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Science Day and Night

Embedding nocturnal animal science centers in a 5E inquiry for young learners

Science centers provide an engaging way for young learners to explore related concepts. The hands-on nature of each exercise secures the stimulation necessary to maintain focused attention. In this article we describe a multi-day 5E (Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, Evaluate) lesson on nocturnal and diurnal animals with science centers embedded as the Explore portion (Bybee 2014). This child-centered approach was selected since it engrossed our young students in meaningful learning (Jones 1999). The lesson was taught with a Montessori-based multiple-age classroom of three- to six-year-old learners.

This lesson is aligned to: K-LS1-1. Use observations to describe patterns of what plants and animals (including humans) need to survive. Students were introduced to patterns and structure and function while looking for adaptations that help nocturnal animals survive including: excellent eyesight, good sense of smell, good sense of hearing, specialized hairs, and echolocation. Groups of three to four students explored each science center and then travelled to the next on the teacher’s signal. There were five centers total and each took eight minutes to complete. Students also designed “nocturnal creature” models with modeling clay and art supplies.

Engage: Day 1

Learners began with circle time discussion as a formative assessment. Students were asked what they know about night and what things happen at night? Common student ideas for night included: stars shine and the Moon is often visible in the sky, humans go to sleep at night, and some animals like bats are awake at night. They often thought about night in terms of activities and said things like kids do not to play outside because it is too dark and cold at night. We then asked what they know about day and what it is like during the day. For daytime they shared the Sun is up and stars can no longer be seen. Many students pointed out that day is often hotter than night, which they attributed to sunshine. They knew some animals like bats and owls are often asleep, but other animals like humans, dogs, and birds are awake during the day. Students were asked what things animals might do during the night if they are awake and they told us some animals fly at night and hunt for food, but they were not sure beyond that.

The teacher reveals what foods were in the sense of smell station.
The teacher reveals what foods were in the sense of smell station.

Prior knowledge of nocturnal and diurnal animals was assessed with a sorting activity. A two-column chart was made on the carpet with painter’s tape. At the top there was a picture of the day and night sky. Students were asked: Which animals do you think are active during the day, and which are active during the night? We specifically talked about day and night animals to leave the vocabulary of diurnal and nocturnal for the “Explain” portion. A variety of animals’ pictures were used, though we selected multiple Australian animals since there are many Australian families in our school community. This was a way for students to connect through sharing their background.

Students sat on the carpet’s perimeter and each student was handed an animal picture to place in either the day or night column. Students were invited to come individually and place the animal in the column of their choice. If someone was unsure, we prompted them to share their thoughts aloud. When a student picked a column, we asked them to share their reasoning for why they think it would fit there. They knew tree frogs, a local animal, were nocturnal since they had seen them out at night. But they were confounded by animals they had seen awake during the day, but suspected to be nocturnal. For instance, a student had once seen an owl during the day, so she was conflicted. We discussed our class pet, a gecko, to address this confusion. While the gecko wakes up to eat, it often sleeps inside its rock during daytime. Students connected this to that while they might wake up occasionally at night, that was not their norm.

Students were then given an opportunity to discuss any placements they disagreed with or were not sure about. Changes that were made included moving koala to the night category since a student said she had learned that on television. Students began by incorrectly classifying most animals as day animals.

 

Engage: Day 2

A short video clip, “Bat Echolocation” introduced that animals are specially adapted to their environment and presented the concept of echolocation (Incredible Bats 2018). As the video concluded, classroom management strategies were used to facilitate a conversation during transition. The teacher identified the expectation “to sit with one hand in the air to have a turn to share.” Modeling this rhyme helped the students to prepare for participation. Rhymes will also support literacy connections. The children were prompted with recall questions that helped them focus on the activities that animals were doing while awake. These activities included finding food as well as movement and exercise. We then read the children’s book Stellaluna about a fruit bat who ends up living with a bird family after being separated from its mother. To prepare for this activity, the students sang a short song to remind them of classroom expectations (to the tune of “If You’re Happy and You Know It”). If you’re ready to read a book clap your hands/ If you’re ready to read a book clap your hands/ If you’re ready to read a book open your eyes and take a look/ If you’re ready to read a book clap your hands. Regular transition routines help to prepare the students with a peaceful change that signals the familiar and prepares them for literacy connections. The book relates to the lesson through the juxtaposition of characters finding it difficult to understand each other in the unique characteristics of nocturnal and diurnal species. It is important to point out to young students that birds and bats would not try to actually mimic each other’s behavior. The idea of birds hanging upside down to mimic a bat is fiction meant to accentuate the difference between the two species. Listening to the story gave learners the opportunity to practice some literacy skills such as compare and contrast, building background knowledge, and story sequence. Students also asked and answered questions about the story (Common Core State Standards Initiative 2019). The story helped the students to begin assessing the function of each animal adaptation in the appropriate setting.

