Before introducing this entomological unit, whet your students' whistle by sharing that they are about to undergo an adventure that will require them to explore everything from back yard gardens and sidewalks to grass-laden playgrounds and leaves on trees. Advise that they must look closely. If they do, they will discover "a well-organized world that consists of diligent community members that look nothing like humans, but are similar to us in ways unimaginable." Curiosity roused, have the children conjecture what the topic of study will be. Responses will vary, but one or more students will provide an accurate conjecture.
Additionally highlight that for an approximate 10 to 12 week period, we will dive into a unit study on select arthropods. This marks the beginning of our first day of instruction. Thereafter, introduce the overarching question. Canvass your students' background knowledge base by creating a K-W-L, beginning with K—what the children believe they already know. Record their responses on chart paper. (My third graders provided me with a wealth of basic info ranging from "some insects fly, walk and are wingless to some like mosquitoes bite and feed on blood.")
Sparking Student Inquiry
To activate the "what-you-want-to-know" query pool, initiate a fun-filled, mystery game to introduce the overarching question. The activity is called "What Lies Within The Container?" Administering the previously noted "numeric-seating-rotating-roles" approach, divvy students into teams of six with four students in each group. Delegate responsibilities for each group, e.g., a task master to keep the group focused on the topic at hand
to be in charge of the unidentified mystery specimen in the container; a recorder to make note of key responses shared within the group; a reporter, who will share the team's agreed upon questions and conjectures with fellow classmates on behalf of the group; and timekeeper to ensure that info is provided within the allotted time frame. Again, where groups exceed a four-student count, reinforce that group members take turns sharing a responsibility.
Provide each team with a sealed, opaque plastic cup that includes a replica of a select winged or wingless arthropod. (These specimen models, known as "Bugs in A Bag," come in an assorted package of 15 and are purchasable via Amazon.com.) Do not reveal the content of the container: do share that its content
alive. An air of suspense will be established. Upon removing the mystery object from the covered container, the children will chuckle, recognizing that they have been duped. After the laughter and sigh of relief have subsided, have students closely examine the life-like object. Ask that each team propose 3 to 5 questions on behalf of the group. Based on this preliminary activity and comparative observations, my students asked:
(1) Do all insects have wings, and does wing size affect an insect's ability to fly? How?
(2) Are most insects herbivores? Carnivores? Insectivores? Omnivores?
(3) Insect mouthparts look seem to differ: do their mouthparts determine what and how
they will eat?
(4) Do insect antennae have multiple uses?
(5) Insect body parts look like they are divided into different sections: what role does
each body part play, and are those parts similar to those founds in humans?
(6) In what parts of our community/the country/the world can these animals be found?
(7) Are they harmful or helpful to our environment?
(8) Can insects survive in extremely cold temperatures—do they hibernate like bears?
(9) What makes an insect an insect?
(10) Why does the bottom part of an insect seem larger than the mid-section and head?
(11) Insect eyes seem extremely large when compared to humans? Why?
(12) Do insects see the surroundings the same way humans do?
(13) What are the life stages of an insect?
(14) Do all insects hatch from eggs, or do they come out looking like
smaller versions of their parents?
(15) Do insects have a brain? A heart? A skeleton? Where are they located?
(16) Do insects bleed? What does there blood look like?
(17) Insects are too small to have lungs: how do they breathe?
(18) Are insects and bugs the same? If not, how do they differ?
(19) How do insects protect themselves from predators?
(20) How do insects-like mosquitoes--spread disease?
These represent but a sampling of wonderment and inquisitiveness expressed by my young learners: such line of questioning will serve as springboard for whole and small group discussion. They will too serve as a framework regarding what they want to discover when working on independent and team research projects.
Keep This in Mind.
Note that our goal is not only to have children simply produce myriad questions. In time, based on ongoing observations, text-to-self, and text-to-world connections, they will come to substantiate the rationale behind their line of questioning. Starting from this point onward, that rationale is to be recorded in Science journals on an ongoing basis: at the end of their 10-week research and discovery adventure, students will revisit their initial rationale affirm its validity based on researched discoveries.) To kick off this effort, provide students with journals (colorful composition notebooks will do; have students decorate them, and place them in an accessible area for ongoing use).