.
In addition we will discuss more extreme types of weather which include heavy winds, rains, lightning, and consequences such as flooding. We will learn that it is best to remain inside the house during a storm. We should not play outside or try to get a better look at the effects of the storm (ie. lightning, cloud formations, etc.). We will learn to stay away from water and appliances during an electrical storm or lightning because we may become electrocuted. In addition, we will learn not to operate any appliances while taking a bath or standing near a pool of water(sink, tub, pool) because the danger of electrocution remains. During a flood, move to an upper floor and stay with your parents. During severe weather such as a hurricane or tornado, we must stay inside the house in a safe place (ie. basement, bathtub, etc.) Sometimes we may be asked to leave our homes and go to a safe building like a school. These announcements will be heard on the television or radio during an emergency broadcast.
After we have discussed the role of water in our environment and weather, we will discuss the characteristics of our world. We will begin with a brief study of the Earth as a planet. I will use a model of the solar system to illustrate our position in relation to the sun. The students will then create their own models of the solar system in our art class. We will also make paper mache models of the earth and paint them brown, green and blue to illustrate the differences between land and water on our round planet.
In addition to having many bodies of water, the earth has varied types of land. An obvious and tangible form of land is a mountain such as Sleeping Giant Mountain State Park. A possible field trip is a walk/picnic at this favorite local park to observe and enjoy nature. Another type of land is a desert. A desert is a dry place with lots of sand and little water. We will add some cacti to our class plants as a visual illustration of life in a desert. Some exciting children’s videos provide an entertaining means of exposing students to places, animals, people, and cultures that they have not visited. Volcanoes are another interesting land formation. Children enjoy the experience of making a classroom volcano and watching it erupt. The students will learn that the earth contains different kinds of rock beneath the dirt that is readily observed. In addition, very deep in the earth, the temperature is very hot. When the pressure builds up, it can burst forth like the lava from a volcano. This experience can be compared to shaking a soda bottle and watching the soda bubble and burst forth as it is opened.
Next, we will look at the effect water has on our land. Water is a powerful force on the Earth. Its waves crash against our shores, smashing debris and moving rocks and sand. These waves are caused by the wind. The size of the waves is influenced by the strength of the wind and the amount of time that it has blown across the body of water. Children can observe the effect wind has on water through the following experiment. Students will blow across a lasagna pan filled with water. The students will observe the effect of the ”wind” on the water. They will observe ripples of waves across the water. If you had a small piece of cork as a boat, the students will observe the boat as it travels across the pan. The wind and corresponding waves push or move the boat. The addition of the cork boat provides the students with an obvious visual reference from which they may make an observation. The visual cue is especially helpful for those of my students with visual impairments (Watt, 1992).
Waves cause the erosion of our shores. As debris, rocks, etc. from the ocean floor crash against our shores, the shape of the shores change. Caverns may appear in walls of rock. Our beaches may shrink in size. Rivers may cut deeper into the earth. Erosion is one of the most powerful forces of change on the Earth causing our Earth today to appear very different from our Earth of the past (Watt, 1992). Students may participate in an experiment that illustrates the impact of erosion on the beach. Students will take a lasagna pan and fill one side of the pan with sand. The students will pour water into the other side of the pan. Using their fingers, students will make waves in the water and observe the impact the waves have on the “beach”. The sand is pulled into the water by the waves. The students can observe how a beach can be damaged by long term exposure to large waves or damaging storms(Perdue, 1990).
Changes in the earth is a very abstract concept for my class. After careful consideration, I chose to take a brief look at the lives of dinosaurs as the most obvious illustration of change that my class could relate to. The students will be exposed to changes of our planet over the years with the discussion of dinosaurs as all children seem to love learning about them. A trip to the Peabody museum will be an extremely popular adventure. The students will observe the dinosaur fossils and other dinosaur replicas. They will also be exposed to other animals that are now extinct or in danger of becoming extinct. In this manner, students will be exposed to the changes in our Earth. For example, dinosaurs used to live on our planet, however, now they are all dead.