Polar Patterns: Unit Outlines

Feeling overwhelmed by the amount of content in this issue of Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears? Not sure where to begin? We’ve created unit outlines for Grades K-2 and 3-5 using some of the resources found in the Polar Patterns issue. Rather than be a rigid and prescriptive unit plan, the outlines are meant to spark your creativity and help you integrate these resources into your own particular teaching situation. The unit outlines follow the 5E Learning Cycle model – engage, explore, explain, elaborate, evaluate.

Have an idea for another unit about day and night or seasons? Share it with us – and other teachers – by leaving a comment below!


GRADES K-2 UNIT OUTLINE

Summary of Purpose for the Unit
This unit is designed to provide primary students with opportunities to observe and draw shadows and learn how shadows are formed. Students observe how their shadow changes over the course of several hours, and read nonfiction children’s literature to extend their knowledge. The unit can be used as an introduction to the study of day and night.


Standards Alignment

National Science Education Standards: Science Content Standards
Science content standards are found in Chapter 6 of the National Science Education Standards.

Science as Inquiry (Grades K-4)

  • Ask questions about objects, organisms, and events in the environment
  • Employ simple equipment and tools to gather data and extend the senses
  • Use data to construct a reasonable explanation
  • Communicate investigations and explanations

Earth and Space Science (Grades K-4)

  • Objects in the sky

IRA/NCTE Standards for the English Language Arts
View the standards at http://www.ncte.org/standards.

1 – Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts.

3 – Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts.

4 – Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.

5 – Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.

11 – Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.

12 – Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes.


Unit Outline

Engage
Draw students into the topic of shadows by asking them to play a game of shadow tag. Alternatively, students could put on shadow puppet skits. Ask students to share what they know about shadows. This could be the basis for a KWL chart (or one of its variations) completed as a class activity or by individual students in their science notebooks.

Explore
Use Session 1 of the lesson Casting Shadows Across Literacy and Science. Students will observe shadows on a shadow walk and will read and discuss What Makes a Shadow? by Clyde Robert Bulla. Students should also practice drawing shadows using the Shadow Watching handout, although this does not need to be assigned as homework.

The next day, ask students to discuss what makes a shadow and review the previous day’s activities. Ask students whether or not shadows change. Take students outside several times over the course of the day and have them draw their shadow and the position of the sun, using the Shadow Watching handout or pages in a science notebook. Make sure that students note the time of the drawing, and that they stand in the same place each time. Students can also work in pairs to measure the length of their shadows, and note this data along with their drawings.

Ask students to review their drawings and discuss how the shadows changed over the course of the day. Why do students think the shadows changed? How did the sun change? Do students think that those changes are related? Why or why not? Provide time for students to update their KWL charts as needed.

Explain
Read Oscar and the Moth: A Book about Light and Dark by Geoff Waring (from our Polar Patterns virtual bookshelf) to the class. Discussion around the text should include how the text compares to student observations during the Explore phase. Again, provide time for students to update their KWL charts with new information and questions.

Next, introduce the terms cause and effect. Discuss examples from everyday life, asking students to identify the cause or the effect. Read books like Go to Sleep Gecko! by Margaret Read MacDonald (from our Polar Patterns virtual bookshelf), discussing the examples of cause and effect found in the text.

When students have developed a good understanding of causes and effects, ask them to review their drawings of their shadows. Can they think of a cause and effect based on their observations? Or, if given an effect (their shadow changed during the day), can they identify the cause? Ask students to draw pictures or write sentences demonstrating causes and effects related to shadows and their observations.

Expand
Extend students’ learning by asking the question “What happens to your shadow at night?” Lead students in a discussion about how shadows can be formed when the sun is not shining. Investigate how shadows can be made with flashlights or other light sources. This would be a great lead-in to a unit on day and night.

Assess
This unit provides opportunities for both formative and summative assessment.

Formative Assessment
Formative assessment is conducted throughout the unit. For example:

  • Observation of students’ participation in class activities throughout the unit will provide insight into their current understanding and engagement with the topic.
  • Student completion of the KWL chart and contributions to class discussions will provide insight into their current understanding of the science concepts. Review and reteach as needed.

Summative Assessment
Students’ pictures or sentences about their shadow drawings serve as summative assessment and provide evidence of their understanding of how shadows are formed as well as cause and effect relationships. Student work can be assessed with a rubric that includes criteria for scientific accuracy, use of vocabulary, and overall quality of work.


GRADES 3-5 UNIT OUTLINE

Summary of Purpose for the Unit
This unit is based on the collaborative real-data project Mystery Class (part of Journey North). Students will develop an understanding of Earth’s daily and seasonal cycles, latitude and longitude, and the amount of sunlight per day (photoperiod) and will use this information to predict the location of ten sites across the world. Our unit focuses on preparing students to participate in the Mystery Class project, which typically begins in late January or early February. You’ll notice that the Mystery Class project is listed as the Expand phase – although it should really be considered a continuation of the unit and not an optional “add-on.”

Note: The activities in this unit depend on a basic understanding of the cause of Earth’s daily and seasonal cycles. You may need to spend time developing these concepts with your students. The lesson plans What Makes Day and Night? The Earth’s Rotation and Motion of the Sun and Earth: Using a Playground Model to Explain Rotation and Revolution may be helpful in doing so.


