Anchoring Phenomenon | EL Education Curriculum

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Lesson Sequence 1: Overview

Total Time: 1 hour of instruction

Lesson Sequence 1 kicks off the Life Science Module with an anchoring phenomenon--a puzzling or engaging situation that creates a "need to know" for students. The anchoring phenomenon for this Life Science Module is a photo tour of a North American forest ecosystem. This makes the students wonder: Is this a healthy ecosystem? What makes this ecosystem healthy or not healthy? Students share their initial thinking on these questions in a Scientists Meeting.

Long-Term Learning Addressed (Based on NGSS)

Develop an argument that the flow of matter and energy among the sun, plants, and animals indicates the health of an ecosystem. (Based on NGSS 5-LS2-1)

Because the purpose of this lesson sequence is to launch the module and build student engagement, it does not yet explicitly teach any of the Science and Engineering Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, or Disciplinary Core Ideas. See Teaching Notes.

Lesson Sequence Learning Target

  • I can make observations and participate in a Scientists Meeting to share my ideas about the health of an ecosystem.

Ongoing Assessment

  • Student science notebook: Anchoring Phenomenon entry
  • Scientists Meeting: Gathering Ideas


AgendaTeaching Notes

Total Time: 1 hour of instruction

Section 1

1. Opening

A. Reviewing Learning Targets and Launching Science Notebooks (15 minutes)

Optional Extension: Personalizing My Notebook

2. Obtaining Information

A. Anchoring Phenomenon: Recording Observations about Ecosystems (15 minutes)

Optional Extension: Video of Olympic National Park

Optional Extension: U.S. Parks Virtual Tours

B. Scientists Meeting: Gathering Ideas (30 minutes)

Purpose of lesson sequence and alignment to NGSS standards:

  • In this lesson sequence, students are introduced to the anchoring phenomenon for the module, which is meant to activate student thinking and interest in the module guiding question, as well as to create a "need to know" for the learning target. Because the purpose of this lesson sequence is to activate student thinking through the anchoring phenomenon, there are no Crosscutting Concepts, Science and Engineering Practices, or Disciplinary Core Ideas explicitly addressed. Students are asking questions and obtaining information through making observations (Science and Engineering Practices), but these practices are not explicitly taught; nor are students expected to meet the rigor of either practice in the 3-5 grade level band. As students discuss the characteristics of a healthy ecosystem, they may discuss the interdependence of organisms (a Disciplinary Core Idea) and recognize that an ecosystem works as a system (a Crosscutting Concept). Again, this Disciplinary Core Idea and Crosscutting Concept are not explicitly taught at this point but will be in the following lessons. Both the guiding question and the long-term learning are aligned to 5-LS2-1, and by the end of the module, students will meet the long-term learning and the guiding question.
  • In the Opening, students receive their science notebooks and familiarize themselves with them. These notebooks will be used to structure students' note-taking throughout the module. Take some time to introduce students to this practice. Use the professional science notebook entries to lend authenticity to the task. Focus students on structure so that they understand the purpose and usefulness of the notebook both for this module and for scientists more generally. Consider providing time for students to personalize their notebooks. (See 5th Grade Life Science Module Overview for more information.)
  • In this lesson sequence, the teacher starts the teacher science notebook. Consider using a composition notebook or single-subject spiral notebook. This teacher science notebook serves two purposes. First, it serves as a model for collecting information in a science classroom. When taking notes in the notebook, be transparent and point out the practice to students. Consider saying something like: "This is very interesting. I'm going to collect this information in my notebook so I can refer to it later." Then, when you use the information collected, point it out by saying something like: "Three days ago, I heard X share an idea that I want to return to now." Second, the teacher science notebook serves as an additional record of student learning. Use the notes collected during Scientists Meetings and other class discussion time in conjunction with student work to guide instruction, create appropriate scaffolding, record student misunderstandings, and make connections between the science content and students' lives. Refer to the notebook often.
  • In Obtaining Information A, students are introduced to the anchoring phenomenon for the module--a teacher-created slideshow of the various components of a forest ecosystem. Alternatively, consider taking students to a local ecosystem to make observations. Take measures to ensure that most of the observations that can be made in the slideshow can also be made during students' trip (i.e., the diversity of organisms, the abiotic and biotic features, and the availability of habitats).
  • In Obtaining Information B, students participate in their first Scientists Meeting, where the teacher can gather baseline information about what students know about ecosystems, the cycle of energy and matter, and the interdependence of organisms. The Scientists Meeting is a structure for classroom discussion that repeats throughout the module. Scientists Meetings provide an opportunity for students to make their thinking public and to defend their ideas based upon evidence collected through experimentation, observation, or research. They also provide an opportunity for students to "rehearse" their ideas before writing. The teacher's role is to facilitate discourse among students through thoughtful questioning (see Key Features of the Life Science Modules in the introduction).
  • Students' science notebooks and their participation in Scientists Meetings across multiple lesson sequences provide formative assessment data for the Crosscutting Concepts, Disciplinary Core Ideas, and Science and Engineering Practices aligned to 5-LS1-1, 5-LS2-1, and 5-PS3-1.