Explore: Day 3

Learners sat in a circle and covered their eyes. For safety, students should be seated with eyes closed. They imagined they were nighttime animals. We then posed: What kind of things would you do if you were an animal that was active at night? Students answered: use their noses to find food, find water, and hide in the trees to not get eaten. We reinforced that these things would be hard if animals were not suited to darkness and then introduced that animals have special characteristics that are passed down from parents to babies to help them survive.

Students work with pencils in “echolocation” box to sense where objects are located within the box.
Students work with pencils in “echolocation” box to sense where objects are located within the box.
Students work with pencils in “echolocation” box to sense where objects are located within the box.

Science center materials were created in advance, see Supplemental Resources for detailed explanation. Information regarding the animal adaptations came from the article “Nocturnal Animals Explained” (National Geographic Society 2019). Stations were set up while students were at recess. Stations were designed to be multimodal and multisensory to meet the needs of all learners (Harshbarger 2019). All centers had a hands-on component and most had a visual component with the exception of the center that focused on using smell as a sense.

We introduced the research question: What special features do night animals have that help them be active and survive in darkness? Groups were based on background knowledge, support style, and compatibility. Numbering stations helped them to rotate on the signal. Science centers took roughly an hour to complete, including a short dance break in the middle. There were two independent stations: sense of hearing and eyesight. The other three stations were run by the two classroom teachers and a parent volunteer. Another option would be to teach one center a day if additional adults are not available to help.

Center 1: Hearing. Animals may have offset ears, highly moveable ears, or other structural adaptations to hear well (National Geographic Society 2019). Students contrasted how whispering into the air differed from whispering into a plastic cup. They experienced the difference in volume as the cup amplified sound. Students also used plastic cup phones to send and receive messages. When students were done with the cups, they used nocturnal animal books as a data source for which animal had large and off-set ears.

Center 2: Specialized hairs. Students examined a stuffed leopard with plastic whiskers. We asked which animals have whiskers and why they are important. Students knew pet cats and dogs had whiskers and they could sense danger with them. They also had some ideas about how whiskers would help an animal to “feel” objects, especially when moving around in a tight space. We explained brushing whiskers against objects allows the animal to sense the size and texture of objects as well as movement (National Geographic Society 2019). We also talked about when whiskers touch an object it sends a message to the brain to help map out what is around.

Examples of students' nocturnal creature models.
Examples of students' nocturnal creature models.
Examples of students' nocturnal creature models.

Students used their fingers to represent specialized hairs. They palpated inside opaque boxes to hypothesize about the contents and they recorded their data when they drew their ideas on paper. You may find it necessary to differentiate the learning process here for students who are emergent English learners. It is helpful to provide developmentally appropriate adjectives such as smooth, slimy, heavy, and bumpy along with descriptive pictures. This will give the child a necessary scaffold for participation. We then revealed what is in each box. At the end we recapped that since humans do not have whiskers, we were using fingers like specialized hairs.

Center 3: Smell. This center has two potential safety concerns. Parents were consulted in advance regarding student food allergies so we could select foods appropriately. A second potential safety concern is that the teacher should discuss proper blindfold use with students, since blindfolds could be snapped.

We started by asking students why night animals need a good sense of smell. They shared that animals smell to find food. Students sat in chairs and we helped them with blindfolds. This offers a good opportunity to introduce the idea of “wafting” and have students practice making the motion with their hands. We passed a bowl containing a food and had students use “wafting” to smell the food and hypothesize based on scent. This was done for all six bowls before revealing answers. You may find that a student is uncomfortable with using a blindfold. This is common in children who show difficulty with emotional regulation. You can differentiate the learning process here by inviting the child to simply close their eyes. You can also do the activity with eyes open until the child is comfortable. They may want to participate after seeing a few classmates take a turn.

