Spring Brings a Worm Inquiry
April 2015 revealed the budding beginnings of a new inquiry. From all our talk on caring for the Earth, the benefits of compost and producing nutrient-rich soil, we have begun to wonder about worms and other mini-beasts. I asked the children if they would like to study worms close up by having worms in the classroom and it was a resounding, “YES!!!”. Madison and I decided we could have our very own earth worm tank to enhance our learning. If you’ve read my earlier posts, you know that I did this last year and the children not only loved it but also learned so much from it! Even those who, at first, were timid about touching the worms ended up learning the values of bravery and trying new things.
This post will showcase our journey throughout our Worm Inquiry and reveal how it transformed into a broader study of insects. As always, our scientific investigations were used as a means to also tap into math, language and the arts, allowing us to cover many curriculum expectations. The big idea that I wanted the children to understand was that although worms are small, they are indeed very important to the soil, the plants, animals and to us! I can definitely say that this goal was well reached.
Beginning Our Inquiry & Introducing the Worms
When the children decided we should bring worms into our classroom to learn more about them, we asked them where the worms would stay. The children came up with different ideas for homes, including in a bowl, a vase with water, a cage and a glass tank. We discussed the pros and cons of each and after tallying a class vote, realized that the glass tank was probably the most practical idea.
See how we introduced the worms to the children in the first few days.
I was so excited to show our new special guests to the children that morning!
I started by making a inquiry word web with the children to discover the prior knowledge they had about worms (see photo below for a close up). Next, Madison and I brought out the worm tank. At this point, it was only filled with soil. There is a divider in the tank so that there are two separate, narrow spaces in the tank (to help us see the worm tunnels better). I then showed them the the containers of worms. I explained that I purchased the containers from a store that fishermen normally shop at and that the worms are kept in a refrigerator to keep them in a sleepy state so they don’t wiggle out.
The children were so excited. Some children giggled at the sight of the worms, some screeched, and others were speechless. However, all of the children stared at the worms with wide-eyes of wonder and awe. These are one of the moments I live for as an educator and it did not disappoint!
As you can see, the children were quite knowledgeable about worms to begin with. However, I knew there was still lots to teach and learn!
This was our worm tank’s home, complete with magnifying glasses, non-fiction and fiction books about worms, children’s drawings, a worm life-cycle diagram, and a list of children’s inquiry questions (questions always being added on as they came up).
Investigating Our Worms
The children were given daily opportunities to study our worms. We taught them how to remove them gently from the tank and how to handle them in a respectful manner. The children observed them closely and their attention-spans expanded, showing us leaps and bounds in development for many of our little ones.
We integrated math into our daily activities in various ways. For example, the children were extremely interested in measuring the lengths of the worms. We put the worms up against the edges of things to compared sizes and used different measurement tools (e.g., Unifix cubes, pencils, chain links, etc.) to compare lengths. We also compared the lengths of the worm tunnels we could see from the sides of the tank. Some of the tunnels stretched down to the bottom of the tank, while others only went about half way.
Children often tried to feed the worms after learning that they ate semi-rotten leaves and vegetation as well as fruits and vegetables. The worms didn’t eat these things when out in the open, however, and we realized that when we left bits of food in the tank overnight, they were gone by morning (even if just because the worms had pulled them down into their burrows). To graph our predictions, we took a tally of children who thought the food would be gone in the morning and children who thought the food would still be there.
Seeing their faces light up as they allowed the gentle creatures to crawl and wiggle in their hands was priceless. Many children had not actually held a worm before and it was a new, sensory experience that was exciting and special.
The children loved seeing how long the worms became when they stretched out. They also loved showing us the different sizes of worms and how some were thin and others were more plump. They found different ways to use scientific tools to get a better look at the worms. For example, many children would place worms on a hand-held magnifying glass and then lift it above their head, peering up at the worms to see their underside.
