"Wow, look at that! Is that a fossil?" asked Chloe Lewis, Love Elementary School first -grader, to her partner, Cai Dougher. Cai takes a look through the magnifying glass at the rock.
"Yes, it's a fossil. I think it might be a plant," said Cai.
Chloe and Cai were working on a fossil learning center during their recent English language arts module, "The Introduction to the History of the Earth," in Elisabeth Phelps' class. The first-grade module focuses on the geographical features of the earth's surface. Students learn about the inside of the earth and its various layers. It also focuses on the shape of the earth, the North and South Poles, and the equator. Read-alouds highlight minerals, rocks and fossils. Students receive a good introduction to the basics of geology and paleontology. All subject matter is enriched through nonfiction, fiction, and partner and group discussions. This module builds on what students learned in kindergarten with plants and taking care of the Earth. All Love Elementary School first-grade teachers - Michelle Buttafaro, Jennifer Conroy, JoAnne Gustafson and Phelps - taught the History of the World module.
Love Elementary School students Chloe Lewis and Cai Dougher study fossils through a magnifying glass as part of their “History of the World” English language arts module.
As a culminating event and domain review for the module, Phelps set up four centers to give students a hands-on learning experience working as a group. The first center let students pretend to be a paleontologist digging for dinosaurs. Once they "uncovered" a dinosaur they used no-fiction books to find out which dinosaur they discovered and discussed, as partners, the characteristics of that particular dinosaur.
"I really liked being a paleontologist," said first-grader Kayamara Strudwick. "We got to dig up bones like a real paleontologist does by using a paintbrush so we wouldn't hurt the bones. My favorite dinosaur is triceratops because I like the plates and horns on its head."
In the second center, students created their own fossils out of molding clay. They had to draw what the imprint of the fossil looked like and then also looked at actual fossils under a magnifying glass.
The third center was a math center with dinosaurs drawing 10s and ones and dot-to-dots to find dinosaurs.
The fourth center was a creative way for students to understand the layers of the Earth. Students labeled their own diagram of the layers of the Earth and colored them using the key, while students also talked about layers of sediment. Phelps created "Earth layers" using clear snack cups to see the layers of pudding, gummy dinosaurs, crushed vanilla wafers and chocolate animal crackers to visualize the layers of the Earth.
"By using hands-on projects, the first graders are better able to visualize and understand the topics we are studying," said Phelps. "It resonates more with them than just reading a non-fiction book about fossils or layers of the Earth. If they can get their hands on it and feel and see what a fossil actually looks like, it will make a greater imprint on them."