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:
- Students will develop their own food web and demonstrate the flow of energy
- 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:
- “Do Now” activity
- Interactive song
- Developing our own food web
- Creative writing formative assessment
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.