Life Science: About the Workshop
From aardvarks to zebras, the living world provides diverse opportunities for learning in the natural sciences. Children are wonderful observers of their surroundings and are fascinated by even the most common living things. This is especially true when they are encouraged to look at life in ways that scientists do, to ask their own questions, and to shape their own answers.
The challenge is to ensure that their understandings are scientifically accurate. To do this requires teachers to have their own sound understandings of core science concepts. Essential Science for Teachers: Life Science is a content course designed to help K-6 teachers enhance their understandings of “big ideas” in the life sciences. The main goal of this course is to provide teachers with learning opportunities that will directly inform their own classroom practice.
This course is composed of eight sessions, each with a one-hour video program addressing a topic area in the life sciences that is likely to be part of any elementary school science curriculum. Posing the question “What is life?”, the course begins by defining life and by considering how life forms are classified. Animal and plant life cycles then become the focus for investigating the continuity of life. Next, diversity within the living world provides the context for exploring the basics of biological evolution. Finally, large-scale biological processes are introduced by looking at how energy and matter enter and move through the living world. Video examples, colorful graphics, lively animations, demonstrations, models and other visual strategies are used as learning tools to bring meaning to the content being addressed.
Essential Science for Teachers: Life Science also focuses on the ideas that children bring to the classroom about these topics. Intertwined with content segments, each video program features interviews of children that uncover their ideas about relevant concepts. This is supplemented in print and Web materials by a bibliography that suggests readings from the research literature. Each program also highlights an elementary school classroom where a teacher and her students explore the topic using exemplary curriculum materials. A curriculum spokesperson is interviewed to provide insight into the importance of the topic at the elementary school level. And, connections to current events are made through an interview with a scientist who applies relevant concepts on a daily basis.
By exploring topics that range from the molecules of life to the complexities of an entire ecosystem, Essential Science strives to provide participants not only with enhanced content understandings, but also with understandings of how this content connects to the elementary school classroom.
1: What is life?
What distinguishes living things from dead and nonliving things? No single characteristic is enough to define what is meant by “life.” In this session, five characteristics are introduced as unifying themes in the living world.
2: Classifying Living Things
How can we make sense of the living world? During this session, a systematic approach to biological classification is introduced as a starting point for understanding the nature of the remarkable diversity of life on Earth.
3: Animal Life Cycles
One characteristic of all life forms is a life cycle—from reproduction in one generation to reproduction in the next. This session introduces life cycles by focusing on continuity of life in the Animal Kingdom. In addition to considering what aspects of life cycles can be observed directly, the underlying role of DNA as the hereditary material is explored.
4: Plant Life Cycles
What is a plant? One distinguishing feature of members of the Plant Kingdom is their life cycle. In this session, flowering plants serve as examples for studying the plant life cycle by considering the roles of seeds, flowers, and fruits. A comparison to animal life cycles reveals some surprising similarities and intriguing differences.
5: Variation, Adaptation, and Natural Selection
What causes variation among a population of living things? How can variation in one generation influence the next generation? In this session, variation in a population will be examined as the “raw material” upon which natural selection acts.
6: Biological Evolution and the Origin of Species
Why are there so many different kinds of living things? Comparing species that exist today reveals a lot about their relationships to one another and provides evidence of common origins. This session explores the theory of evolution: change in species over time.
7: Energy Flow in Communities
Communities are populations of organisms that live and interact together. The structure of a community is defined by food web interactions. The process of energy flow is the focus of this session as the interactions between producers, consumers, and decomposers are examined.
8: Material Cycles in Ecosystems
Studying an ecosystem involves looking at interactions between living things as well as the nonliving environment that surrounds them. Life depends upon the nonliving world for habitat, as well as energy and materials. In this session, material cycles will be explored as critical processes that sustain life in an ecosystem.