What’s New at the Zoo? part 5

In case you missed the first 4 posts…Click here for part 1part 2, part 3 and part 4.

Ready for group work!

After hearing each group member’s letter, the group decided on one animal. The researcher of the chosen animal became the group’s expert.  The research was completed so now all the groups had to focus on was thinking of four opinions why the zoo should choose their animal. They also had to provide reasons to back up each opinion.  Here is the group form that the group used to organize their thoughts.  When finished each group met with me to review. Once they were cleared, they went back to assign each member a job to do in the presentation. Some of the jobs the groups created were: fact checker, presentation designer, photo manager, and captain. We used the Explain Everything app for this presentation.  The groups found lots of pictures of their animal and worked very hard trying different layouts for the slides. They made final edits on the script for their presentation and then recorded.  I was proud to see how much they cared about the project. Some students took 5 or 6 tries before they were happy with their final recording.

Here are their final presentations for the zoo!  The zoo will choose one animal from the presentations. We are waiting for their final choice. Once we know the final animal, each group will design a zoo exhibit for it. 🙂

Click the links below to view each group’s presentation! 🙂 I am so proud of their hard work.

Snow Leopard

Mountain Lion

Feather-Tailed Glider


Bat-Eared Fox

Part 6 will focus on designing the zoo exhibits.

What’s New at the Zoo? part 4

In case you missed the first 3 posts. Click here for part 1, part 2, and part 3.

Here’s my favorite part of teaching with project-based learning: THE SURPRISES!

This is only my 2nd project-based learning unit but I am amazed at how many content standards are covered beyond the ones I chose as the focus skills.

Because of one student’s research we ended up doing this!



So are you wondering what animal he was researching?  It all started out with the Black Mamba.  One of my students loves snakes.  He chose the Black Mamba as his research animal.  If you decide to try something like this be prepared to hear “Did you know…?” MANY times but it made me so happy to hear it. They were so excited about all they were learning and they just wanted to share.  One morning he came up to me with a book and said, “Miss Mac, did you know that the Black Mamba is 8-10 feet long?”  I did not know that so I asked him how long that was. He held his hands out about 3 feet.  I grabbed a yardstick and we reviewed how long a yard was and then he realized his snake was much longer than he assumed.  So I told him to go figure out how long it really would be.

IMG_0477This was a great unexpected lesson in measuring an object that is longer than the measuring tool. He asked  a friend to help.  This of course grabbed the rest of the classes’ attention.  Once they measured 8-10 feet, they laid down by it to show it was bigger than 2 of them!




By this time, my principal walked in.  She told a story of a middle school student who told her she could not measure paper for some tables because the yardstick wasn’t long enough. 🙂  She was bragging  on my students for outwitting a middle school student. She knighted one of my students as “Sir Measurement.”



Of course my students loved this! 🙂 Who wouldn’t want to be “Sir Measurement?”

My principal stayed for a few minutes to talk to me about what they were learning but also about something totally unrelated to this activity.  When she left, I looked up and this was happening. (The picture was taken after they finished with it.)



I asked them what they were doing and they said, “Morgan told us that the Anaconda can be between 25-30 feet long so we want to see how long that snake would be!” They really didn’t have room to do this well in my room so I told them we would take up their “cube snake” and take it to the school lobby to check for an accurate measurement.

I thought this is  PERFECT chance to practice using yardsticks, meter sticks and measuring tapes.  It is a CCRS (Alabama’s version of Common Core) standard and one that I still needed to cover.  We head off to the lobby to rebuild the snake. We took turns measuring with the different tools. They learned you have to be careful with each tool and look for zero and also where one ended.



The final measurement unit was the most fun.  We wanted to see how many 2nd graders it would take to match the anaconda.  I took my tallest and my shortest student and stood them side by side and asked “Is there a problem if we use random students in our class?” They decided we couldn’t do that so one student said, “We need kids about the same size!” The lined themselves up in groups around the same size. We used the group in the middle that had the most kids in it.  We used them to measure the “snake.”  And that takes us back to our first photo!



Did I plan on practicing measurement when I planned this unit? NO! Did it fit BEAUTIFULLY? YES!  It was a GREAT way to practice our measurement skills in the context of our animal research and they LOVED it!

Part 5 will be about their group presentations.

What’s New at the Zoo? part 3

Here is the part 1  and part 2 if you missed the previous posts.

I teach 2nd grade. Research is a new concept/skill for them.  I decided to have my students do a lot of their research during reading groups on ipads.  I did this for many reasons.  The best reason is that they were reading and writing the entire time. In fact, most were encountering vocabulary much higher than their current reading level. Being in small groups allowed me to meet individual needs. We learned LOTS of vocabulary and were able to practice using nonfiction text features.  I could also help them search safely and model which sites to trust and which ones would need verification.  These are all skills that they need to learn. They have information at their fingertips but do not always know how to navigate through it all. Here is the research form I created using their list. (see part 2).



As I said earlier we learned lots of new vocabulary.  We found that we encountered the same vocabulary on almost every animal site. Here is a picture of a chart we created after a class discussion on what were learning by researching animals.



These are AMAZING vocabulary words. I found that my 2nd graders confused the term endangered with dangerous.  They thought they meant the same. Through research and discussions in small groups, we discovered the meaning of both.

