Waiting for the Monarch: A Kindergarten Inquiry into Life Science Occurs Just outside the Classroom Window

By Forrest, Lorrie; Hechter, Richard | Science and Children, March 2017 | Go to article overview

Waiting for the Monarch: A Kindergarten Inquiry into Life Science Occurs Just outside the Classroom Window


Forrest, Lorrie, Hechter, Richard, Science and Children


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Having a love of the outdoors myself, and having a kindergarten class wishing to be outside as much as possible, I listened to my students and decided to create a different learning experience for them. My priority for this activity was to foster an authentic way for my students to learn about the biodiversity in our community, and thus I designed a half-year scaffolding sequence to explore the living environment right outside our classroom.

The unit was inspired by the Next Generation Science Standards for grade 3 life science, which nicely align with the Manitoban Kindergarten curriculum. This type of learning activity was new for our school, and I needed help from our Sustainable Development Committee (SDC) to make this idea possible. This volunteer group, comprised of inservice teachers from preschool to grade 4, a school administrator, and an educational assistant, advises the schools on issues related to environmental sustainability. Through fundraising programs, grants, generous contributions from supporters, and the shared vision of a group of collaborative inservice teachers and their respective administrative personnel in our North District school division in Winnipeg, Manitoba, our SDC was able to secure resources to design and then build a beautiful outdoor space for our students to learn about the natural world around them. Our outdoor space is divided into four sections: Boreal Forest, Butterfly Gardens, Aspen Parkland, and Tall Grass Prairie. The space also includes a medicine wheel area, a stone circle built by North American Indigenous peoples, believed to have religious, astronomical, territorial, or calendrical significance. A stone pathway connects each area so the students can move freely between sections. Our first activity based in this space, which we share here, was an inquiry on monarch butterflies.

Monarch Butterfly Inquiry

Knowing that the butterflies would arrive in early June, I made sure to start our classroom inquiry early enough in the school year to ensure adequate time to scaffold up the skills and knowledge necessary to study the butterflies once they arrived. Although it was early spring, our inaugural activity was to develop a plan to sustain the butterflies in our space. This included constructing above ground planting boxes within our new outdoor space to house the food supply and breeding grounds for the butterflies. Students filled the boxes with soil and prepared the soil for planting appropriate flora. In the library with teacher guidance, we researched the types of plants that would best fulfill our Monarch butterflies' needs, and those plants that would thrive in our environment. We chose to plant two varieties of milkweed, coneflowers, asters, daisies, and dianthus and some annual flowers such as butterfly plants and zinnias. These perennial plants are zoned for our area to survive our bitterly cold winters. During each outdoor activity, I was aware of my students' safety and made sure each student wore gardening gloves when touching the plants or soil, washed their hands upon returning to the classroom, dressed appropriately for our weather, and had adult supervision at all times.

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Although there was great engagement and enthusiasm for our project, some students became interested in the dandelions and insects found in our outdoor space and decided to explore those rather than to plant with the rest of the class. I was fortunate to have classroom educational assistants to explore with these students while I continued planting with the rest of the class.

Researching

Using a sharing circle format to elicit and preassess their current knowledge, students shared their monarch butterfly knowledge and posed questions for the class to research. We wrote these student questions on chart paper and hung them on a bulletin board specifically designated for our butterfly inquiry. …

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