My second grade students, all of whom are bilingual English Language Learners in the Spanish–English transitional bilingual program at John S. Martinez School, are starved for science. Their faces light up when they see "Science" on our daily objectives board, and their enthusiasm is palpable when conducting the experiments from the district science kits. However, there is hardly enough time to fit in the 100 recommended weekly minutes of science, nor is this enough time to allow for the full development and understanding of the concepts or vocabulary. Many of the district science units fail to reach the depth of understanding that my students are ready for, or may not stress the higher–order thinking that could be taking place during scientific inquiry and instruction.
For these reasons I have developed a unit that can be integrated into daily teaching so that instructional time is maximized, and important reading and writing skills are emphasized along with scientific ones. It is a hands–on, interactive unit that encourages students to take an active role in their own learning and become fully engaged in the material. It culminates in a creative project that allows students to demonstrate what they have learned in a variety of ways.
Comparing and contrasting is an important skill for early elementary students. It is crucial for students to begin to make connections between their own lives and the academic material presented to them in class, as well as among the diverse topics they are learning about at school. In order for them to truly understand a new idea, and to demonstrate this understanding, they have to be able to explain how it relates to other ideas and how it presents a new way of thinking. As early as kindergarten, students learn to sort objects into groups with similar properties, and throughout the grades they continue this task, from the more concrete objects to the abstract. In second grade, students need to work with something in between. Comparing and contrasting animals' skeletal systems will give them the opportunity to look at something concrete and begin to notice similarities and differences, but also to begin to think more abstractly about why these similarities and differences exist and how they contribute to the magnificence of the natural world. As Steve Jenkins describes in his picture book, Bones:
A leopard pounces with powerful legs. Its flexible spine and tail make it balanced and agile. Its skull holds forward–looking eyes to fund prey and sharp teeth to grab and eat it. This big cat is a fearsome hunter, but the rabbit's long legs, big feet, and quick reflexes might be enough to help it escape the leopard's lunge.
By analyzing an animal's structure, students can begin to think about why animals move, acquire food, and defend themselves the way they do, and then make generalizations that can extend to new information they gather about animals they are not as familiar with. Ultimately, students will gain a better understanding of living things and how they evolved in the way they have.