“Imagine visiting the rocky shore off the coast of New Hampshire during low tide and then mysteriously shrinking to a minuscule height of two inches.”
When posing fantastical situations like this one to a classroom full of third graders, the creative and analytical juices start to flow with incredible force. Imaginative scenarios can excite and engage students, creating a thirst for knowledge and sparking innovative ideas.
Recently I had the privilege of visiting the third grade classrooms of Andover Elementary Middle School in Andover, New Hampshire. I presented the storyline above (referencing Ms. Frizzle and her magic bus), and then I posed the following question: What dangers would you face? The answers that followed either reinforced prior knowledge about the rocky shore, or led to an understanding of the type of chaotic environment rocky shore organisms face every day.
After our brief discussion of rocky shore challenges, I read a fabulous book, “Between the Tides” by Fran Hodgkins. This non-fiction book for children does an excellent job of describing several rocky shore creatures and the many characteristics they have that enable them to survive their ecosystem. It has beautiful illustrations, fantastic yet simple vocabulary, and its length is perfect to be an entertaining read-aloud book.
With curiosity sparked and knowledge disseminated via Hodgkins’ story, it was time to guide students in what has become one of my favorite activities for elementary students (Lesson 7 & Lesson 19). Students are asked to use their prior knowledge and ingenuity to “create a critter” which would be able to survive the rocky shore. This is a life science meets engineering science lesson that can also double as a formative assessment. Students are only provided with five index cards, scissors and Scotch tape for their creation.
It is always a wonder to me to see what young minds can come up with in a short amount of time with short notice of their create-a-critter challenge. The bright and enthusiastic Andover students came up with a variety of incredible creations including combinations of actual rocky shore animals – and one student had the impressive notion of using the tape as an actual sticking agent to help its critter to hold on tight to the rocks! Everything the students built, in one way or another, reflected their understanding of both the dangers of the rocky shore, and the adaptations animals need to survive this harsh environment.
THANK YOU Mr. Hubbard and Mrs. Peters allowing me to come and visit your classrooms for an afternoon. It was a pleasure and an honor to be able to spend time with your awesome and intelligent students!