Our trip to Green Gate Farms is our favorite field trip this year. We were able to see a variety of plants, but the animals were the best!
China is regarded by many as a land of mystery. Between its rich culture, unique geography and fascinating history, you could spend a lifetime studying China. We scheduled our unit on China to coincide with the Chinese New Year.
One of the first areas we delved into was China’s writing system. It was fun to study the various kanji, or Chinese symbols, to learn their meanings. With brushes and bamboo pens we practiced making these symbols, combining them to depict various meanings.
We studied several books of Chinese art and crafts and made our own cherry blossom pictures, fans and lanterns. We also began the process of making our own paper.
Each day we have been working on our map of China to include its geographic features, ecological regions and major landmarks.
The waters around China are as significant as the land. We learned about a type of boat, the Chinese junk, and made a model to sail in the creek next to our school. This coincided with a series of experiments and demonstrations we had been conducting on sinking/floating and density.
There are many ways we can talk about how long the Great Wall is. We decided to use our Mortensen rods to help us envision it. We compared the distance to more familiar distances and then calculated how long it would take to walk and drive the length of the wall.
Of course, you cannot study China without encountering one of its most fascinating animals, the giant panda. Known for its reclusive behavior and striking coloration, this cuddly-looking creature spends most of its time foraging for and eating bamboo in the misty mountains of China. We made paper bag pandas while researching this animal and made a chart of its characteristics. The red panda is one of my favorite animals (which I regularly pretend to be when we play imaginary games) and also lives in parts of China. It was the first of the pandas to be discovered, and while it is not related to the giant panda, it also includes bamboo in its diet. We read about how scientists study animals in the wild by tracking them, studying their droppings, and sometimes tagging the animals.
Learning about pandas led us to bamboo. There are a few outcroppings of bamboo growing near our school, so we regularly harvest it for various projects: teepee frames, walking sticks, crutches, utensils. It was interesting to the students to learn that there are several different species of bamboo in China, that humans eat bamboo shoots, and that bamboo is actually a type of grass rather than a tree. One of the students was skeptical of this latter fact, so we spent some time comparing bamboo with different grasses and trees around our school.
We read several books that brought some of China’s history, culture and legends alive.
We celebrated the beginning of the Year of the Dragon over several days. We ate rice with chopsticks, sampled green tea, made dragon masks and burned incense.
Birds are interesting. Large and small, subdued and extraordinary, there is such a range of this amazing group of animals. Most of us know someone who is obsessed with birds, bringing binoculars everywhere, just in case there is a bird in the vicinity.
Since we spend so much time outside at Progress School, we are very observant of the wildlife sharing our space. We have regular visits from cardinals, blue jays, mockingbirds and hawks. Every now and then we spot a heron in the creek or vultures circling in the sky.
Our copy of the Audubon book of North American birds was a great resource, along with several versions of Texas bird guides.
Within the pages of our many resource books, we found inspiration for our Bird Sanctuary diorama.
Our birds were clearly not made to scale, which prompted many amusing conversations. Can you imagine what it would be like to be driving along and come across a roadrunner that is bigger than your car?
We studied features of birds and their anatomy and explored the questions we had about birds: Which birds do not fly? Why do some birds fly and others don’t? Which birds live in the water? What do different birds eat? How do birds stay warm in the winter?
We made bird feeders out of milk cartons and looked at designs for bird houses to construct in the wood shop for ongoing projects. Each art project was accompanied by detailed discussions about different birds.
We learned some interesting facts about birds:
- Fastest land bird – the ostrich – up to 45 mph!
- Largest egg – ostrich egg
- Largest nest – bald eagle’s nest – 9 feet wide and 20 feet deep!
- Longest wingspan – albatross – 11 feet, which we measured out, and that is quite a large bird!
Some of our favorite birds include the cardinal, the blue jay, the bald eagle, and the blue-footed booby!
We carefully prepare the environment to provide students with resources that pique their interest in a variety of subject matters. To that end, we keep our shelves stocked with all manner of objects: books, math manipulatives, and natural specimens. One day recently, a student picked up our dried starfish specimen from the shelf and began to examine it. “How do starfish eat, anyway?” he pondered. Let’s find out…
The encyclopedia revealed this explanation, as retold by the student:
The starfish uses its arms to grab its prey and pulls it apart and closer to the hole in the middle. It has this part of its stomach that comes out and surrounds the food and pulls it inside its body to eat it.
This website yielded a similar explanation.
We found this video to watch a starfish eating.
We decided to draw a picture to explain to others how starfish eat.
It is within this inquiry-based framework that much of the learning at our school (and in the child’s world!) takes place. From this single question, sparked from a child’s natural curiosity about his surroundings, so much learning took place: we utilized a variety of resources to gather information, the student had the opportunity to practice reading and writing for a relevant purpose, and the student rephrased and summarized information for his peers. And it was fun!
For our second week of school we studied fish. Specifically we focused on freshwater fish, but we did not limit ourselves. One of our goals for the week was to buy some new fish for our ten-gallon tank. We took a field trip to AquaTek, where we saw several kinds of both freshwater and saltwater fish. The largest fish we saw was about 8 inches long, and the most expensive fish were over $100! The staff was a great resource in helping us to pick out some new fish. We bought 3 white cloud fish, two assassin snails and one adorable bristle-nose pleco (an algae eater).
In the classroom, we researched all kinds of fish using our encyclopedias, books about fish and the internet. We discovered one of the largest freshwater fish in the world: the arapaima of Brazil. This fish has been hunted for its supposedly tasty flesh to the extent that it is now unusual to find such long specimens, but some have been caught that measured between 7 and 8 feet long.
We discussed smaller fish, where they live, what they eat and how they fit into their ecosystems. On a visit to Waller Creek, which runs along our schoolyard, we observed the tiny fish swimming in the few puddles left in the nearly dry creek bed. We collected specimens of algae for later observation.
Some of our favorite books are the Rainbow Fish books, by Marcus Pfister. After reading them all, we made our own beautiful fish.