Expeditions at G&P: First Grade Focus

Expeditions at G&P: First Grade Focus
Posted on 01/18/2019
tree photo
By Christina Astrove, ELA Coach

If you have recently walked down the hallway outside the first and second grade classrooms, you might have noticed three beautiful trees surrounded by intricate drawing of animals and their offspring. This work was created by all three First Grade classrooms as a final project during their learning expedition called “How Do Living Things Survive and Thrive? Plants and Animals in Our School Community”. For this primary grade expedition, the teachers designed learning activities that integrated art, science, social studies, math, movement, technology and literacy.

As this expedition unfolded, each class did an in-depth study of a certain tree near their classroom: Room 107 students studied the Katsura tree in the courtyard, Room 108 students studied the Honey Locust trees which surround our school and Room 110 students studied the Dogwood tree outside their classroom in the patio garden. To build up to this final project, students drew a first draft of their class tree and received feedback from peers and teachers. They then drew more intricate and detailed drawings which were also displayed in the hallway. This first project allowed each student to develop and improve on their observational skills while also hearing and applying supportive critique and feedback. Students then learned about the parts of a tree and their purposes for the survival of plants and trees. In doing this work, children were building on a growing understanding about how weather and the seasons affect how a tree looks and changes through different stages. Each class then worked together to make a giant 3-D version of the class tree for the hallway. To finish it off, first graders drew leaves or made leaf rubbings of the leaves of that tree and attached them.

The next step in this expedition work occurred as first graders applied this scientific inquiry to thinking about various animals who live in and around Cambridge and what these animals use to survive. Through research, observation and hands-on experiences, students learned about the body parts animals use to breathe, eat, defend themselves and maintain their body temperature. An important part of this learning happened during an amazing live presentation about owls and birds of prey that was funded through a grant from “Friends of Graham and Parks”. During this presentation, first graders observed and were awed by three types of owls and a falcon! After this scientific study, children worked with a partner and used oil pastels to draw a beautiful pair of adult and offspring animals to add to the habitat display in the hallway. In conjunction with these projects, students extended their tree study to a mapping project in which students learned about the trees around the school. Each student applied their observational and scientific drawing skills to study and draw a tree around our school. As a class, they created a map of the school and placed the individual trees on the North, South, East or West side of the school. These vibrant maps of trees can be seen in Room 107 and in the hallway outside Room 110 near the large trees. What an exceptional display of student work that also informs the community about the trees around our school! This introductory expedition has laid the groundwork and allowed for the building of understanding about mapping and cardinal directions. The next expedition that the First Graders will explore is entitled “Me on The Map”. Their understanding about mapping as they explored the school community will be built upon as they learn about their city, state, country, continent and world!

This first grade Learning Expedition exemplifies the meaningful and purposeful learning experience that is found in expeditionary work. Learning Expeditions happen in every classroom at Graham and Parks. Teachers develop long-term, in-depth studies that are experiential and interdisciplinary. An expedition also involves learning from experts in our community, doing field work, and creating a high quality final project that demonstrates understanding of key skills and content, and ideally, contributes to our community. All expeditions are rooted by curriculum standards and integrate the skills of reading, writing, listening, speaking, and research, as well as critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration. Numeracy and other math skills are integrated as often as genuine connections exist. Expeditionary learning promotes critical thinking and student leadership. The topic of the expedition offers opportunities to connect historic, scientific, and other disciplinary concepts to specific case studies that make learning concrete and relevant. In primary grades especially, the topic is observable and allows students to learn experientially and requires students to consider multiple perspectives. Throughout an expedition, guiding questions lead the inquiry and connect all elements of the students’ learning. The guiding questions are student-friendly; they are straightforward and memorable, yet thought-provoking while also focusing on the big ideas and broader concepts of the expedition. Guiding questions help to generalize the specific topics of case studies, connecting them to core concepts of the discipline(s). Each expedition includes a limited number of guiding questions to ensure that each question can be deeply considered throughout the expedition. As students and families experience the many varied Learning Expeditions throughout a child’s years at Graham and Parks, they can see how these skills and attitudes about being an active and engaged learner continue to be fostered and connected to a larger purpose.
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