How it builds on previous work in the Life Science Module:

  • N/A: This is the first lesson sequence in the module.

How it reinforces the CCSS Standards and EL Education's Language Arts Grade 5 Module 2:

  • In Language Arts Grade 5 Module 2, students study the rainforest. Consider expanding the anchoring phenomenon to include more pictures of the Hoh Rain Forest, a temperate rainforest in Olympic National Park. Students may be surprised to learn there are many types of rainforest in the United States.
  • Consider using some of the same vocabulary strategies, such as a Word Wall or vocabulary log, that are used in Language Arts Grade 5 Module 2.
  • The student science notebook is an opportunity for students to practice informative writing and gathering evidence (CCSS ELA W.5.2 and W.5.8).
  • The Scientists Meeting in Obtaining Information B provides students the opportunity to practice their speaking and listening skills while collaborating in whole group discussions (CCSS ELA SL.5.1).

Possible student misconceptions:

  • Students may think that ecosystems that have a wide variety of organisms are not healthy because they are perceived as crowded. In fact, ecosystems with more biodiversity are healthier. Discuss with students that when there are many different kinds of organisms in one space, organisms can "share jobs." Consider asking: "If your task was to clean our whole school, what would be the benefit of having students from different grade levels and adults with different roles all help? How would more diversity of people helping be better than if just one class of students took on this job?" (Different types of people have different skills and interests and would be able to meet the need of cleaning the school better.)
  • As students share their observations about the health of ecosystems, pay special attention to what they think is unhealthy. This may show student misconceptions about the role of different parts of the ecosystem. Example: decomposers, like maggots or mushrooms, may evoke a negative feeling for many people if they are not trained in ecological processes, yet decomposers play an important role in the cycle of life. Their job is to recycle nutrients trapped in the bodies of dead organisms so the nutrients can be used again by live organisms. Do not correct student thinking at this time but address the misconception in Lesson Sequence 6 when decomposers are formally introduced.
  • Students will likely understand that plants and animals depend on their environment and that there can be problems in the environment, including tangible things like litter or pollution. This idea will help them understand the parts of a system working together. They may not understand that humans are animals that depend on their environment, too. Have a class discussion about the ecosystem that students live in and the role they play in that ecosystem.

Possible broader connections:

  • Students may be familiar with the systems outside of school, including gaming systems, operating systems, etc.
  • Students may have studied other systems in science, such as the circulatory system or the solar system.

Areas where students may need additional support:

  • Students may need additional support with understanding the difference between ecosystem and habitat. An ecosystem is the living and nonliving things that make up an environment, whereas a habitat is a more specific area where plants and animals live and their needs for survival are met.
  • Students may need additional support using their student science notebook. Consider showing them models of completed notebooks. Highlight the structure of the notebook. Teacher directions are on the left-hand side of the page; students add their thinking to the right-hand side (see Grade 5 Life Science Module Overview).
  • For students who need additional support organizing their ideas in conversation, provide discussion questions from the Scientists Meeting in advance and provide ample processing time.

Down the road:

  • In Lesson Sequence 3, students will design their own experiment to test what plants need to survive. Begin growing enough seedlings at this time for each group of three or four students to have a plant. Alternatively, seedlings can be purchased from a local nursery prior to Lesson Sequence 3 (see Grade 5 Life Science Module Overview).
  • Students will continue to use the student science notebook and may need support keeping track of this important material. Consider where and how you will have students store it so they can work on it and refer to past entries.
  • Students will continue to participate in Scientists Meetings throughout the module. Consider how to support students as they familiarize themselves with the routines and expectations surrounding this kind of discussion.

In Advance

  • Read each section and complete the Preparing to Teach: Self-Coaching Guide.
  • Refer to the Key Features of the Life Science Modules in the introduction for more information on Scientists Meetings.
  • Establish expectations of behavior during group discussions and pair work.
  • Prepare:
    • Student science notebooks; consider where students will store them in the classroom so they will be readily available
    • Teacher science notebook
    • Image of professional science notebook
    • Norms of a Scientists Meeting anchor chart (see supporting materials)
    • Assessing the Health of an Ecosystem slideshow, or print out photos from the Assessing the Health of an Ecosystem slideshow in color (see supporting materials)
  • Post: Life Science Module guiding question and lesson sequence learning targets.

