While I was madly planning for my first unit, I started to think about how I could make it more fresh and more inquiry-based. During my practicum experiences, I watched as material was taught in a very specific order: concept first, examples after. It got me thinking about what that looks like, and all I could think was, “how is that not boring, it’s all words!” The concepts for this unit are things like biodiversity, variation, niches, species, symbiosis, and natural selection, concepts which when left alone just end up as words on a page. Who actually remembers the three kinds of symbiosis? (The answers after the break.)

Commensalism. Mutualism. Parasitism. How many did you get before clicking “Read more”?

When I think about biodiversity, I think of all the different kinds of organisms that exist on this planet. The first things that pop into my head are images of sea turtles, dinosaurs, insects, and all the many fish in the sea. I want kids to think of those same things but with concepts attached to them, kind of like factoids. For the students, I want the materials to become a repository of “Did You Know?” facts that the kids can grab and hold onto. I want them to go home and say to their parents or friends:

  • “Did you know hippos get spa treatments by fish?” (Symbiosis)
  • “Did you know there are more species of insects per square kilometer than there are of any other kind of organism?” (Biological diversity)
  • And so forth…

Rick Lavoie talked about what motivates kids in a story about a toy maker. The toy company gave a million dollars to a university group and said, “go find out what motivates 11- and 12-year old boys.” So this university went out and did the research and came back with the following results.

11- and 12-year old boys are motivated by:

  • Brightly coloured designs
  • Trading and collecting
  • Cool words
  • Ownership of knowledge

I bet you’ve got an idea of what the toy company then developed. Pokemon. Pokemon are bright and colourful, they come on cards that can be traded around, they come with cool names and use words that come from Japanese, and they develop knowledge about this stuff that no one else knows. The ownership of that knowledge is what I’m aiming for. I want kids to own the knowledge and think of it as being so cool that they can’t not share it (yes, I used a double-negative, so sue me).

So the way this unit would be structured would be to introduce the topics using plenty of visuals (images and videos) and then to attach the concepts to those visuals. This way the kids are immediately stimulated and hooked by what they’ve seen and then they can use those examples as “hooks” to “hang” the ideas on. I’m going to give it a try and let you know how it goes, hopefully it won’t be a complete disaster.