Center 4: Echolocation. This center modeled that sound waves are reflected as a way to find the location of objects. We posed the question: Where have you seen or experienced waves? Learners had encountered waves at the beach, so we discussed how sound also moves in waves. Vibration was felt when students put their hand to their throats and spoke. They tried to make a bat sound and shared their knowledge about echolocation. We discussed how some bats use echolocation like in the video, but other bats use sonar clicks from their wings to navigate (Ravindran 2014). We also discussed how other animals like northern short-tailed shrews also use echolocation.

Echolocation was modeled with “echolocation boxes.” Students poked an unsharpened pencil into pre-drilled holes to try to find objects inside. The pencil’s movement represented sound waves bouncing off an object. At the end we revealed what was in each box.

Center 5: Sight. Nocturnal animals often have specialized large eyes for seeing in darkness. Students examined animal picture cards and divided them into large eyed (nocturnal) and small eyed (diurnal). Students then flipped over cards to check their answers. You may want to differentiate learning during this time by asking the students to come up with synonyms for large and small. This would provide added challenge for students who have an expanded vocabulary. They can practice using the synonyms in sentence format. The owl’s eyes are _________ (substitute with gigantic, huge, or jumbo). They then examined books with animal pictures to hypothesize which animals were nocturnal and diurnal.

Explain

Back in the circle time area, students sang the “Nocturnal Animal Song” (see Additional Resources). The song was a fun way to provide a break for students who may need to prime the brain for continued optimal learning. Students discussed what they experienced in each station and this led into discussion of adaptations. We introduced students to analogy mapping (IRIS 2020). Analogies such as “like/ are like” we used. Students explained “our fingers are like whiskers and can be used to sense objects.” In this example fingers is analogy and whiskers is the target science concept (IRIS 2020). We helped students verbally make analogies for all stations as a way to answer our research question: What special features do night animals have that help them be active and survive in darkness?

A student sorts photos of animal into daytime and nighttime groups.
A student sorts photos of animal into daytime and nighttime groups.

We then introduced the vocabulary words nocturnal and diurnal. Since Center 5 was independent, we together discussed the patterns students noticed when dividing animals into large-eyed and small-eyed, such as nocturnal animals often have large eyes and diurnal animals often have small eyes. We also reiterated that not all animals that have large eyes are nocturnal. As students compared and contrasted features of nocturnal and diurnal animals, they were analyzing and interpreting data.

We also introduced structure and function. For example, a student said she sorted pictures into big eyes and small eyes because “nocturnal animals mostly have big eyes.” We then posed why big eyes would be helpful. Another student said that big eyes would help it “see better in darkness.” He pointed out how some animals have eyes that “glow.” Another student said she liked “meat eater animals like leopards and tigers” so learning about whiskers was fun. She explained how whiskers “feel and sense objects.”

Elaborate: Day 4

Students started in circle time and recounted what features they explored. A chart was made with a drawing to represent each center. Students shared their ideas for what images could represent each adaptation on the chart, and then we drew their ideas. For example, students suggested a nose with lines near it for good sense of smell. This was a way to visually represent what we had learned about previously. We discussed how scientists use models and talked about which parts of centers modeled adaptions, such as fingers modeling whiskers as a sense organ.

Students were challenged to design their own nocturnal creature model using modeling clay and art supplies. Students were working to “develop a simple model based on evidence to represent a proposed object” (NGSS Lead States 2013). Art supplies were set in the middle of a table with eight chairs. The class was divided with one group working at the table at a time. Each student created a unique model. We specified each model should include two or more adaptations.

Evaluate

Summative evaluations included having students “show and share” their creations to the class. An assessment rubric (see Supplemental Resources) was used to score students. Each adaptation that was discussed during the “show and share” was rated as a zero, one, or two points. The sentence starter, “This is my nocturnal animal and it has…” was used by students. An example of a student share is, “This is my nocturnal animal. I made a big cat. It has lots of whiskers for feeling and big eyes to see predators.” When necessary, students were prompted to discuss the function of the adaptations. Students often created a unique creature or something similar to a bat, an owl, or large feline. Students compared “models to identify common features and differences” (NGSS Lead States 2013). Common features they discussed included: large eyes for seeing in the night, offset ears for better hearing, whiskers to sense objects and predators, and nose to represent good sense of smell. We made sure to reiterate that bats are not the only animals which use echolocation. They noted that each model was different in that they had different combinations of features such as one model having large eyes and offset ears, while another had whiskers, large ears, and a large nose to represent sense of smell.