Optional extensions:

  • Personalizing My Notebook: Give students time to decorate their science notebooks or attach an additional cover. For suggestions see the video: Teacher Perspectives: The Value of Science Notebooking
  • U.S. Parks Virtual Tours: Show students additional ecosystems by exploring the Google Street View images here or here
  • Video of Olympic National Park: Students could view this wordless video entitled "Smell of Cedars Steeped in Rain" that features scenes around the park. Students could note the abiotic and biotic features.


ecosystem = the living and nonliving things in an area that interact


General Materials

  • Assessing the Health of an Ecosystem slideshow (teacher-created; see supporting materials)
  • Professional science notebook entries (one to display)
  • Student science notebook (one per student)
    • Anchoring Phenomenon entry (page 2 of student science notebook)
  • Life Science Module guiding question (one to display)
  • Norms of a Scientists Meeting anchor chart (new; teacher-created; see supporting materials)
  • Criteria for Healthy Ecosystems anchor chart (new; co-created with students during Obtaining Information B; see supporting materials)

Science-Specific  (gathered by the teacher)

  • Teacher science notebook (for teacher reference; see Teaching Notes)


Section 1: OpeningPreparing to Teach: Self-Coaching Guide

A. Reviewing Learning Targets and Launching Science Notebooks (15 minutes)

  • Direct students' attention to the posted lesson sequence learning targets and read them aloud as students follow along, reading silently in their heads:
    • "I can make observations and participate in a Scientists Meeting to share my ideas about the health of an ecosystem."
  • Display the first image in the Assessing the Health of an Ecosystem slideshow and say: "This is an example of an ecosystem, and we will make observations about this ecosystem."
  • Underline the word ecosystem in the learning target (1).
  • Using a total participation technique, invite responses from the group:

"What do you think this word means?" (Responses will vary.)

"Where have you heard this word before?" (Responses will vary.)

"What does each part of the word mean?" (eco = environment; system = parts working together)

  • Provide students with the definition of ecosystem (the living and nonliving things in an area that interact).
  • Tell students that in this Life Science Module they will be doing the work of scientists, and one of the things scientists do is gather information. When they gather information, they collect it in a science notebook (2).
  • Display the professional science notebook entries to provide authenticity for the work that students will be completing.
  • Using a total participation technique, invite responses from the group:

"What is one thing you notice about the information in the professional science notebook entries?" (Responses will vary, but may include that these entries have observations written in words and pictures, they use scientific vocabulary, and they include basic information, such as where the information was collected.)

  • Distribute student science notebooks. Tell students that just like adult scientists, they will record their questions, thinking, and learning about ecosystems in this notebook.
  • Because this is a new tool with a unique format, ask students to flip through their student science notebook and think of one "notice" and one "wonder" about how the notebook is set up or what they see inside it to share with an elbow partner.
  • Invite students to take 5 minutes to share with their elbow partner.
  • After students have shared with an elbow partner, ask for volunteers to share out.
  • As needed, respond to student questions and wonders. Be sure they understand that the right-hand side of the page is for them to write their ideas or questions, draw pictures, and jot down any information they learn. Let them know that they will often return to earlier entries to add more information and new learning. Assure students that this is their notebook. You will occasionally collect it to look at some of their thinking, but it is mostly for them to keep a record about what they are learning.

(1) What experience do my students have with the vocabulary word ecosystem? (Students may have learned about ecosystems in earlier grade levels. They may have used language, possibly discussing a plant or animal's habitat, environment, area, or surroundings.)

(2) Have I used a student notebook in my classroom before? How is this similar to or different from what I've done before? Do I have a student model that would be useful to students?

