Teaching Workshop #2: Population Ecology

My second teaching workshop took place the morning of April 4th, 2019, again with the same seventh grade science class at McDonough Middle School in Hartford, CT. I created a lesson plan around the topic of population ecology using both science, math, and English language arts elements. The classroom teacher had advised me beforehand to create an introductory lesson, as the students had not had any background knowledge on population ecology, using three key concepts:

  1. Population Size
  2. Carrying Capacity
  3. Limiting Factors 

To create my lesson plan, I went to the Next Generation Science Standards and based it off of standards MS-LS2-1, which asks that students be able to analyze and interpret data to understand the effects of resource availability on a population and MS-LS2-4, which asks that students be able to construct and argument with evidence that changes to an ecosystem affects a population. To meet these objectives given by the standards I designed my lesson with 4 main parts:

  1. “Do Now” activity
  2. Introductory Slideshow Presentation 
  3. Creating our own ecosystem
  4. Writing Exercise 

The lesson began with a short and simple “do now” activity where I asked students to write down anything they thought could limit a population from growing. I decided to start this way to determine where the kids were at with their knowledge on the topic, though I knew this would be their first formal lesson on it. I also chose to start the lesson with a simple do now to allow the students to come in to the classroom in the morning and settle in, since the classroom teacher had told me last workshop that they often need a “quiet ten minutes” before class begins.

After a few minutes I kicked off the actual lesson with asking the students if they knew what particular neighborhood of Hartford we all live and go to school in. Most students did not know the answer, so after a couple of guesses I told them the name of our neighborhood is Frog Hollow. I wanted to start with an introduction of Frog Hollow, telling them that many years ago there were frogs inhabiting the area we now reside, since my lesson on population ecology involved a population of frogs and the flies they eat.

After the introduction, I went over to a slideshow presentation to teach the students about the different terms that were necessary to know for this topic. I used examples of other populations besides frogs as well to help them understand these concepts apply to all different kinds of populations, not just frogs and flies. During this portion of the lesson, I was actively asking the class questions and going back to review what I had just spoke about to make sure they were understand what I was teaching. This was a form of formative assessment that I kept up throughout the hour long class. 

After going through the terms, I asked the class if there were any questions before we moved on to the activity of creating our own ecosystem using frog and fly print outs. I drew a pond shape on the white-board and passed around 8 frogs and about 16 flies. I wanted the lesson to be interactive, learning from my last workshop that the students were quite engaged when I had them come up to the board and tape something up. I wanted to have visual aids (the frogs and flies I printed and handed out to the students) to help them understand the concepts of carrying capacity and limiting factors.

The “rules” of the activity were that one frog needs four flies per day in order to grow, and we started with 16 flies. The flies also reproduce at a rate of 50%, (to make it more realistic since we know flies do reproduce rapidly) meaning that if you take the number of flies left at the end of each day, and divide that by two, you would get the amount of flies that were produced for the next morning. Then, to determine how many flies we started with the next day, you should add together the number of flies. left at the end of the day and the number that would be produced. My professor, Kyle Evans, helped me with this portion of the lesson by creating a calculator.

I helped the students to see this by writing it on the board in a chart, one column of frogs, one column of flies at the start of the day, one at the end of the day, and lastly one of how many would be produced. At first, there was some confusion which I anticipated when using math since I was not aware of their math levels, but I was able to answer any questions that came up and proceeded until we reached carrying capacity.

So, we started with one frog in the pond and 16 flies. After frog one/day one, four flies were eaten, leaving 12 at the end of the day, and 6 to be reproduced. When frog 2 hopped to our pond on day 2, there were 18 flies for the both to eat, after both frog 1 and 2 ate for the day, there were 10 flies left, and 5 reproduced (the photo above of the frog/fly calculator shows this more clearly). The activity went on like this until we got to the fourth frog. Once the fourth frog came to our pond, there were not enough flies to feed all four. This showed that the carrying capacity of the pond would only be three frogs, and the fourth would have to go find another pond to inhabit. The limiting factor was that there was not enough food (flies) to feed the whole population of frogs in our ecosystem.