Children also noticed that when they would keep the worm in their hand and cover it with their other hand, the worm would always find a way to poke it’s head through a space somewhere. We found out that although worms don’t have eyes, they can sense where light is because of the sensors in their skin.
Another observation children made was how the worms stuck to the glass of the tank. They learned that worms produce slime to keep themselves from drying out. A slimy worm is a healthy worm.
We counted how many worms were plump and how many worms were skinny. Most of the worms were skinny with only a few really plump ones being in the mix! It was difficult to count the worms because we couldn’t get them all out of the tank and when they were on the table, they would squirm away. Nevertheless, the children enjoyed the challenge and we got a good idea of the ratio of skinny to plump worms.
We allowed the children to see what would happen if the worms were confronted with small puddles of water – something like you would see after a rain storm. The worms could survive in the water and we learned that contrary to what many believe, scientists say that worms can survive several days in water because they breathe through their skin and need moisture to keep from drying out. The reason why worms come out during a rain storm is not due to the concern of drowning underground, rather because they can move around much easier on slippery, wet surfaces. This helps them to migrate and travel far distances more quickly and to find mates more easily.
One of our Littles was inspired by the worms and used the scientific inquiry strategies we had been teaching throughout the year to observe the worms and then record on paper, what he was seeing. This was completely spontaneous and not prompted by an educator. We were so overwhelmed with delight to find our children using the techniques on their own that we’ve modeled and have helped them through many times before. In regards to the Gradual Release of Responsibility Model, it was a proud moment.
The photos above capture a little one’s first time getting enough courage to pick up and hold a worm. This was days into our inquiry after we weren’t sure she would ever be comfortable enough to do it. Although she was heavily involved in the inquiry by drawing and writing about the worms, she preferred to watch them from a distance and to observe the illustrations and photos of worms in books. The children were never forced to try touching the worms but were gently encouraged. If they didn’t want to, we assured them it was OK and didn’t pressure them. We were so proud of her this day when – out of the blue – she decided she wanted to try it. What a wonderful moment!
Demonstrating Our New Learning
The children learned so much by observing the worms directly but they also explored worms in other ways and demonstrated their understandings using a variety of activities. Ultimately, they learned how the scientific approach can be utilized in many learning experiences.
First, I want to explain the planning strategies we used for our Worm Inquiry. Many people often ask me how I plan inquiries and the truth is, I utilize many different tools and not always the same ones for every inquiry. For our Worm Inquiry, we kept a list of students’ questions about worms as they arose on our Worm Wall and organized them by sub-topic (aspects of appearance, function of worm parts, habitat, benefits of worms, etc.). We then tackled each sub-topic when it seemed most fitting in our inquiry. These questions were written out by students and also added to our inquiry board, which you will see later in the post. We always referred the students back to the questions to see if we had answered them through our learning at that point.
In much the same way, we continuously kept track of students’ observations and big discoveries that helped to answer the questions they originally had. I organized them here roughly by qualities of worms (“worms have”), actions worms can do (“worms can”), and descriptors of worms (“worms are”) but it was also done in whole-group lessons on chart paper with the whole group. This helped us ensure we were covering everything we needed to as the inquiry went on. As you can see, the children often demonstrated their learning orally. These quotes were taken during class discussions, throughout an activity, while reading a book or while observing the worms. Major observations and key learning points were also recorded by students in pictures and words and placed on our inquiry board.
Children loved reading about worms and enjoyed both non-fiction and fictional books. I am a huge believer in the power of books and pictures/visuals and by keeping many quality books about worms on the book shelves and around the room, I kept the children engaged in our inquiry. Children continuously asked questions and made observations based on what they were seeing in the books.
I always enjoy seeing how the children’s pictures change as an inquiry deepens. As the children learn more, their pictures become more detailed, more accurate and more purposeful.
Children often recorded their new findings about worms in drawings. Many used books for inspiration. Check out all of those details in their pictures!
I love how these watercolour pieces turned out!
