To learn about the animals that inhabit our oceans, second graders engaged in an interdisciplinary and multisensory project that invited them to explore marine life as readers, writers, artists, researchers, and public speakers. Students were encouraged to make independent decisions throughout their investigations, and they took responsibility for choosing the sea animal they wanted to study, gathering research on that animal, and ultimately deciding what information to include in their final presentations. By directing their own learning at every stage of the project, these young scientists became deeply invested in work that was meaningful to them while developing confidence in their abilities to think critically and independently.
The second graders began their research projects by learning about the five ocean layers. After working together to compile a chart that identified which organisms live in the ocean’s sunlight, twilight, midnight, abyss, and trench zones, each student chose a marine animal they wanted to learn more about. As they studied their animal’s appearance, each student made observations about the obvious and subtle features that made it unique, then used these observations to mold a replica out of modeling clay. Detailed and precise, the act of creating these models provided second graders with a tangible, three dimensional understanding of their animals’ physical characteristics, which they referred back to throughout the subsequent phases of their project.
Once they had a strong understanding of their animal’s attributes, it was time to dive deeper into the research process. At this stage, Barbara Morris, Hewitt’s lower school librarian, joined the students in the STEAM Lab to ensure that they were fully equipped to make the most of their research materials. In addition to introducing a curated selection of library books and age-appropriate websites that were rich with information about marine life, Morris also reviewed how to use tables of contents and indexes to effectively search for relevant details. As they devoured information, the girls used guided and open-ended questions to help focus their notes on why they chose the creature they did, what unique characteristics and abilities their animal possessed, and which part of the ocean their animal called home.
With their research complete, the second graders turned their attention to synthesizing all of their facts and interesting details into an organized paragraph. In addition to writing clear topic sentences that explained what their paragraphs would be about and thoughtful conclusions to summarize their ideas, students practiced empathy as they made choices about which facts would be most interesting and appealing to their audience. They sorted through their research, discarding redundant information and highlighting their most intriguing findings, like the octopus’s ability to protect itself through camouflage and the fact that sea otters have the thickest fur of any mammal.
In their final step, the students used their research, 3-D models, and completed paragraphs to develop short presentations. Instead of giving live presentations that happened only once and at a specific time, they recorded themselves using iPads and displayed their presentations with QR codes so that anyone who visited the lower school would have the chance to learn from them. This part of the project offered second graders yet another opportunity to learn about more than just their marine animals, as the recording process was almost entirely student driven. After reviewing the basic steps of recording on their tablets with their teachers, the girls took turns as directors, videographers, and performers, relying on one another for everything from troubleshooting tips to presentation feedback. They confidently offered guidance to classmates who encountered a challenge or forgot how to complete a specific step in the process. Embracing the ownership they had over the entire recording process, students were deeply engaged not only in their own presentations but in making sure their classmates had what they needed to be successful, too.
Integrating several different academic disciplines, this research project offered second grade scientists multiple entry points into their study of marine life and gave them the opportunity to connect to their subjects through visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and tactile learning. As they sculpted, read, wrote, and performed, these students went beyond rote memorization of facts, instead making connections between scientific inquiry, research, technology, and their own creative expression. Applying tools and strategies from across disciplines to their work in the STEAM Lab, the second graders began to develop a broader sense of how they learn best, gaining perspective not only on their marine animals but also on themselves as learners, leaders, and problem solvers.