This week we read Engineers Solve Problems, a book about engineering. At the end of the book, it mentions that beavers are animal engineers. Our students were fascinated by this idea and were very curious about how beavers can build dams that don’t let water through. The students were stunned that engineers look to animals and nature for ideas about how to solve engineering problems. “So they actually watch what the animals do and then experiment to make it work for people?” Jamal asked. “I never thought of that.” They thought it was amazing that beavers could gnaw down a tree and then drag it to where they want it. They loved that part of the dam is above the water and part of it is below the water and were impressed that animals could build such a thing.
In the Focus on K2 Curriculum, Unit 2 is Animals and Habitats. Due to our students’ interest and our focus on engineering, we are going to study beavers. Our students started asking these following questions: How beavers build dams? What materials do they use? Why dams don’t wash away? How do they build it above and below the water? Can we build an effective dam? Why do they have orange teeth? (“I just want to know why, Ms. Carla,” said Amarylis about the teeth.) During snack, one of our students asked if we could watch a beaver video.
Our students are so excited about beavers and we want to conduct research and answer their questions. We want them to know what research is.
Delving deeper the topic of beavers will give our students ownership over the curriculum and empower students to take charge and make decisions about their own learning. We want them to be able to think about what is true and false and weigh the evidence they have. We also want them to be able to look at things from multiple perspectives and think about the alternative possibilities (What would happen if we build a dam with just sticks?). We want to focus on the engineering process and talk about how it’s relevant to their lives and why they should care about what we are learning. These habits of mind are the framework for what we are teaching.
Students have been going outside during recess and collecting twigs and rocks because they really want to make a beaver dam. They have also been trying to make make dams in the block area out of the blocks we have, tongue depressors, plastic trees and rocks. We are going to build beaver dams later this week out of natural materials that are found in our schoolyard.
We are also going to talk about the importance of teamwork for beavers and how when beavers build a dam it creates a new community in the little pond that forms. This will tie back to the Community unit we just finished.
We believe that focusing on one animal more deeply (beavers) rather than trying to teach about a bunch of different animals will help our students become critical thinkers and that by connecting what students know to that we are studying, they will learn and retain more information.