Perfect Pairs: Using Fiction and Nonfiction Picture Books to Teach Life Science, K-2
by Melissa Stewart and Nancy Chesley
Stenhouse Publishers (August 2014)
Late August, I received a copy of Perfect Pairs to review. However, I quickly saw the potential of this book and wanted to do more than an initial review. I wanted to try out the lessons. This can be a challenge since I don't have my own class.
In one of my early school visits, I stopped by the library of Jackson STEM Magnet school. The school received a grant last year to become a STEM school and in conversations with the librarian at the site, who also happens to be the scientist in residence, we bounced around the idea of working together with the K-2 classrooms.
We spent some time reviewing the lessons, talking with the STEM teacher at the school, and also running the idea past the principal and the resource teachers. Everyone was interested but a little hesitant about how it would work out.
The first few lessons in the first grade unit and in the second grade unit actually paired nicely with the themes that the STEM teacher would be focusing on. A definite plus in our minds. Then came the work of planning and tweaking. Since we did not have a full week to work with each lesson and each classroom, we would need to pull parts to focus on and provide the teachers with the rest of the ideas to extend what we started. The teachers were to also read one of the books in the classroom and Mavonwe (librarian) would read the other one in the library.
Another challenge we faced was time. Both Mavonwe and I had limited time due to other obligations. So, trying to fit four first grade classrooms into the same day for a lesson wasn't easy. If a classroom was late even by 5-10 minutes, we would lose precious time to complete what we planned.
Here is the first lesson for the first graders...I obviously got better with the photo-documenting by the second lesson.
Lesson 1.1 How an Animal's Body Parts Help It Survive
The classroom teachers read The Snail's Spell to the students prior to coming to the library.
Mavonwe read Steve Jenkin's What Do You Do With a Tail Like This? to each first grade class.
Since we had limited time to chart out the various animals and their body parts and use, I modified some of the chart ideas in the lesson. I color copied the 30 different animal parts and backed them on colored card stock, and I created word cards for the body part. Students would randomly pick an animal body part, find the corresponding word card, and then identify what the animal used the body part for.
We also planned on the Wonder Journal activity:
A ________ (animal 1) uses its tail to ______ (job 1).
But a __________ (animal 2) uses its tail to _______ (job 2).
A ________ (animal 1) uses its ______ (body part 1) to find, catch, or eat food.
But a __________ (animal 2) uses its _______ (body part 2) to find catch, or eat food.
Unfortunately, in two of the four classes, we needed to send the wonder journals back with the teachers since we ran out of time.
At the end, we reviewed what we had talked about before dismissing students back to their classrooms.
The following week we met with three second grade classes for Lesson 2.1 How Wind, Water, and Animals Disperse Seeds.
I promised I was getting better with photo documenting the activities.
Though we did not read Miss Maple's Seeds during the lesson, Mavonwe connected it to Planting a Wild Garden.
There are a number of great ideas in the lesson in the book and one was to print out examples of burrs. This was especially important for our students who are English Language Learners. Since we were unsure how familiar they were with the concept of burrs getting stuck on their socks and shoes, the visual examples helped.
The students loved looking at pieces of velcro and learning that it was invented by Georges de Mestral who was inspired after a walk through the woods. Later we also learned that there is something called "space grade" velcro. According to Mavonwe's husband who works at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL), "they have a big strip of it on the InSight spacecraft. It is made from a different material because regular Velcro "sheds" a bit every time it is used and eventually wears out. Somehow the space grade Velcro is made so that there is no 'shedding'". (quote taken from an email from Mavonwe)
Second grader carefully studying the velcro strip.
After looking at the velcro, we talked, acted out, and charted the various ways we learned about how seeds are dispersed. Students then had an opportunity to write and draw about what we discussed.
Students picked a card with a different animal or means of dispersing seeds and wrote about it.
These are drafts. Since many of our students are English Language Learners and we had limited time, we focused on getting thoughts down on paper and making sure they understood the concepts being discussed.
Here is another student in process of writing and drawing about how rabbits help disperse seeds.
This coming Tuesday, we will be doing another lesson with first graders. Mavonwe and I reflected about what happened and how we would change things up in the future. One of the things that we felt was essential - finding more time so that each class would have enough time to really dig into what we were teaching within that lesson.
Additionally, I was concerned that students may not have really absorbed as much as we had hoped they had. However, both Mavonwe and I were thrilled to receive feedback from the STEM teacher. She was really excited that the first graders came in with so much information, which made her lesson go better than expected. Just that alone was something to celebrate. The STEM coach decided to order Perfect Pairs for the First and Second Grade teachers to use as an on going resource, and she is excited about the book for Third to Fifth graders. Though we all wished that it was out now.
If you are looking for a fantastic resource for pairing science and literacy with young students, I would highly recommend Perfect Pairs by Melissa Stewart and Nancy Chesley. Stewart and Chesley put an amazing amount of work into this resource, which is evident when you read through the lessons.