The Anatomy of an Expedition | Part 2

The Anatomy of an Expedition | Part 2
Posted on 12/08/2017
By Kathy Greeley, Literacy Coach

Last month, you read about how teachers plan an expedition. Beginning with the topic and important skills that their students need to learn, they develop “essential questions,” complex, open-ended questions that students will explore over the course of the unit. Some essential questions include:
  • Why is it important to understand how we are alike & different? (Kindergarten)
  • What makes Cambridge a unique human habitat? (3rd grade)
  • How has the land affected the people of our nation and how have the people affected the land? (4th grade)
  • Why do we have the rights we have? (5th grade)
Often, teachers will “launch” an expedition with a “mystery object” or a puzzle for students to solve. For example, the 5th grade teachers begin their expedition on the Bill of Rights by having students look carefully at a range of artifacts relating to a famous Supreme Court case involving freedom of speech. By looking at photographs, newspaper articles, maps, charts and even a physical object, students begin to ask questions and make hypotheses about how these are all connected. What does a newspaper article from Des Moines, Iowa have to do with the Vietnam War? A well-planned launch both hooks students’ interest and helps them begin to build background knowledge for the unit.

For many expeditions, the next step is a case study. The case study allows students to delve deeply into a specific, more narrow topic. For example, when first graders study vertebrates, they begin first with a focus on owls. They learn everything about owls! They meet real live owls, talk with owl experts, read books, do close observations and drawings, and do research on everything owl—their habitat, diet, life cycle, and the many varieties of owls in the world. Our first graders become experts on owls!

Once they have practiced these skills of observation, drawing, reading, research, and writing as well as developing a deep understanding of one particular vertebrate, they are ready to explore other vertebrates on their own.