Academic journal article Science and Children

Capturing Insects and Student Interest: First Graders Learn about Unusual Plants in Their Area in This Multimodal Investigation of Carnivorous Plants

Academic journal article Science and Children

Capturing Insects and Student Interest: First Graders Learn about Unusual Plants in Their Area in This Multimodal Investigation of Carnivorous Plants

Article excerpt

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Most plants are able to obtain all of the nutrients that they need from air, water, and soil; however, this is not true of carnivorous plants. Because they tend to live in boggy soils where there are small amounts of nitrogen, carnivorous plants have developed specialized structures that enable them to lure and capture insects and sometimes other small animals (ICPS 2015). Because Venus flytraps, pitcher plants, and sundews are all native to our state and use different structures to capture their prey, we chose those as our focus (see Internet Resources). Studying the natural world can be fascinating for young learners and can provide an opportunity for teachers to incorporate multiple tools for science communication. In this article, we describe an integrated, multimodal unit around the theme of carnivorous plants (CPs) for two first-grade classrooms.

For our unit, we focused on plants with three different structures and trapping mechanisms (see Table 1, p. 45). The distinctive structures visible on the plants provided an opportunity to help students understand the link between the structure of a particular plant part and its function in survival, while also providing students the opportunity to engage in the science practices of Analyzing and Interpreting Data, and Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information (NGSS Lead States 2013).

Investigating Carnivorous Plant Specimens

On the first day of the unit, we introduced carnivorous plants by asking students in each class if they thought there were plants that could eat animals. Several students were familiar with Venus flytraps and agreed that there are plants that could engage in this strange behavior. Other students did not believe that there are any plants that could eat animals. We shared with students that there are several kinds of plants that are carnivorous and that many of them live in our state. The first graders were excited to learn that we had brought CPs for them to investigate.

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Before our observations of the CPs began, we had a whole-class review of the characteristics of scientific drawings. We reminded students that they should draw only what they saw and not add features such as smiley faces that were not present on the plants. We prompted students to use color to add accuracy and detail to their drawings. While students observed their plants, we asked them to complete a data collection sheet for each species where they drew the plant and labeled any parts that they thought were interesting. We reminded students that they should use their eyes and the hand lenses to carefully observe each specimen; however, students should not touch the plants with their hands or their pencils to ensure that the plants are not injured during the investigation. They also wrote descriptive words and predicted which structures on the plant would allow it to catch an insect (see Figure 1). Observing actual plants and focusing on their structures piqued students' curiosity and made them enthusiastic to learn more.

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Participating in Integrated Centers

On the second and third days of our unit, we integrated science content with established literacy centers and added a web-based center to the normal activities. Students spent about 20 minutes at each center and rotated through three centers on Day 2 and completed the remaining centers on Day 3, followed by a review of what they had learned over the course of three days.

In one center, students were introduced to a text about CPs that was above their current reading level. The book Hungry Plants (Batten 2000) contains short chapters about each of the focus plants, as well as an introductory chapter about CPs and why they have their unique adaptations. In this center, the classroom teacher read preselected passages from the book, stopping frequently to ask comprehension questions about the science content and to relate the information found in the reading back to the observations that students had made previously. …

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