November 10, 2015

Tree Inquiry (First Grade)

Tree Inquiry First Grade

The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
I teach in a school that really values teaching science and integrating a ton of nature study into our curriculum. For our first unit this year we found ourselves studying forests and trees.

Tree Inquiry First Grade

To get a general understanding of what my students already knew about trees we asked ourselves the following questions and organize our thinking into a K-W-LH chart on our unit's learning documentation board:
  1. What do we already know about trees?
  2. What do we wonder about trees?
  3. What do all trees have? (To replace "What did we learn about _______?")
Needless to say, I was delighted that my students already knew a lot about trees and had many more questions to explore. Here were a handful of some of their responses:

"What do you already know about trees?"
  • Child 1: You can tell how old a tree is by counting the rings inside of it.
  • Child 2: Trees need sunlight, water, and dirt to stay alive
  • Child 3: Squirrels can help plant trees when they drop acorns they've collected on the ground
"What do you wonder about trees?"
  • Several of the students: Why do the leaves change color and fall off the tree?
  • Student 1: Do pine or maple trees have fruit?
  • Student 2: How to they make syrup from a tree?

The next day I divided up students into partners and gave them each a copy of the book The Secret Life About Trees and post-it notes in three different colors. As they were reading the book together then marked information with the post-its that answered the following questions: 
  1. What do all tree have? (This was a repeat question from the previous day, so it was easy for them to get moving through the activity since they already had a good deal of background knowledge on it.)
  2. What do trees need in order to survive/live?
  3. What do trees give to you and me?

Then we came together as a whole class to share what we found out. Our findings were also organized and displayed onto the learning documentation board using a tree chart: 

Tree Inquiry First Grade

The class's question on leaves changing and dropping fit in perfectly with the flow of the rest of the unit, so I decided to take this question and designed the next couple of lessons into an inquiry. We further investigated our question by reading books like A Tree for All Seasons, Sky Tree, and The Big Tree. 

Tree Inquiry First Grade

Since this unit was happening during fall, we were also able to track the peak season for when the leaves would change color using the Fall Foliage Map run by Smokey Mt. State Park. We used this anchor chart with pockets to help us sort all the new things we were learning during our investigating:

Tree Inquiry First Grade

At the end of the week, we had the privilege of walking to a nearby park as an enrichment trip. While there, the children collected various leaves from different trees, and when we got back (using the help of field guides) they were able to identify which leaves came from which type of trees. They labeled their leaves to make their own field guides they then took home. We saved some of our forest collections for other activities the following week. 

The first of these was leaf rubbings. The students loved this activity, which lead to the making of our tree diagrams. We labeled the different parts and discussed their purposes, along with collecting bark samples from the playground before recess:

Tree Inquiry First Grade

Tree Inquiry First Grade

The students also got to make leaf animals for their morning work...

Tree Inquiry First Grade

Another morning I brought in various slabs of trees for math. The students had to count how old each tree was when it was cut down, and then order them from youngest to oldest.

Tree Inquiry First Grade

To wrap up the unit, though, we got to have a bit of S.T.E.M. fun! I read to them one of my favorite books as a child called Andrew Henry's Meadow by Doris Burn. It's a story about a young boy who runs to the woods to build himself a treehouse/hideout. All the neighborhood friends end up following him, and Andrew proceeds to build them each their own treehouse/hideout creating a whole village in the woods. 

Tree Inquiry Books

Being an architects daughter, I then showed them how blueprints are used to design and build structures. Each student was given graph paper to make their own blueprint of their dream treehouse, and then they got to build a prototype of their dream treehouse using various materials of their choosing from our mini-maker space in our classroom. After they were done, they wrote about what made their treehouses special, followed by some good old fashioned show-and-tell time. They were such good listeners while each of them shared their own unique creation as well as the "secret" parts of their treehouses: trap doors, hidden candy stashes, an ice cream machine, and rope swings to name some. 

Trehouse STEM
In a forest of a hundred thousand trees no two leaves are alike. ~Paul Coelho

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