Monday, September 27, 2010

Caterpillar Investigation, Part 2

Yesterday, I posted about the caterpillars that appeared on our parsley a little over a week ago. I also told you I'd provide updates regarding any changes.

Here's a quick photo update.
Taken the first day we officially observed them- last Wednesday, September 22nd. This was the largest caterpillar at the time.

Taken two days later on, September 24th.
And here' s one taken today, September 27th:
My how they've grown in just 5 days! Nearly doubled in size!

Our primary question is: Will the caterpillars change into butterflies? And, if they do, how long will the process take? My daughter has already connected our observations to The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. In it, a fictional caterpillar eats lots of food (not all of it "real" caterpillar food) and then changes into a beautiful butterfly.

What do you think will happen? What questions do you have?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Teachable Moment- Caterpillar Investigation

Last weekend I noticed some new residents in our vegetable garden when I was harvesting parsley for dinner. My first thought? It's time for an investigation with the kids!

This is the perfect example of what educators call a "teachable moment:" a time when an event prompts learning about a new, unplanned topic. In a classroom, the moment may be spurred by an intriguing question asked by a student or a guest who arrives unexpectedly. For science-oriented teachers like me, it may be when something exciting happens in the classroom aquarium such as a crab attacking a mummichog (Challenge: Does anyone know what a mummichog is? If so, post it in the comments!) Or, in this case, some caterpillars decide to move into our garden.

When teachable moments occur in a classroom, teachers usually have a few moments, at best, to decide whether to veer off topic and delve deeper into the new topic or to continue with the scheduled lesson. Ideally, our days would be filled with teachable moments because they represent times when kids are usually highly motivated by the events at hand. The reality is, however, that digging into every teachable moment could lead to a classroom with no focus or one that doesn't reach the required goals for the year. Teachers are faced with the daunting task of choosing those moments carefully.

(Note to educators: I would choose to explore this particular teachable moment with my elementary students because I know I can address many state mandated science and ELA standards along the way. This represents a place where standards and a teachable moment overlap. A win, win all around!)

 So how do you plan an investigation? It's simple. You watch. You make observations. You ask questions and try to find the answers to your questions.

The kids and I went out to examine the little caterpillars more closely on Wednesday. We chose to draw them and record other important data such as the date, their size, their location on the plants, the number of stripes, etc.   Each of us chose a different focus, but between us we have a fairly complete record of what we saw.

My 4 year old daughter focused on drawing the pattern in the stripes. Her dictated caption reads, "His eyes are tiny. We found him in the garden. We found him on the parsley."
My 8 year old son focused on the stripe pattern, the shape of the caterpillar, and it's legs.

My journal entry included the most data, which makes sense since I'm older and have been doing this longer! I included measurements, locations on the plants, etc. A portion of my entry:
Our plan is to watch them over the next few days or weeks and record the changes we see. We're hoping to see a big change in a week or so. Check back to see what happens! I'll post the changes as we see them. I'll also offer suggestions for guiding children in their science investigations.

Has anyone seen these caterpillars before? Do you know what they are? We've purposely avoided field guides for right now, though we have a pretty good idea what they are. If you know, please share!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Nature in Our Nation's Capitol

As I mentioned in a previous post, my family spent time in Washington, DC during the month of August. In between our visits to museums and the National Zoo, we also took time to enjoy a little nature. After a visit to the Museum of Natural History, we stepped out onto the National Mall to have a picnic with our friends. And even though the National Mall is decidedly not a "wild" natural space, humans cannot control one aspect of nature- the wind. It continues to blow as wild as it wants.

Our kids took advantage of this by flying a "pocket kite" purchased at the Air and Space Museum the rainy day before. They learned a few things about nature and physics as they learned to keep a kite aloft and soaked up a few of the sun's rays at the same time.

How do you and your kids experience nature in the city? Do you go to a park or other open space? Have you found other ways to enjoy nature? Please share your ideas.

On another note, if you have questions you'd like answered or topics you'd like me to explore, please post a comment. If you'd rather remain anonymous, send me an email.
michelle(at)michellecusolito(dot)com (Use the usual @ and . symbols in my address. Writing it this way stops spam).