The Weather unit recently completed by second-graders at GEMS World Academy Chicago is a powerful example of our school’s interdisciplinary approach to learning.
The unit combines a scientific study of weather — its cycles and its effect on communities — with in-depth explorations of research, writing, technology and storytelling.
“It’s one of my favorite units because there are so many components to it,” said Ben Hollister, a grade 2 teacher at GEMS. “And the students are very engaged throughout.”
Students began their inquiries by studying the basic science behind weather, asking questions such as:
Why do we have seasons?
How do specific weather patterns form above the Earth?
What are the different types of clouds, and how does each type affect us?
The students also studied the four stages of the water cycle — evaporation, condensation, precipitation and collection. They drew and labeled each part of the cycle. And they explored the tools that scientists use to collect data about weather.
A key element of the inquiry was research. Teachers helped students hone strong techniques for close and critical reading of nonfiction. Teachers defined plagiarism for the students and discussed the importance of compiling bibliographies when doing research. GEMS librarian Emily Smith assisted by providing students with an overview of the digital research resources available to them.
Students compiled what they learned through their research in digital weather dossiers.
“The research part of it was daunting at first for the students, but they rose to the challenge,” said Sara Dunn, another grade 2 teacher. “Introducing these skills at such a young age is very beneficial; these are skills they’ll use all the way through college.”
As is usually the case at GEMS, students did a portion of their investigation out in the field. They visited the storms exhibits at the Museum of Science and Industry to explore the science behind tornadoes, lightning and sunlight. The students also took walking tours outside school to observe clouds and other weather phenomena first-hand.
The final project for the unit relied heavily on technology and storytelling. In small groups, the second-graders chose specific weather phenomena and created video reports about them using iPads and green screens. They built their reports on the research they had compiled throughout the unit.
In a change this year, students, and not the teachers, filmed the weather reports. After recording clips in front of the green screen, students edited them together in iMovie so that they created a cohesive story.
“It gave us such a sense of gratification to see how engaged the students were when they started filming,” Mr. Hollister said. “They took so much ownership in the work. This is what every educator wants to see.”