Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Our Planned Learning Expeditions at Greer for this Spring

Listed below are summaries of the learning expeditions that our grade level teams have put together for the very first time. Some are being implemented right now and others later this spring. The summaries are in the words of our teachers and instructional coaches. I know we have a lot more hard work to accomplish but we are proud of getting this far.


Kindergarteners will investigate and understand the basic needs and life processes of plants and animals. They will explain how living things change as they grow and describe what living things need to survive. Each class will study one animal in depth as a case study that they relate to other living things. The product of this expedition will be a ‘how to’ care manual that will be developed by students for an animal fostered by each Kindergarten class from the SPCA. The manual will include photographs of the animal in the classroom and in-depth information on its behaviors, habits and needs, as studied by the students. The manual will be available to the SPCA and prospective families for future use when caring for this species. Students will investigate how the SPCA supports our community and will gather resources needed for the animals such as cleaning supplies, blankets, animal food, and volunteer support.

First Grade: Souper Soup

First grade is currently in the middle of our first expedition, Super Soup. Through the lens of soup, we are tackling a variety of standards, while providing authentic learning experiences that are relevant to our students. Integrated standards and topics include:

  • Science: states of matter and dissolving, seasons, and the needs of living things
  • Math: volume, measurement, and fractions
  • Writing: functional and non-fiction writing, revision, writing with clarity, and publishing
  • Social studies: community service

Students are developing is a grade-wide cookbook, which will include a recipe from each student. By cooking a variety of soups in class, reading about different cultural soups, experimenting with vegetables, talking to expert nutritionists, and visiting farms, we are building background knowledge so that students can successfully write soup recipes. We are formatively assessing their learning through each step of the process and meeting individual needs through modeling and one-on-one conversation. We are keeping an Expedition Journal to record our work and students actively use previous pages to find and write vocabulary words, add more details to drawings and record their thinking.

Additional plans include a return visit to the farm to see how it changes in spring, consultation with the nutritionist to make sure our soups are healthy, a visit to the food bank to see how soup can help our community, and a calendar to show people, plants, animals, and the weather in each season.

Second Grade: From Seed to Plate - the Cycle of Waste

We are looking at 3 separate investigations: How do plants grow? What happens to food waste? How does weather affect growth? Our product will be a public service announcement. This expedition will involve science (life processes, living systems, weather, scientific inquiry), math (measurement, estimation, data collection/graphing, calendars) and literacy (oral, reading, writing).

Student projects along the way will include planting and caring for vegetables, as well as keeping an observation journal. We are beginning seeds in the classroom and will plant outside in a school garden as weather permits. The Local tennis club has pitched in with a grant to revamp existing garden beds as they explore “Healthy bodies, healthy eating.” They will also be involved in measuring cafeteria trash and various composting projects as they learn about the cycle of waste. Some classes are creating in-class compost bins, others are participating in vermiculture, and everyone is contributing to the grade level compost bin for long-term use. Students will create, maintain, and document various weather stations. Also, classes will complete case studies with animals to compare life cycles and systems. For fieldwork we will visit a compost business, a local farm for hands-on experiences with where food comes from, as well as others opportunities not yet scheduled. Our hope is that students will be able to make a difference in the amount of food that is sent to trash.

Third Grade: Into the WIld
Third grade’s Spring expedition is based on animals. The guiding question for the first case study, entitled What’s For Dinner is “How do animals meet their basic needs?” The students distinguish between predator and prey, create a food chain, design a plate showing what omnivores, carnivores, and herbivores eat, and describe the importance of producers, consumers, and decomposers. They also perform research and write a report based on an animal of their choice.

The second case study entitled, “Survival of the Fittest” has the guiding question, “How do animals adapt to their environment?” The students begin with a gallery walk of animals that showcase their physical adaptations. They move on to read a common text on animal adaptations and then expert texts on hibernations, mimicry, migration, and camouflage. The students continue to their animal research reports in this case study. In art class they make their own paper which will be used to make “Animal Fact Cards” as a product. We had a guest speaker from the VMNH outreach program talk to us about animal adaptations, with objects for the kids to explore hands-on. The students will perform a mimicry experiment and hide butterflies to exemplify camouflage.

There is a third case study that will be finalized for next year. It will deal with the human impact on animals and conservation. Throughout the expedition we are using quick checks, graphic organizers, art projects, drawings, and note taking to assess the children. As each item is completed we are displaying the work, along with the Learning Targets, in our community.

Fourth Grade – Through the Eyes of Eagles

The Through the Eyes of Eagles learning expedition will allow 4th graders to explore the interdependence of every part of ecosystems by studying the purpose and importance of each aspect of the ecosystem of the bald eagle in Central Virginia. Learning experiences are designed to help students form answers to the questions: Can eagles survive in Charlottesville or Central Virginia or Albemarle County? Is survival enough?

Each student will choose one part of the bald eagle’s ecosystem to draw (scientific, museum quality). They’ll include a short explanation of what would happen to the ecosystem if their part were to disappear. The final draft of their drawings will be displayed along with other student panels to show the interrelationships within the ecosystem. The final gallery presentation will be hosted offsite with an audience of parents and community members.

Their study of the eagle’s ecosystem will bring students to the water sources in our area that are shared by all of the plants and animals in our ecosystem. Students will test water at four different local locations and produce a water quality report analyzing the health of the watershed. They will also research and suggest action steps for community members to take that can reduce water pollution.

Fifth Grade

As a part of our study of Virginia History, we are taking a very local focus on Charlottesville/Albemarle from the end of the Civil War through the Civil Rights Movement. Specifically, we’re learning about our school’s namesake – Mary Carr Greer. Our project has three main parts:

1. Who was Mary Carr Greer?

Students will follow the Carr/Greer family from emancipation through Mrs. Greer’s principalship in Albemarle County. We are working with Mrs. Greer’s descendents to learn more about her as a person and why our school was named for her. We’ll ultimately rededicate our school in her memory at the end of the school year.

2. Virginia History Timeline

We’ll be working to expose our students to a variety of primary source documents and recordings to help them build a timeline of our local area – from the end of the Civil War through the present – with attention to issues of rights, freedom, and equality in education.

3. Community Biographies

Students will interview local community members about their experiences during school desegregation and Massive Resistance here in Virginia. Small groups of students will interview their subjects and produce a biography that we’ll ultimately display as a gallery for our interview subjects and other community members to view.


  1. Thanks for sharing the concrete of how students go on an expedition- these should result in amazing project-work that will "stick" with the children rather than fading away with the last bubbled test item....can't wait to see the work-

  2. Its great to share the experience of your grade level teams.Keep up the good work.

  3. Wonderful direction, now take many steps forward before you take your first step back.