Day 5

The “Engage” animal card sort was redone to see if misconceptions had changed. Cards were held up one by one so students could examine them and categorize it as diurnal or nocturnal and then share their reasoning. They most easily identified animals with large eyes or offset ears as nocturnal. Additional work was done to evaluate student knowledge by asking key questions to students. “Let’s name an animal adaptation that can help this animal (point to photo card) in the night.” “How does this special feature help the animal?” These questions can give each student a turn to showcase with this simple verbal assessment.

Concluding Thoughts

Although this lesson includes many materials, most came from the classroom or our homes and were repurposed. Though science centers were themed around nocturnal animals, the method transcends this topic. Embedding science centers within 5E inquiry could be done with many topics. While we used science centers as the “Explore” portion of the lesson, there are multiple places it would be appropriate. Science centers could easily be an “Engage” and start off a lesson or students could “Elaborate” by exploring centers. Our students did a fantastic job interacting with science centers and creating their own models. We believe this 5E lesson is an excellent way to have young learners engage with hands-on science.

Additional Resources

 

Cannon, J. 1993. Stellaluna. Orlando: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books.

 

Editors at Kingfisher. Baby animals at night. 2010. New York: Kingfisher.

 

Incredible Bats. 2018. Bat Echolocation. [Video File]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kp5jyZtoTIg

 

Lock, D. 2015. Nighttime animals. New York: DK Publishing.

 

Mr. R’s Songs for Teaching. (2016, February 23). Nocturnal Animal Song [Video File]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SFG7etbxl5o

 

Stanek, L. 2017. Night creepers. Mt. Pleasant, SC: Arbordale Publishing.

 

Whitehouse, P. 2003. What’s Awake? 1, 2, 3. Chicago: Reed Educational & Professional Publishing.

 

 

 

Supplemental Resources

Descriptions and materials for the centers are available at https://bit.ly/3qZSl7c.


Laura B. Schneider (laurabethschneider213@gmail.com) is an adjunct professor in the Environmental Studies Program at St. Mary’s College of Maryland in St. Mary’s City, Maryland, and a high school teacher at Great Mills High School in Great Mills, Maryland. Stephanie R. Grable (srgrable@csmd.edu) is an adjunct professor in the Early Childhood Education Program at College of Southern Maryland in LaPlata, Maryland, and a literacy intervention teacher with St. Mary’s County Public Schools in Leonardtown, Maryland.

References

Bybee, R.W. 2014. Guest editorial: The BSCS 5E instructional model: Personal reflections and contemporary implications. Science and Children 51 (8): 10–13.

Common Core State Standards Initiative. 2019. English Language Arts Standards. http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/

Harshbarger, D. 2019. “Lightbulb” moments for all learners. Science and Children 57 (2): 49–55.

IRIS. 2020. Earthquakes… like ripples on water? (Analogy Maps). National Science Foundation. https://www.iris.edu/hq/waves_analogymap

Jones, I. 1999. A workshop approach: Using learning centers to teach early childhood science. Science and Children 37 (3): 26–31.

National Geographic Society. 2019. Nocturnal animals, explained. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/reference/nocturnal-animals-explained/

NGSS Lead States. 2013. Next Generation Science Standards: For states, by states. Appendix F: Science and Engineering Practices in the NGSS. Achieve, Inc. https://www.nextgenscience.org/resources/ngss-appendices

Ravindran, S. 2014. When It Comes to Echolocation, Some Bats Just Wing It. National Geographic. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/12/141204-bat-echolocation-sonar-wing-animals-science/

Cannon, J. 1993. Stellaluna. Orlando: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books.

Editors at Kingfisher. Baby animals at night. 2010. New York: Kingfisher.

Incredible Bats. 2018. Bat Echolocation. [Video File].

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kp5jyZtoTIg

Lock, D. 2015. Nighttime animals. New York: DK Publishing.

Mr. R’s Songs for Teaching. (2016, February 23). Nocturnal Animal Song [Video File].

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SFG7etbxl5o

Stanek, L. 2017. Night creepers. Mt. Pleasant, SC: Arbordale Publishing.

Whitehouse, P. 2003. What’s Awake? 1, 2, 3. Chicago: Reed Educational & Professional Publishing.

5E Biology Environmental Science Interdisciplinary Teaching Strategies

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