Sunday, January 26, 2014

Oh Deer!

The third and fourth graders are learning about ecosystems.  We are coming to the end of the unit, so the students have a lot of schema mainly around producers, consumers, decomposers and all the living and non-living things an animal will use as resources to get food, water, shelter, space and air. On Friday, we played a game of Oh Deer! where students line up across from each other, half of them are deer and the other half are resources (food, water etc.).  They turn around and the deer attempt to find a resource, if they do, the resource becomes a deer and life is good.  If they don't, they die (and if the game is true to real life, they die in VERY dramatic fashion!)  We played 10 rounds, each round representing one year of life.

Before we every went outside to play the game, student scientists made a data table and had graph paper so that they can graph their data for deer population over 10 years.  My essential questions were:
  1. What is the relationship between the size of the deer herd and the number of resources available to the deer? and 
  2. Why is balance important in an ecosystem? 
I projected these questions and we discussed them before we played.  The first question is a topical question the second is more overarching and much more general, and one that will hopefully lead to more discussion.
After playing the game, we discussed possible answers to these questions, but didn't document any of them yet.  My plan is to put together their data, and then have them use a thinking routine to capture their thinking.  (Chalk Talk? Step Inside?)  My intent is for them to synthesize their thinking at this late point in the unit.  Our next topic is to look at the interactions that trees have in order to survive and I am planning on using the same questions for that study: What is the relationship between the size of a tree, or health of a tree and the number of resources available?  and Why is balance (for trees) important in an ecosystem?

Honestly, I am really struggling to effectively put the UbD into practice.  I am overwhelmed by the scope of the book and am realizing that I also don't always put enough effort into the "big picture" planning that is necessary to really implement the different components.  So, I am working in small steps to implement Essential Questions to smaller pieces of my plan.  This is why I am just looking at the next two weeks of science.  I am also thinking that I will use and/or revise these Essential Questions for our final, culminating project in the Ecosystems unit where student have to create an ecosystem for a fictional "homeless" creature.

Tuesday, January 28th - After playing Oh Deer! on Friday, we came back on Monday, reviewed our data, then the kids recorded their answers to the essential questions.  This was obviously just a first shot at this.  I used the routine Claim, Support, Question.  We talked at length about the meaning of balance in an ecosystem, what could throw and ecosystem off balance, what are some factors (disease, predators) that could alter the health of a deer herd.  Students were then challenged to write a Claim, Support and Question that addressed either one or both questions.  Some attempted to answer very literally, others put together claims that were based more on real life. Here are a few samples:
  • I claim that if the population goes down really low, it will nearly double in the next few years.  I claim that because in Oh Deer, when we had 100, it went up to 180.  What would happen if the deer population went down to 0? 
  • I claim that the deer go down because of some wildfire or something horrible.  I claim that because I watch videos of wildfires killing poor animals.  What else makes deer population go down?
  • I claim that, when the deer population drops down all the deer will have a lot of food so the next year deer will have babies then the population will go up again.  I claim that because nature comes and goes but population can go and come back and I also predicted that.  I wonder if deer have a litter of babies or one each time.
  • I claim that balance is important in an ecosystem.  Also because deer need water.  All animals need waater and if they had no water then they would die.  How is water not affected in a forest fire?


  1. I agree with your comment around backward design Jeff. I haven't spent enough time digging into the text, and I'm unsure of what I actually understand. You pushed my thinking around essential questions. Typically I think of using backward design and essential questions for an entire unit, but it seems here that you were working through this process for just one lesson. Am I understanding correctly? Like I said, I still need a lot of time to experiment with the process, but you've lead me to ponder/revise my thinking along the way.

    Thanks for sharing!

    1. I did just do it for this lesson and we are going to revisit the same questions with the next, so these questions will take us through about 2 weeks of instruction. We are going to see if their answers change or improve when they apply the questions to plants instead of deer. We will see...

  2. Jeff,
    I think we all do backward design as a thought process when planning for instruction, and it's a difficult task to compartmentalize and account for every part of that thinking. We all struggle with these systems that are heavily laden with technical terms and "put this in this box and that in that box." However, the thinking routines can be used as a catalyst for understandings and questions, just as you showed in this example. I do appreciate that MIchelle uses thinking routines to help us understand UbD, although it's seems like a monumental task. The template she gave us seems to be very usable, so I'm looking forward to trying it out on my upcoming culture unit.

    1. I also think this is a preliminary step to going all in when we start a new unit. Jamie and I have attempted to develop one for our Regions unit in the spring. I think we will be revisiting that and revising our past attempts.

  3. I also have 7th grade students play Oh Deer. What a great lesson. Starting with the essential question is paramount, but it looks like we have the same one. Thus probably very similar lessons.

    I, too, am struggling with this book and do not find the new templates work well for me. Backwards Planning has always been a part of my teaching practice and found the first edition of the book to be more practical. I went to a conference to see McTighe speak about 5 years ago. Things made sense. Now I am a little lost in the myriad of details. I find I have to take a step back and do what is best for me and my students.