Academic journal article Science and Children

The Moon Challenge: A First-Grade Research Project Incorporates Trade Books and Challenges Misconceptions

Academic journal article Science and Children

The Moon Challenge: A First-Grade Research Project Incorporates Trade Books and Challenges Misconceptions

Article excerpt

Rachel Carson asserted, "If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in" (Burchac 2004). As educators we know this to be true; we see the power of our students' wonderings at work in our classrooms on a daily basis. This wonder must be nourished by students' own experiences--observing the Moon on a crystal clear night--as well as by having their understanding informed by the thinking and experiences of others. The questions scientists ask require collective inquiry and accumulated knowledge, the thoughtful analysis and synthesis of many minds. A Framework for K-12 Science Education asserts that "Science cannot advance if scientists are unable to communicate their findings clearly and persuasively or to learn about the findings of others" (NRC 2012, p. 53). It also reminds us that "Reading, interpreting, and producing text are fundamental practices of science in particular, and they constitute at least half of engineers' and scientists' total working time" (NRC 2012, p. 74). The science and engineering practices in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) offer additional guidance for educators (Achieve Inc. 2013). Students need opportunities to collect data through observations, compare data, and answer questions by describing patterns in data.

Work in our classrooms, then, must be integrated across science and English language arts to meaningfully connect scientific inquiry with analytic reading, writing, and research skills. A group of Vermont educators decided to take on the challenge of integrating science and literacy by developing a first-grade research project about the Moon. Working from the NGSS disciplinary core idea ESS1.A, which states that students will be able to describe and predict patterns of motion of the Sun, Moon, and stars (Achieve Inc. 2013; see Internet Resources), we narrowed the topic and developed a research question: When you look at the Moon, how does the shape seem to change over time? Our lesson sequence, which combined observation and work with nonfiction texts, was designed to help students observe patterns of change and understand that although the shape of the Moon appears to change, it really remains the same. Work in this unit centers on the crosscutting concept of patterns and employs the science practices of asking questions; developing and using models; analyzing and interpreting data; and obtaining, evaluating and communicating information (NRC 2012, p. 49)

The Development Process

We began this effort by crafting a template for a short focused research project that would guide our decisions. The template (see NSTA Connection) starts with the end in mind and follows many of the backward design principles that are familiar to educators. The goal was to intentionally weave together the NGSS and English Language Arts/Literacy Common Core State Standards (these are included on the template available online).

We identified the science content that would be the focus of this project and generated an enduring understanding that summarized the big idea for this project. The enduring understanding was rephrased into a question composed of first-grade friendly language, and that became our research focus. Sub-questions intended to scaffold the content for students were also developed. Next, we reviewed the reading, writing, speaking/listening, and language standards to identify those that would be used to inform both instruction and assessment. Since Vermont is a member of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (see Internet Resources), we also selected a communication outcome that aligned well with our speaking and listening standards. Learning intentions that describe what students will know, understand, and be able to do were identified to clarify the outcomes we hoped to achieve. Once student outcomes came into focus, we were able to construct formative assessments that would allow us to track student progress. …

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