Next, I added in another limiting factor and asked the students what they thought would happen if a competitor, such as a salamander, made its way to our pond. The class responded that it would negatively impact our frog population as there would be less flies. I was pleased with the answer because it indicated to me that they had an understanding of the key concept. I added in a final limiting factor of a disease affecting the fly population, and again the students responded that this would again affect the frog population negatively. I gave them another scenario that now, since there is a disease, there are only 12 flies in the pond. We did the math again to show how the carrying capacity would decrease.

 

This particular student needed some help writing out his story, but did a great job telling his story for both me and the classroom teacher to write down for him.

From here, I moved into a writing exercise I had designed for students to be able to creatively show me an understanding of the topic I taught in class that day. This was my formative assessment for this workshop. The exercise asked students to take on a role of something in the ecosystem we just created, whether that was a frog (most students chose this option) or a fly, even the pond or the salamander. I passed out the sheet and circulated the classroom encouraging students to be creative, listening to their ideas, and helping them formulate thoughts. I was pleased with how the students did with this activity and they were able to convey to me that they understood the lesson by including the key terms int their writings. 

Equity

The lesson I designed addressed matters of equity by developing the idea of using frogs and flies off of the name of the neighborhood students live and go to school in. I presented the lesson in a way that was able to reach all students and made sure I was walking around the classroom helping each student individually.

Reflection 

I felt this lesson went well for the plan that I had created. I do think the plan, however, could have been better and I felt a little less confident and organized than I had during my first workshop. The portion of the lesson I think went the best was the writing exercise I planned for the end of class. I liked being able to see the students use their creativity and apply it to population ecology. The frog & flies activity went well too in that I was able to see students actively trying to understand the concept and figure out the math to determine the carrying capacity. I was glad a student spoke up and asked a question when he was confused. This gave me the chance to clarify anything I may have left out and potentially help other students who might have also been confused. Another thing that I felt went well was when I worked with a student individually, helping him to write his story and understand the concepts I taught previously. Seeing this particular student show an interest and desire to work made me feel as if I was doing something good for him, helping him participate and learn.

My teaching still needs improvement as well as my lesson planning. I was pleased with how this workshop panned out, but I also think it could have been better, but hey, there’s always room for improvement and nobody’s perfect. In comparison to my last workshop, I used less teaching aids and did more of a lecture style I would say, where I taught the terms instead of a video or a song. I am not sure which one I prefer in terms of feeling like I’m the teacher, but I’m sure the students preferred the song or video. Overall, I am getting more comfortable in the classroom and feel like I am getting the hang of it. I am looking forward to the third workshop, which will hopefully be the best of the three!

Teaching Workshop #1: “Go With the (Energy) Flow”

The morning of February 28th, 2019, I had the opportunity to lead my first teaching workshop in a seventh grade science class at McDonough Middle School in Hartford, CT. I put together a lesson plan which included Science as well as English Language Arts elements. The class’s teacher had requested ahead of time that I prepare a lesson based on the marine ecosystem, focusing on elements of the food web as well as the flow of energy within this web. I taught the Core 4 class, made up of about 15 students. The students did not have much prior knowledge of the topic, so it was up to me to give them an informative and fun lesson about ocean food webs.

In this lesson, I focused on two key concepts:

  1. Students will develop their own food web and demonstrate the flow of energy
  2. Students will create writing piece taking on role of organism and incorporating key terms and concepts (energy flow)

These concepts were developed from the Next Generation Science Standards,  specifically MS-L2-3, which asks that students be able to develop a model to describe the flow of energy in an ecosystem as well as MS-L2-4 which asks students to demonstrate the ability to construct an argument that uses evidence to show how a change in a system effects population patterns.

To meet these objectives, I prepared a lesson with 5 main activities for students to participate in:

  1. “Do Now” activity
  2. Interactive song
  3. Developing our own food web
  4. Creative writing formative assessment
  5. Wrap-up vocabulary game 

To begin the lesson, I had students work on a “Do Now” activity as the entered the classroom in the morning. I passed out two blank index cards to each students and asked them to write down any two organisms they knew in the ocean. I followed up this instruction with an example, suggesting they could think of a predator/prey pair, since the students had not had a prior lesson on this topic. After about 10 minutes, it was time to dive in to the lesson. I chose to start the lesson off by asking if any of the students had ever visited the beach before or went swimming in the ocean, followed up by asking if anyone eats seafood. The majority of the class raised their hands up for that one. Going off of that, I introduced the key concept of energy flow. I asked the students if they had any idea where they would fall  in this food web if they were the ones eating the fish and shrimp and other sea creatures.

