I witnessed a great struggle between the prey and the predator. A wasp got caught up in what seemed to be a single strand of spider silk. I watched for more than 30 minutes as the wasp struggled to free itself from the grips of the sticky string. It used its powerful wings and all six of its legs to loosen the hold. It hung upside down, hoping gravity would help. When the wasp stopped moving, the spider descended the string to see if it was time to wrap up its next meal. It did that 3 or 4 times, each time retreating to its safe place to continue watch, forced back there by the sudden rejuvenation of the wasp, somehow instinctively knowing that if it got too close the wasp could sting it, paralyze it, and eventually kill it and in some cruel irony and twist of fate become the prey instead of the predator. I was looking forward to the climax where the wasp surrenders to the futility of the fight, breathes its last breath, and succumbs to entombment in the spider's sticky casket, reserved for tonight's meal. Alas, though, that didn't happen. The wasp eventually escaped and continues to hang out in the same place as if to taunt the spider. Amazing stuff!
It used to be that before QCC (Quality Core Curriculum), GPS (Georgia Performance Standards)¸ and CCS (Common Core Standards) teachers would create thematic units based on dinosaurs, apples, trees, and, in my story, spiders. With today's standards, the themes have been broadened and deepened beyond a single thing to a big idea or enduring understanding. The larger enduring understandings and themes of conflict/peace, superiority/inferiority, and complacency/vigilance, to name a few, have taken over. This is part of what we're talking about in our mission statement when we say we want to inspire all children to the highest levels of academic achievement through a RIGOROUS curriculum that integrates the wonders of the natural world. It's a paradigm shift for teachers, especially for those of us who have taught forever, but also for those who have not, for they had teachers who taught the former way.
So, does the spider's interaction with the wasp have any place, then, in the standards-based teaching and learning of today, and in particular, at CHCS? You bet it does!
First, the themes mentioned above (peace/conflict, complacency/vigilance, etc.), themes evident in the spider-wasp drama, are themes that cut across all curriculum areas. They should be embraced and taught and demonstrated and explained so that students can eventually make those connections on their own. They are common themes in humanity and nature that even our youngest students can understand and will help students make sense of the world.
Second, every grade level has standards that relate to habits of mind (curiosity, honesty, openness, skepticism, use of estimation, computation and data analysis, safety, using tools, instruments, equipment, and materials, communicating scientific ideas and activities clearly, and questioning scientific claims and arguments effectively) and the process of scientific inquiry (for example, the scientific method).
Third, every grade level has standards that can draw from the spider-wasp experience to help students make connections. But a teacher may say (not a CHCS teacher!), "Oh, but we're not on that unit yet." So WHAT! Preview! Another teacher may say (again, not a CHCS teacher!), "But we already did that unit." So WHAT! Review! (By the way, what does it mean to "do" a unit?) Yet another teacher may say (CERTAINLY not anyone here!), "But that's not in our standards." So WHAT! Be creative and link it to your standards or maybe just allow students to enjoy the moment and the discovery and the beauty and allow them to make connections in their own minds and hearts that they may or may not disclose to you. That's OK too!
How might each grade level make science connections between the spider and the wasp and their grade level science standards?
SKP1a: Compare and sort materials of different composition. (What is the spider web made of?
How does it feel? (Can you find an abandoned spider web and let the students feel it?)
SKP2. Students will investigate different types of motion.
a. Sort objects into categories according to their motion. (straight, zigzag, round and round, back and forth, fast and slow, and motionless) (How does the spider move? How does the wasp move? How does the web move?)
S1L1. Students will investigate the characteristics and basic needs of plants and animals.
b. Identify the basic needs of an animal.
d. Compare and describe various animals—appearance, motion, growth, basic needs.
S2L1. Students will investigate the life cycles of different living organisms.
a. Determine the sequence of the life cycle of common animals in your area: a mammal such as a cat or dog or classroom pet, a bird such as a chicken, an amphibian such as a frog, and an insect such as a butterfly.
S3L1. Students will investigate the habitats of different organisms and the dependence of organisms on their habitat.
a. Differentiate between habitats of Georgia (mountains, marsh/swamp, coast, Piedmont, Atlantic Ocean) and the organisms that live there.
b. Identify features of green plants that allow them to live and thrive in different regions of Georgia.
c. Identify features of animals that allow them to live and thrive in different regions of Georgia.
d. Explain what will happen to an organism if the habitat is changed.
S4L1. Students will describe the roles of organisms and the flow of energy within an ecosystem.
a. Identify the roles of producers, consumers, and decomposers in a community.
b. Demonstrate the flow of energy through a food web/food chain beginning with sunlight and including producers, consumers, and decomposers.
c. Predict how changes in the environment would affect a community (ecosystem) of organisms.
d. Predict effects on a population if some of the plants or animals in the community are scarce or if there are too many.
S5L1. Students will classify organisms into groups and relate how they determined the groups with how and why scientists use classification.
a. Demonstrate how animals are sorted into groups (vertebrate and invertebrate) and how vertebrates are sorted into groups (fish, amphibian, reptile, bird, and mammal).
S5P2. Students will explain the difference between a physical change and a chemical change.
c. Investigate the properties of a substance before, during, and after a chemical reaction to find evidence of change. (What is a spider's web made of? How does it form in the spider's body? How does it change as it comes out? As it wraps around its prey?)
S6E5. Students will investigate the scientific view of how the earth's surface is formed.
i. Explain the effects of human activity on the erosion of the earth's surface.
Not to mention, all the cross-curricular applications!
Oh, one more thing! My previous emails have shared discoveries I made on campus. This one happened at home. Why is this important? We don't want our students to learn only on campus. We don't want them to leave school and cease to explore, discover, observe, in essence, be inspired by the natural world. Part of our philosophy is that students will learn "in place", in the varied environments in which they find themselves.
Idea! How about assigning weekly homework, due on Friday, in which students have to video or photograph a PERSONAL discovery or observation of something in the natural world from home, a vacation destination, a weekend visit to a nature trail, etc.? Students could then integrate technology and send it electronically to you and these primary sources could then become artifacts that students could analyze and write about, thus creating secondary sources. Ask students how they used or could have used math, social studies, reading, and writing in their discovery or observation. We want to train students to observe and learn from nature, to make connections (which stimulates the brain and increase of neural connections), and to see how subject area such as math, science, social studies, reading and writing aren't silos, but opportunities for interconnectedness. Kids don't necessarily need to know what "cross-curricular" and "interdisciplinary" mean, but they do need to experience it every day.
Much to think about.