First graders are playing with insects at school. But that’s a good thing!
All 67 students across four classrooms are conducting the science unit together. Each received an inch-long caterpillar last week. And over the course of the next three weeks, they will feed, monitor, and sometimes even befriend the insects during the evolution. If all goes as planned, the students will release Painted lady butterflies in mid-October.
The activity is an annual part of the first-grade experience as well as a key unit in the first-grade science curriculum which addresses the basic needs of living things.
Students like Chester Phillips already know what caterpillars and butterflies look like. But this is the first time he and many others can observe the lifecycle up close. “I have a lot of Monarch butterflies in my yard at home,” he said. “I know a lot about caterpillars. But here I get to touch them and its crawling tickles my skin.”
The first-graders write their observations and important words they are learning in one of two books: one for butterfly observations and the other for more in-depth journaling. In the journal, students explore questions about the caterpillar’s food, such as feel, look, and smell. The journal also contains activity pages, such as labeling parts of the caterpillar and identifying the function of each main body part.
Helping the first-grade teachers to develop the lesson and its inquiry-based learning structure was Dr. Lena Duran, a village resident and associate professor in the School of Teaching & learning at Bowling Green State University.
They will use the journal at the insect’s next two stages of life: chrysalis and emergence into a butterfly. By keeping careful notes during each, the students are then able to use math skills to calculate which stage is the longest. And during each stage, they are talking about the role of adaptation, and how a caterpillar’s body adjusts as needed to interact with its environment.
“The students are very excited about the project,” said Rachel Wanner, Chester’s teacher. “They get to observe the insect’s entire life – and it’s all taking place inside our classrooms.”
The other first-grade teachers participating in the project are Laurie Keating, Heidi Morris, and Mackenzie Hayes.