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:
- Population Size
- Carrying Capacity
- 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:
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.
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.
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.
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!