This provocation encouraged students to use chalk pastels to draw pictures of worms on brown construction paper. Beautiful!
At this point in the year, all of the children were now interested in drawing and could spend long periods of time engaged in this. Since drawing is excellent preparation for early writing, there are many benefits of this activity. Children practice using an effective pencil grip, how to use different writing tools, and making smaller lines and more complicated shapes.
In addition to these benefits, drawing allows children to freely express their ideas and new learning without feeling inhibited by the challenges of writing at this young age. Of course, we still practice and encourage the children to write. However, I see drawing as valuable on it’s own as a wonderful way for early learners to show their thinking. You can see so much in their pictures and diagrams – more than if they were to asked to write what they knew. We also conference with the students on their drawings and have them describe each part to us. This gives us opportunity to confirm the child’s understanding, correct any misunderstandings and to help the child piece ideas together that they may need help with.
The science behind the children’s drawings and diagrams became so apparent (e.g., including bristles on the worms, drawing earth worm cocoons underground, mapping out the worm’s tunnels, showing the inside of worms based on books and understandings about worm anatomy, etc.). Many adults visiting our room couldn’t believe that these were created by such young children.
To honour the children’s work, we proudly hung the their pieces in the hallway and on our windows and door so that they understood just how incredible their work really was.
Children also showed their understandings of worms using other materials such as perler beads. It really was incredible how they worked together to create such detailed and meaningful works of art using these small tools.
Like with the perler beads, children showed deep thinking using loose parts like gems, bottle caps, stones and wooden pieces to create detailed compilations about worms.
After reading, Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin, we talked about the difference between fact and make believe (fiction). We pointed out how the book used both story elements to create a funny but endearing drama about a worm who writes diary entries about his life and insect friends. It gave us a chance to learn more about worms and to also giggle at the funny ways the author presented worms.
Pulling Our Learning Together
Studying worms allowed our children to learn so much about these small creatures, about the soil and environment, about being scientists, and about themselves.
Children wrote their big discoveries in their Think Books and shared them with their classmates. These entries were quite astounding and signified to us their readiness for Grade 1.
This mural was a fun and eye-catching way to showcase our learning to the rest of the school. The children named it “Worm Kids” and loved creating worm bodies for their faces. Each one of them included a fact they learned about worms (in the child’s words) and we even ensured not to repeat any of the facts! So, there are over 40 unique facts about earth worms on this mural alone. Pretty impressive, I think! Note that some of the children chose to close their eyes for their worm photo because worms don’t have eyes. 🙂
Finally, I am happy to show you our Worm inquiry board! This was co-created with the children and showed the flow of our inquiry.
The inquiry board informed viewers and reminded children of the “spark” that ignited our Worm Inquiry (how we engaged the students). It included the prior knowledge and hypotheses the children had at the start of our inquiry (the predicting stage). The planning stage was also documented, which showed the critical thinking and discussion we had when we prepared for the day we would be receiving our worm friends.
Our questions and wonders were listed on the inquiry board to show where we started from and our train of thought.
Finally, our new learning and key understandings were put up as they were discovered in the form of drawings and statements written by the children. This is what is known as the Exploring and Building New Knowledge stage. A Worm Words vocabulary wall was also put up beside our inquiry board to help children throughout their inquiry when they needed to spell important words related to our topic.
Saying Goodbye to Our Worms but not to Inquiry!
After a few weeks, we decided that the worms needed to be let free. We had learned a lot from them and the kindergarten division was about to receive painted lady caterpillars. We needed to make room for our new friends and ensure our worms were given a chance at life in the wild. We let them go in the garden at the front of our school, hoping that they would enjoy the rich soil and plants there.
Although, our worm inquiry was wrapping up in one way, it was broadening in another way. Knowing that we were expecting caterpillars, the children decided we should also learn about other insects and mini-beasts. In my next post, you will see how big our inquiry grew in the last month of school!
See you then!