The Grade 4 and 7 Math and Science teams were fortunate enough to attend the Calgary Science School/Rocky View Schools Cross Authority STEM planning days in April. During these days, we were able to brainstorm, collaborate, and "flush out" a cross-grade collaborative unit. Both Grade 4 and 7 Science have units on Plants - Plant Growth and Changes (Grade 4) and Plants for Food and Fibre (Grade 7).
The initial vision for the unit was created by Carolyn Armstrong and Deirdre Bailey, when they attended the Cross Authority Environmental Stewardship planning days. When Heather Melville and I jumped on board, Carolyn and Deirdre had initial ideas for the cross-grade project, including the "spark" for the unit, essential questions, the focus on wellness, and initial thoughts for several activities (as discussed later).
The four of us envisioned grand plans of cross-grade groupings, experiments, school yard beautification, field studies, and more. While we had to scale down our first attempt at the project, we laid out a framework for our Plants units during these planning days.
- What does it take to nurture a plant from seed to adult?
- How does nurturing a piece of wilderness within our community transform us and the community?
The "spark" for the unit included the animation Varmints, which prompted a lot of interesting conversation and reflection from our students. The underlying theme of this animation was hope. Many of our students made comments about caring for the environment, and there were many links to the current state of the environment.
Most of the activities in our cross-grade unit have been completed in pairings of one Grade 4 student with one Grade 7 student. These students have been responsible for recording and documenting information into a shared Google Doc. With the use of the Grade 4 iPads, photos and recordings have been easily made.
Heather and I have enjoyed planning and team-teaching unit activities both inside and outside the classroom. Some activities that we completed during this unit include (but are not limited to):
- Field studies to the Weaselhead Natural Area
- Experimenting with different soil types to grow marigold plants
- Planting and caring for the community garden plot
- Mini-experiments which look at plant systems and processes
- Observational soil analysis
- Terrarium building and care
While there are numerous benefits from this cross-grade science unit, the most prominent benefit is shown through the question, "When are we going to get to see our Grade 4/Grade 7 buddies next?" This unit has been very successful in building community amongst the Grade 4 and 7 students. Both groups have acted as experts, sharing information, thoughts, and reflections, which might not have been shared otherwise. Students are constantly engaged when working with their partners, and they have had a big influence on each other.
I would be excited to attempt this cross-grade unit next year if given the opportunity. To improve it, I would begin the partnership early in the school year and complete the unit throughout the fall and spring. Special interest projects would be the intent, and I would find ways to make this happen based on student questions and interest. Lastly, I would also build in more peer and self-assessments throughout the process.
Future blog entries are to come on the specific activities completed, as well as reflections on the collaborative planning and teaching process.