What could be so phenomenal about animals? Using structure and function to figure out animal diversity
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Citation (published version)T. McKenna, K. Sinoradzki. 2021. "What could be so phenomenal about animals? Using structure and function to figure out animal diversity.." Science and Children, July/August 2021, Vol. 58, no. 6.
Imagine peering into a first-grade classroom and hearing a bunch of six- and seven-year-olds saying things like, “WHOA that fish has slits across its eyes” and “it’s got spikes all over its body!” while others exclaim “Why does that animal have a huge nose but the other one doesn’t even look like it has a face?!” This is student engagement at its finest—and this is what happens when you use phenomena-based instruction to light up the world of science for young students. Throughout this unit, students use their initial observations about weird looking animals to help them start to think about structure and function—an important crosscutting concept—and to begin to discover animal diversity. In this article we highlight the use of the word weird in describing this group of animals with an extreme diversity of physical features because of the entry point this gives to all learners. While most students begin by describing the external features as weird, the class quickly agrees that they need a better way to describe what they actually mean by weird. Choosing to initially allow and highlight everyday language is a conscious shift away from pre-teaching vocabulary and toward students driving their own need for more nuanced ways of describing these phenomenal animals.