Moving on from the introduction, I had a learning tool to help the students learn about what an ecosystem is and specific parts of it. I used an interactive rap song and printed out the lyrics for the students to follow along. I figured using an entertaining song would appeal to middle school students and get them excited to continue the lesson.

After the song, I started the lesson using a PowerPoint presentation I had prepared before class to act as a visual aid for the students to follow along. 

I showed the class this first slide (above) and asked if anyone could tell me, based off the song we just listened to, what these organisms (seaweed, algae, etc.) would be considered in the food web. Students referred back to their lyric print out and shouted out “producer”. In asking these questions as the lesson progressed, I was able to assess the students’ learning based off of answers they were shouting out. We went through the rest of the presentation in the same way, going over all of the different layers of consumers and finishing with decomposers.

After teaching the class about the different groups that make up the ocean food web, I planned an activity to take the cards handed out during the “do now” and using them to make our own ocean food web.  I gave each student an opportunity to come to the front of the classroom and tape on a member of the food web in an order that portrayed the flow of energy.

After the web was completed and the students were able to show an understanding of the marine food web and its flow of energy, I had them start on the formative assessment activity. 

Students started the activity with taking on the role of an ocean organism, maybe one they had written down during the “do now”.  I asked them use as many terms from the lesson as possible, to show an understanding of terms and the concept of energy flow.

After the students were given enough time to write their first half of the exercise, I introduced the idea that a key organism in their food web, like seaweed, was extinct. Now what would their lives look like in the ocean without a key part of their ecosystem? I chose to include this in the assessment because I wanted to see students’ understanding of the cross-cutting concept “small changes in one part of system may cause change in a larger part.”

Here we see two different pieces written by students who chose to take on different roles in the marine ecosystem. I was able to see student learning from these examples because they incorporated key terms and concepts and were able to understand that if a change was made to the ecosystem, it would have greater effects elsewhere in the system. I loved the first student example taking on the role of the sun, it was very creative and showed deeper thinking. After students were given plenty of time to complete the assessment exercise, we were able to play a vocab game to review everything the students just learned. The students particularly enjoyed this activity because of the interesting music the game plays with each correct response.

Equity

I addressed matters of equity in this lesson by using a rap song I thought would appeal to middle school students. I had noticed during my previous observation of the class that the kids were interested in music and creating their own beats, so when I had found this teaching aid I knew it would appeal to these students. Another way I made this lesson equitable was by ensuring every student had the opportunity to participate in this lesson, by coming to the front to tape an organism to our food web, answering or even asking a question or by sharing their creative stories, I was even successful at getting particularly quiet students to be involved and vocal. I made it a point to circulate the classroom to see if anyone needed more guidance as well as to hear the ideas they were coming up with. This lesson was equitable because I used a song middle school students would be interested in since it is similar to some popular music, as well as the fact I gave opportunities to each student to be actively involved in their learning.

Reflection

I felt that my lesson went well. I went in to the classroom nervous but confident in my lesson plan. Aspects of the lesson that went well were student participation as well as presenting the information to the class in a way that helped them to best understand the concept of energy flow in a marine ecosystem. The students were able to learn the different organisms that make up a marine ecosystem (i.e. producers, consumers, decomposers) and where they each get their energy from. I knew that student learning was happening when I saw students refer back to the lyric sheet with definitions, answer questions I asked, and complete the formative assessment exercise. I also knew there was thinking happening when some students thought about the question I posed and answered incorrectly the first time, but were able to correct themselves. I was pleased with the extent to which the students met the objectives. The majority of the class was involved in creating the food web and put their minds to work writing a creative piece on a marine organism.

I think something I can improve on as I move in to my second workshop is maybe teaching more. I felt afterwards like I had really just given a review to the students and didn’t do much of my own teaching, since I used the song to teach them the terms, though they were very helpful aids that made the kids interested. I just felt I could have come up with something that was my own to use to teach the lesson versus using something someone else created. By using a song/video I didn’t feel like I was the teacher, the song was. Next time, I’d like to have a lesson where I am more of the teacher than the aids I use. I also felt like I may have went through the lesson quickly, so next time I can slow down and utilize all of the time I’m given.

