I am lucky enough to work at the same school as Corelaborate blogger, Douglas Ferguson (read one of his posts about the Three Dimensions of NGSS here.). He is our school STEM Specialist, a role he has been creating and defining throughout the year. Once a month he comes into my classroom for a week (he does this in all 3rd-6th grade classes) and leads students through an investigation, often using Lego Robotics. In May he switched things up and used the picture book, Those Darn Squirrels by Adam Rubin, as inspiration for students to design and construct squirrel launchers. (Never fear, the squirrels to be launched were replicas made on a 3D printer, not real!)
When Doug comes in he is slated for a 30 minute block, which never feels like enough time. If you’ve read my other posts, you are aware that I like to integrate science with literacy. A few days before Doug was scheduled to come in I asked him how I could better support the science objectives during my reading block. He explained that part of the week’s focus would be on simple machines, an area that students didn’t have much background knowledge in. I searched the ScienceSaurus, a nice resource that I have a class set of, and found a good article that my students could close read to develop their understanding of simple machines.
Over the last few years close reading has remained a hot topic in language arts classrooms. There are many definitions, but at the heart of it, I believe close reading requires students to interact with text in meaningful ways to understand the text (or a component of the text) on a deeper level. If close reading is something that you’re not familiar with you might want to start with this post about what close reading is and is not by Chris Lehman, co-author of Falling in Love With Close Reading.
Understanding domain-specific words such as “simple machines” is a CCSS standard – CCSS.ELA.RI.4.4. As I began planning I decided to turn to Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC) and search for a lesson, or mini-task, that would help students understand the meaning of simple machines. (Another Corelaborate colleague Alisa Louie recently wrote about mini-tasks here.) There was a Frayer Model task already created, but it didn’t quite meet my needs so I created my own, splitting the task into two days.
Day 1: I introduced the learning target to the class. Our goal was that they would be able to complete the sentences: “A simple machine is ________. Examples of simple machines are ____________.” Students had their own texts in front of them, but I did the initial reading of the text aloud. As I read they were thinking about the gist, the main idea of the article. When I got done reading we decided that the gist of the article was that “simple machines help do work.”
Day 2: We started by reviewing the targets and reading aloud the sentence stems that we were aiming to be able to fill in by the end of the day. Then, I passed out the Frayer Model Graphic organizer for vocabulary. I had students re-read the text with a partner until they found the definition for “simple machines” and we wrote that in the appropriate place. We worked through the rest of the model, which required re-reading sections of the article multiple times, in pairs and then sharing out as a class to check our understanding.
This work on better understanding simple machines occurred during my literacy block. Then, when Doug came into my room in the afternoon he was able to have students apply their understanding of simple machines directly into the hands-on engineering they were doing.
Due to time constraints I stopped our simple machine vocabulary work with the Frayer Model. As I reflected on the lessons, I realized that with just a few more days I could do a better job connecting our understanding of simple machines, to the story Those Darn Squirrels. I could also integrate informational writing as well. I would not be able to re-teach these lessons this year, but with the ideas swirling in my head I decided to see if I could write a “quick module” that would take less than two weeks to teach.
LDC Modules all begin with a teaching task that drives instruction. One of the awesome things about LDC is that there are task templates already written and teachers can fill in the blanks to meet their specific needs. I searched the elementary templates and found one I liked, personalizing it to become: After reading Those Darn Squirrels and an article about simple machines, write several paragraphs in which you define simple machines and explain how the squirrels used simple machines in Those Darn Squirrels. Support your response with evidence from the text/s. I included my Close Reading for Science Vocabulary mini-task, and wrote a few other mini-tasks to come up with a more connected unit. It needs some fine-tuning still, but next year we’ll be able to be even more purposeful integrating science and literacy in this engineering week with Doug.
A Note About My LDC Work
As referenced above, LDC has a searchable library of mini-tasks and modules that teachers have created. The items in the library have all been categorized and are either “Unrated,” “Good to Go” or “Exemplary.” After creating something in Core Tools, teachers have the option of keeping their work to themselves, or sharing it with the public, or even submitting their work to an LDC jury who then can decide to give the work the “Good to Go” or “Exemplary” label. At the LDC trainings I have been to, presenters have warned us about using unrated work, because it hasn’t been vetted. If you use “Exemplary” units you can be sure that the work is CCSS aligned and of high quality.
My work is unrated. There are some revisions I would like to make before I send it to a jury, but I have gone ahead and made them public. I’ve even made them open to comment on because I am hoping to embrace the collaborative nature of LDC and work with others to improve my craft. If you try out the mini-task or the module, please let me know! I’d love to continue the conversation about literacy integration with science!
Link to Close Reading for Science Vocabulary Mini-Task
Link to Simple Machine Module
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