2018 Grants: PS185

First Grade Scientists

Concept Statement:  The first graders in my school in south Harlem deserve the opportunity to do real science and discover the wonder in the world of insects with their own eyes.

Concept Description:  The 3-month long insect study will impact approximately 65 students in 3 first grade classes. We want our students will take on the role of a true scientist. They will learn how to examine with precision, paying attention to details they see. They will learn how to care for living things; developing a deeper respect for life and a heightened curiosity about insects. The insect study is inquiry based so students will get to experience and discover the wonder of metamorphosis first hand. They will observe each life cycle unfold before their very eyes. This is especially important as our students are primarily black and Hispanic. They live in an urban, high poverty area and are rarely exposed to nature. My students and their families have sought out and selected our school to provide an enriching educational environment for their children. This kind of in-depth study is just what they are looking for as it will provide multiple entry points for learning to meet the varied learning needs of all students. Through this study of insects, my first graders will have an opportunity to become flexible, resilient, and creative thinkers who ​are able to work collaboratively and solve problems.

Project Goals and Objectives:  The first grade classroom teachers will work together to implement a 3-month long study of insects in our classrooms. We will use the timeline and plan I created with my former school to guide our in-depth study of insect life cycles. We will study 5 or 6 live insects over the course of these three months. We will observe their bodies and their behaviors. We will observe the insects as they go through complete or incomplete metamorphosis. We will study 4 insects (mealworms, waxworms, silkworms, and painted lady butterflies) that go through complete metamorphosis and 1 insect that does not (milkweed bugs). If there is time at the end of the unit, we will also study crickets- but mostly to observe their unique behaviors as opposed to their life cycle. We will order all the insects and the materials needed to keep the insects alive (containers, food, etc.) before the start of the unit. We will begin by studying mealworm larvae. We will observe the structures of the larva and within a couple of weeks we will observe that the mealworm molts and grows. Shortly after the arrival of mealworm larvae, we will get waxworm larvae. We will compare and contrast the larva bodies. We will learn about the different parts and functions of a waxworm larva. To help students own the vocabulary, we will make model waxworm larvae out of clay or plasticine. Meanwhile, the mealworm larvae may be changing into pupae. Once one student finds a pupa in their vial, they may think it is dead. I will encourage them to wait and see what happens next before we conclude that it has died. One student will be brave enough to touch their pupa and discover that it often twitches when you touch it, confirming that it is, in fact, not dead. Students will care for their new insect pets in vials and cups. They will make sure the insects are fed and taken care of. Once the mealworm and waxworm larvae are underway and making changes, we will get milkweed bug eggs to observe. Students will be surprised to see that these insects do not share the same characteristics as the larvae they’ve come to know so well. The eggs don’t even have legs! In just a few days, the milkweed bug eggs turn bright orange and hatch. At that point, students confirm that what they first observed were eggs and now they see an insect with legs. They will still observe that the milkweed body is different from the larvae. After the milkweed bug eggs have hatched, we’ll get another egg in the classroom. This time, students will be sure that the silkworms are eggs. It will take longer for these eggs to hatch, and unlike the milkweed bug eggs, students will observe that the silkworm eggs do not change color. After a week or two, the silkworm eggs will hatch and students will recognize that larva body again. By this time, students will have revisited the mealworms to find that the adult stage is a beetle. They will be amazed that a mealworm larva could make that kind of transformation! We will start putting all the beetles together in one container to find out what happens next! The waxworm larvae will also have gone through some changes. They will observe that the pupae often wrap up in silk cocoons. Then, they will observe the moths emerge. They will observe that the moths look different from each other and they will find out that you can tell the difference between male and female moths (males have a smaller body and rounded heads, whereas the female bodies are larger and they have a pointed part on their heads). The milkweed bug nymphs will also be growing bigger and students will confirm that these insects are not larvae. They will see the milkweed bugs molt and progress through their nymph stages until they become adults. We will also observe painted lady caterpillars. Students usually have a lot of prior experience with caterpillars, so they often can predict the life cycle of the butterfly. This life cycle will be one of the fastest they observe. Students will be able to prove that the caterpillars are larvae because they can identify the similarities to the other larvae they’ve seen. They will observe that the painted lady larvae have more bristles than other larvae they have observed. At the same time, the silkworm larvae are growing bigger and eating a ton of mulberry leaves. Because both the painted lady and silkworm larvae grow so big, the similarities become more apparent. At this point, many of the adult insects will have mated and laid eggs, beginning the life cycle again. They will be able to observe many insects mating. For example, the milkweed bugs stay connected, abdomen to abdomen, for a few days. Students will be able to observe the new eggs and sometimes they will catch the female insects actually laying the eggs. For the mealworms, they won’t be able to find the eggs, but they will be able to find new larvae. Students will be so excited to have new larvae and nymphs in our classroom again! Throughout the study, students will complete different projects to help solidify their knowledge of what they have observed. For each insect, they will keep an observation journal where they can keep track of their observations and the insect changes. We will also create posters of the different insects to focus on the different body parts. We will learn about scientific diagrams and the importance of precision and accuracy. We will use different mediums to demonstrate our understanding: oil pastels, water colors, modeling clay, etc. We will also go on field trips to observe insects in their natural habitat. We will visit museums that have insect exhibits and speak with docents who have additional expertise. We always go out with a trip sheet to record new ideas and answered questions. At the end of the study, we will also have a chance to further explore students’ curiosities that resulted from discoveries made during the study. Students are often interested in how insects defend themselves and how something so small can survive. This study also piques students’ interest in other insects that we don’t have in our classroom, so we allow time to further explore other insects.

Project Budget:

  • Live insects ~ $500 – Mealworm larvae – Waxworms larvae – Milkweed bug eggs – Silkworm eggs – Painted lady larvae – Crickets
  • Consumable materials ~ $240 – Containers with lids – Vials – Insect food (seeds, oatmeal, bran, potatoes, etc) – Hand lenses/magnifying glasses –
  • Soil and sand Art supplies ~ 250 – Model magic – Watercolors – Oil pastels – Colored pencils – Crayons – Markers – Sharpies – Tissue paper – Card stock
  • Field trips – Park rangers – Zoo – Museums
  • (See details)

2018 Funding:  Requested $999. Partially funded at $600

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