In the future, I would like to continue to think of interactive and informative lessons for the seventh grade science students to be excited to learn about. My goal is to create fun and interesting lessons to keep the students entertained and interested in science. I want to be the teacher that a student remembers as he/she goes from grade to grade and can say they remember the fun lesson I taught them that made them interested in a certain topic. This lesson definitely showed personal growth since before this I had only had experience with preschool and lower elementary level students. I was worried I would not do well in a middle school classroom, but I feel I was able to prove myself wrong and am eager to get back to the classroom for another teaching workshop.

Observation Report

I had the opportunity to observe in Ms. Amy Dougan’s seventh grade science class at McDonough Middle School in Hartford, CT, this Thursday morning. McDonough Middle School is part of the Hartford Public Schools system. I expected a typical middle school experience, and I think my actual experience matched this expectation. I observed a class of around 20 students during their very first class of the day, so some students needed some time to wake up and get settled in. I expected some students to be engaged with the material and some to be, well, not so engaged, and I think this expectation was matched in my observation. This is middle school, after all.

After walking up one flight of stairs and rounding a corner, I found Ms. Dougan outside her classroom rounding up the students and getting them from their lockers and in to their first class of the day. She welcomed me and her students in to the classroom and we started with a “quiet 10 minutes.” The students take this time to get settled in and begin on a sheet the teacher prepares for each class where they are instructed to first copy down the “daily learning target” and then move on to the Do Now.

Daily Paper created by Ms. Dougan at McDonough Middle School

Daily Paper created by Ms. Dougan at McDonough Middle School

I noticed that Ms. Dougan has the daily learning target written in two different locations in the classroom, along with a statement written on the “long term learning board”, for this lesson, she wrote “should energy drinks be regulated for people under 16 years old.” Along with the daily learning target, words like “engage, explore, explain, elaborate, and evaluate.” This idea of evaluating and using evidence to emphasize arguments is a concept Ms. Dougan says she encourages in the classroom. A Word Wall was also incorporated into the décor of the classroom, with all of the vocabulary terms for that unit displayed, the most recent ones at the top. The purpose of this was to have a visual for the students to refer back to when writing and doing other tasks.

I caught the class at the end of a chapter, so they were working on a sort of final project on the chemistry of energy drinks. They had to pull evidence from a reading on energy drinks in order to support their claim of whether or not energy drinks should be regulated for people under 16. The project was a creative one in that they had to create an infographic. I saw student learning through their creativity and skills to pull out evidence to back up their claim. Student learning was also exhibited when Ms. Dougan asked the students what some effects of energy drinks were and they were able to recall information they had previously read. The teacher was using this infographic project as a form of assessment to see whether or not students were able to pull and interpret information from readings and use terminology learned earlier in the lesson to enhance their argument. I found it interesting that students behavior/attitude was also assessed, the rubric grading them on if they were “friendly, helpful, open, and positive.” This part of the rubric/assessment is interesting to me and I think it is a good thing to include in order to encourage students to be open to suggestions and also open to the idea of working together and helping each other. I think including a social element to lessons is good for students to start talking with each other about science. If one student shows interest, maybe it will spark interest in other students.

Ms. Dougan’s Energy Drink Infographic Directions

I asked Ms. Dougan how she typically assesses the students and she said usually with formative assessments like the one they were doing or writing assignments. She told me at McDonough there is a push to emphasize writing and reading skills. I noticed there was a board at the front of the classroom labeled “bravo” where students’ exceptional work was posted. The work there now was a short writing assignment where students had to choose a statement they agreed with most in regard to a certain topic and use evidence to support why they made that choice.

From this observation, I was able to pick up on the dynamic of the classroom and also speak with the teacher to hear what her needs are and what sort of curriculum she is planning on teaching next when it’s my turn to lead the class. She recommended use of a slideshow to aid learning and also said that having some kind of “do now” activity is most effective. Ms. Dougan is great to work with and is very helpful, I am looking forward to more experiences inside her classroom!