Standards Alignment

National Science Education Standards: Science Content Standards
Science content standards are found in Chapter 6 of the National Science Education Standards.

Science as Inquiry (Grades K-4 and 5-8)

  • Ask questions about objects, organisms, and events in the environment
  • Employ simple equipment and tools to gather data and extend the senses
  • Use data to construct a reasonable explanation
  • Communicate investigations and explanations

Earth and Space Science

  • Objects in the sky (Grades K-4)
  • Changes in the Earth and sky (Grades K-4)
  • Earth in the solar system (Grades 5-8)

IRA/NCTE Standards for the English Language Arts
View the standards at http://www.ncte.org/standards.

1 – Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts.

3 – Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts.

4 – Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.

5 – Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.

8 – Students use a variety of technological and information resources to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.

11 – Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.

12 – Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes.


Unit Outline

Engage
Show students videos of polar sunrises and sunsets (find a few in the article Using Discrepant Events in Elementary Classrooms). In these time-lapsed videos, the sun barely rises above the horizon or never sets. Ask students to compare and contrast the sun’s behavior with what they observe in their hometown. Introduce the unit question, How do day and night compare around the world?

Explore
In this phase, students will collect sunrise and sunset data for their hometown and calculate the photoperiod – the hours and minutes of daylight. They will compare this data to that of ten mystery locations from a prior Mystery Class season. This experience will help students practice:

  • calculating photoperiod
  • plotting data on a graph
  • examining data to find patterns and surprises
  • making predictions and comparing findings
  • reflecting in a journal

Teacher’s Practice Packet #1 from Mystery Class provides the directions and information needed for this activity.

Explain
This Explain phase blends with the Explore phase, as students reflect on their findings in a journal. Sample journal questions given in the Mystery Class Teacher’s Practice Packet #1 include:

  • Which sites have similar photoperiods?
  • Why do you think the Mystery Class sites have different hours of daylight?
  • How do you think the hours of daylight will change next week?
  • What numbers surprised you this week?
  • What clues can tell us which Mystery Sites are to the north or south of us? How about east or west of us?

You may also wish to provide a variety of children’s literature about day and night and seasons to build background knowledge and vocabulary. Sun Up, Sun Down: The Story of Day and Night by Jacqui Bailey and Seasons by Melvin Berger are two titles from our Polar Patterns virtual bookshelf. The Journey North for Kids web site also includes slideshows, animations, and related activities.

Be sure to review student responses to ensure that students are calculating photoperiod and interpreting the data correctly. It may be helpful to complete the exercises yourself before using them with the students! Review and reteach as needed.

Explore
Next, use Teacher’s Practice Packet #2 to build the skills needed to determine the longitude of the ten Mystery Class locations. In this packet, students use longitude clues that focus on sunrise times. Students will practice the necessary math calculations, examine their data to find connections and make predictions, and continue to build their understanding of Earth’s daily and seasonal cycles. Again, the practice packet provides the directions and resources needed for this phase.

Explain
This phase blends with the Explore phase, as students reflect on their findings in a journal. Sample questions provided in the Mystery Class Teacher’s Practice Packet #2 include:

  • Why are the longitude clues revealed at the time of the spring equinox?
  • How are longitude clues connected to the spring equinox?
  • Which sites have similar photoperiods during the spring equinox?
  • Which sites are located east of the Prime Meridian? What data reveals which Mystery Classes are east and west of the Prime Meridian?
  • How do you think the hours of daylight will change in the next couple of weeks?
  • What information/data/results surprised you this week?

Be sure to review student responses to ensure that students are interpreting the data correctly and are becoming proficient with the longitude clues and the math calculations needed to estimate the longitude of the mystery locations. It may be helpful to complete the exercises yourself before using them with the students! Review and reteach as needed.

At this point in the unit, students should be able to determine the locations of the Mystery Classes used in the practice packets. Ask students to justify their answers using their data. Review their answers, repeating exercises as needed if students have proposed an incorrect location.

Expand
Students are now ready to participate in the Mystery Class program, which runs from late January/early February to April. The Mystery Class web site includes monthly countdowns, tips from teachers who have used the program with students in grade 3 and up, and a wealth of resources.

Assess

Formative Assessment
Formative assessment is conducted throughout the unit. For example:

  • Student discussion around the polar sunrise and sunset videos during the Engage phase will provide insight into students’ understanding of Earth’s daily and seasonal cycles.
  • Student engagement and completion of the practice packets will provide insight into their readiness to work with data similar to that provided in the Mystery Class project.
  • Student responses to journal prompts will provide insight into their interpretation and understanding of data.

Summative Assessment
Summative assessment might occur twice in this unit – once with the identification of the practice mystery locations, and again during the participation in the actual Mystery Class project. Teachers may wish to have students write paragraphs or responses to justify their answers. Teachers should consider assessing student work on how well students use evidence to justify their locations, rather than simply on the correct answers.


This article was written by Jessica Fries-Gaither, Kelli Shrewsberry, and Terry Shiverdecker. For more information, see the Contributors page. Email Jessica at beyondpenguins@msteacher.org.

Copyright May 2008 – The Ohio State University. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0733024. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. This work is licensed under an Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons license.

 

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