Once the students finished their individual research, they created a nonfiction magazine article for our class magazine on animals.  They will use Publisher to design their magazine article. We used magazines in our room as models for layout designs. If you don’t have time for a magazine, you could always use Haiku Deck , Educreations, or any other creative app or website. The magazine articles continue throughout the project.  Once the research was completed, we moved to the group part of the project but students continued working on their individual magazine articles. This is separate from the group project. 🙂

They also began thinking about reasons why the zoo should choose their animal.

One important side note:  I knew I wanted this project to focus on science, writing and speaking standards. With the new CCRS (Alabama’s version of Common Core standards), students are expected to state an opinion and provide reasons for that opinion.  I asked our reading coach to model the new Lucy Calkin’s unit on writing opinions during our writing block.  She and I co-taught the lessons. Once we taught the first introductory lessons on writing opinions about favorite books, we moved the students to using the strategies with their animals.  You do not have to use Lucy Calkins’ lessons but you will need to teach your students how to write an opinion with reasons to support it.

Writing an opinion beyond “because it’s cool” is hard for 2nd graders.  I had to ask really good questions to help them think about the animal with the zoo in mind.  Example: They would say, “The zoo should choose this animal because it’s so cute.” I would ask: “And why would the zoo want a cute animal?” They would say, “Because it’s cute.” and I would say “But how would this help the zoo?” They would eventually come up with a good reason such as “OH…people like to see cute animals so more people will come to the zoo!”  Don’t give up and tell them. Just keep asking good questions! 🙂

Once the research was finished (or mostly finished for some), the students wrote a letter to their group. In the letter they wrote why their animal would be a good addition to the zoo and give reasons for this opinion.  Each person in the group would share their letters to try to convince the group that their animal was the best for the zoo. The group choose 1 animal and then begin working on a presentation about that animal for the zoo.  Did they all want their animal chosen? OF COURSE! But this is a good lesson in itself. Every student’s animal will be featured in the magazine article but only one will be the focus of the presentation.

Here is an example of one of their opinion letters:



In case you can’t read it. Her letter says: (spelling corrected in typed version 🙂  )

Dear Group,

You should pick my animal because it is a very unusual animal! And it’s very cute. It’s not endangered but you can barely find them. They have lots of special features to survive and it might be fun to watch and they’re the most… (I didn’t take a picture of the back but she introduced her animal and talked about the special features of her animal.)

So we went from 19 animals to 5- one for each group.  I was going to write about the fun rabbit trail here but this post was longer than anticipated. 🙂  I will write about it on the next post.

By the way, the letter above won over her team but just barely.  🙂 They all wrote very convincing letters!

Here are other examples of their letters:



Part 4 is about the fun surprises that happen in project-based learning!

What’s New at the Zoo? Part 2

Here is the part 1 if you missed it.

I meant to write part 2 right after part 1 but you know how it goes in the world of teaching and life. Things just get busy. The project has continued on and has gone very well because it was so engaging for the students.

Luckily, I have a friend, Roger Torbert (@ZooEducation),  who is the Zoo’s Vice President of Education. He agreed to be a part of our project and has been very helpful! I talked to my principal and asked if it was okay for him to write her a letter asking for help from a class at our school.  The good news for anyone who is interested in this pbl unit, zoos are very helpful.  I have another friend,  Louise Morgan (@MrsMorgansClass ), who is doing this pbl unit too. She contacted her local zoo in Texas and the zoo’s educational director LOVED the idea. They are helping her as well.

Here is the letter my friend wrote.



In case you can’t read the letter (I have tried to upload a clear copy 4 times.), it essentially asks for a class or grade level to recommend an animal that they zoo does not already have. They can research animals and then make their recommendations from their research.

This kick-started our project ( entry event)  and the class was SUPER excited about studying animals. They were even more interested because there was a purpose behind the research.

We came up with the driving question from the letter.

Driving Question:  In your opinion, which animal should the Birmingham Zoo choose as its next animal? 

After posting the driving question, we discussed what we would need to know and what would the zoo want to know about the chosen animal.  Here is the list the students decided would be important to know about the animal:

  • habitat
  • diet
  • size
  • animal group
  • predator/prey
  • did it live alone or in a group
  • would the zoo need to build an exhibit or do they already have a place for the animal

I told the students I would use their list to create a research document to help them with their research.

Meanwhile, I researched a lot of zoos that had kid-oriented websites and that had informational links about the zoo’s animals.  I put all of these links on our kidblog. Here is the link to the post I created to help with the start of their research.  I also printed out a list of the animals at the Birmingham Zoo. I found the animal list on their website.  I also collected lots of animal books and placed them in a basket to be used for research.

I gave the students a beginning research page to help narrow the choices but not have them pick the first animal they read about.  I asked them to find 10 animals from the zoo websites or from the animal books.  The first thing they had to do was check the Birmingham Zoo animal list. If the zoo had it, they had to find another animal.  Here is the link to this first research page.

The students devoured the zoo websites and books.  They found 10 animals they loved and then each student had the hard task to just choose one to research.

Part 3 will be about their individual research and also about the totally fun standard-filled rabbit trails that happen in project-based learning.