Today in my class we took a free day. A day free from test prep. A day free of state testing. A day free of time restraints, schedules, and programs. Today we were free to learn what interested us, and what a day it was!
I planned to conduct a theme day with one of our science standards at the forefront: Discuss how living and nonliving things interact in an ecosystem. We started by reading Once There was a Tree, which led to quite an interesting debate/conversation about earwigs! It was spontaneous and one of those precious teachable moments that we crave. Without the time restraints of our usual schedule, we were able to research the earwig, find out what it looks like, where it lives, and that it DOESN'T enter a person's brain through the ear--although some students still aren't convinced. (Gotta love 4th graders).
Here in Alabama we're having gorgeous weather which was perfect for our next activity from Science Netlinks: Investigating Local Ecosystems Can you even imagine how excited students get to simply observe and record what they see in the schoolyard? Exclamations of "Look what I found!" and "Can you believe this?!" and "Mrs. Kilgo, come look at this!" echoed throughout the playground. Those precious children were SO excited to learn (and hunt for earwigs).
Soon thereafter, we settled into a reading of Cactus Hotel. Many of my students didn't realize that a pack rat is an actual animal. "Is this book true? Is there really a cactus that can grow that tall?" Of course this led to an exploration of the Saguaro National Park website. (Are there earwigs there?)
The mention of polar bears in a Brainpop video led me to ask, "Did y'all know that a polar bear can catch and eat a whale?" (This is amazing to me---I had to go into the story of how I learned this fact after reading a book to third graders). Guess what? There's a Youtube video for that! (I made sure to play it full screen so the kiddos didn't see the comments below the video).
Finally, came the best part of all: the making of terrariums. Back outside we went (3rd time so far) to gather pea gravel, plant our 2-liter bottle terrariums, and gather worms. Kids were everywhere! They found worms, crickets, and---you guessed it: earwigs! (Or maybe insects that look like them). Every group shared with the class about their terrarium, then we went out again for a long recess. What do you think my kids spent their recess doing? Checking out rocks, dirt, and other things outside!
It took a lot of planning on my part, which I really enjoy, but the freedom of being able to veer from the lesson plan and take little "bird walks" when the occasion arises is what made it really work. What a fantastic day of learning!