Academic journal article Science and Children

How Do ANIMALS Brush Their TEETH?

Academic journal article Science and Children

How Do ANIMALS Brush Their TEETH?

Article excerpt

Using problem-based learning to teach across the curriculum in a first-grade classroom

By Krystalyn Botzum, Kelly Sparks, and Moriah Smothers

As Dr. Seuss once said, "Teeth are always in style." The students in my first-grade classroom understand the value and the implications of taking care of their teeth, as observed in the daily discussions and comments regarding the state of those teeth. So much so, my students have found immense joy learning about this hardest mineral found in the human body. I recognized their interest immediately and decided to create a class chart to display the monthly loss of their teeth. Little did I realize, the tooth fairy was in for some serious overtime. At the slightest sign of a tooth becoming unhinged, my students would twist and jerk the tooth free. It soon became a friendly competition to see who would have the most toothless gaps in their smile. I saw an opportunity to combine their fascination with teeth with a unit on the study of animals. I merged the students' interest about their pearly whites with their passion for learning about animals into a project-based learning scenario based on animal teeth.

Project-based learning is an educational experience in which learning starts with a problem, students learn by doing, and the teacher functions as the guide instead of the "sage on the stage" (Dole, Bloom, and Doss 2017). Project-based learning should be student driven, realistic, and central to the intended learning goals (Tamim and Grant 2013). Effective project-based learning involves students working on a project over an extended period of time, focusing on an essential driving question that anchors the project, is relevant to students' lives, creates a "need to know," and leads to in-depth engagement with science and engineering practices (Krajcik, McNeill, and Reiser 2008). As a result, students develop deep content knowledge as well as critical thinking, creativity, and communication skills in the context of doing an authentic, meaningful project (Toolin 2004).

A five-day project-based learning experience was implemented that included an introduction to new children's literature, hands-on investigation, completion of an activity book, and guided research which culminated with a challenge for the students to construct a toothbrush from the materials found in an animal's natural habitat. The project described below provides a detailed account of the instruction and learning that took place in this first-grade classroom.

Day 1: What Do You Know About Teeth?

A focus on the students' interest in their own teeth served as the introduction to this project. The children's book Open Wide Tooth School Inside (Keller 2000) was read aloud to the class. Descriptions of tooth decay, enamel wear and tear, and the importance of dental care armed the students with background knowledge about human teeth. This prompted the class to engage in a lively discussion, which included the recognition that the types of food children typically consume, when given the freedom of choice, are those containing sugar as the main ingredient. The students also identified questions regarding unfamiliar topics, (e.g., How does the sugar in the liquids we drink affect human teeth and cause staining?) To further explore the topic the class decided an investigation was in order.

The materials that were compiled prior to class included: hard-boiled eggs (boiled by the teacher at home. Be sure to check for student allergies), clear plastic cups, apple juice, dark soda, brewed coffee, and toothbrushes. Students were told that the eggs represented the enamel on teeth. Eggs were used to simulate teeth because the shell is porous, so they would stain similarly to teeth. They believed that the selected liquids would reveal their effects on teeth when left overnight for continuous exposure. The setup for this investigation included filling each of the clear plastic cups with one of the three liquids and one hard-boiled egg. …

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