Work Time

Work TimePreparing to Teach: Self-Coaching Guide

Section 1: Obtaining Information

A. Anchoring Phenomenon: Recording Observations about Ecosystems (15 minutes)

  • Direct students' attention to the posted Life Science Module guiding question and read it aloud:
    • "How do we assess and improve the health of an ecosystem?"
  • Tell students that this is a complicated question that does not have just one correct answer. Throughout this module, they will be collecting information and having numerous class discussions to construct their own answer to this question. Today, they will work like scientists and make observations of an ecosystem to assess the health of the ecosystem.
  • Invite students to open their student science notebooks to the Anchoring Phenomenon entry and record their initial thoughts and questions regarding the guiding question.
  • Remind students of the lesson sequence learning target. Tell them that they are going to view some photos of an ecosystem. These photos will help them make observations about the health of the ecosystem. Tell students all these photos come from one of our national parks--Olympic National Park in Washington. This park has several ecosystems and many organisms that live there. They will gather evidence to make the claim about how healthy the Olympic National Park ecosystem is.
  • Draw students' attention to the "Obtaining Information" section of the Anchoring Phenomenon entry, and ask them to put their finger on the Assessing Ecosystem Health chart.
  • Explain that as they watch the Assessing the Health of an Ecosystem slideshow, they will make observations about the ecosystem in each photo. Then they will record their observations under one of the three headings provided in the chart: evidence that the ecosystem is healthy, neutral evidence, or evidence that the ecosystem is not healthy.
  • Play the Assessing the Health of an Ecosystem slideshow in its entirety, pausing after each slide to give students time to record their observations (1).
  • Periodically have students turn and share their observations with a neighbor; encourage students to add to their own student science notebook (2).
  • Ask a few students to share with the whole class.
  • Provide students with time to add additional observations.

(1) After previewing the images in the slideshow, at which points will I stop and ask the students to turn and talk?

(2) What questions will I ask to stimulate closer observations?

B. Scientists Meeting: Gathering Ideas (30 minutes)

  • Ask students to bring their student science notebooks and gather for a Scientists Meeting (1).
  • Gather students in a whole group area on the floor.
  • Explain to students:
    • They are starting a routine that will continue throughout the module.
    • This is a special class conversation where they talk about important science concepts and the new concepts they are learning.
    • They should always gather in a circle and be respectful of one another's space.
    • They will be using the thing they write in their student science notebook to help them explain their ideas, so they should always bring their notebook to the meeting.
  • Tell students that a Scientists Meeting is a conversation where they speak to one another as scientists and not just to the teacher. Invite them to take notes during the conversation (2).
  • Direct students' attention to the Norms of a Scientists Meeting anchor chart:
    • We take turns talking.
    • We build on one another's ideas.
    • We disagree respectfully.
    • We ask questions when we don't understand.
  • Share with students that the goal of today's Scientists Meeting is to gather ideas and questions about the guiding question for this module.
  • Ask students to discuss with an elbow partner:

"What are your thoughts and wonders about ecosystems so far?" (Responses will vary.)

"What does it mean for an ecosystem to be 'healthy'?" (Responses will vary.)

"What do you think about the health of the ecosystem that we just viewed?" (Responses will vary, but may include: The ecosystem is healthy, unhealthy, or a combination.)

  • Direct students' attention to slide 3 of the Assessing the Health of an Ecosystem slideshow (decaying log) and elicit student thinking about the way matter cycles through a system. Consider asking:

"These logs are rotting and decaying. Is this healthy or not healthy or both? How do you know?" (Responses will vary. Do not correct student thinking at this time.)

  • Direct students' attention to slide 4 (bear eating a salmon) and elicit student thinking about the cycle of energy in an ecosystem. Consider asking:

"This bear is eating something. Where did this food come from? Where will the energy that the bear gets from eating this food go?" (Responses will vary. Do not correct student thinking at this time.)

  • Direct students' attention to slide 5 (deer with a fawn) and elicit student thinking about the way that animals get their needs met in a stable ecosystem. Consider asking:

"This deer has reproduced. Is that an indication of being healthy or not healthy or both? How do you know?" (Responses will vary. Do not correct student thinking at this time.)

"What should we measure to assess health?" (the plants and animals, air and water conditions, the way the needs of plants and animals are met, the cycles of the system, etc.)

  • As students share out, capture their thinking in the teacher science notebook and encourage them to provide evidence and reasoning for their ideas (3) (4) (5):

"What did you see in the slideshow that makes you think that?"

"What have you seen, heard, or read that makes you think that?"

"What experience have you had that supports that idea?"

  • Ask questions to help students connect their ideas:

"Do others agree or disagree? Why?"

"Can someone paraphrase what Student A said?"

  • Encourage students to connect and build on one another's ideas by asking:

"Did someone have something similar to what X observed? How was it the same? How was it different?"

  • Record student responses and questions in the teacher science notebook, being sure to think aloud and model for students the habit of recording questions and thinking that will be returned to later.
  • Guide students to understand that an ecosystem is not necessarily healthy or unhealthy; all ecosystems have some degree of health and can be healthier.
  • Build consensus as a class around the things that will be used to determine health. Add these examples to the Criteria for Healthy Ecosystems anchor chart. (Responses will vary. Accept all reasonable answers, but ensure that the following is included: the organisms present in an ecosystem, the abiotic features, and the big cycles working together in the ecosystem.)
  • Let students know that in the coming lessons, they will spend time investigating the health of various ecosystems and they will learn how each of these criteria can indicate health, especially the last one--"big cycles working together as a system."
  • Elicit student thinking about what indicates the health of an ecosystem. Do not correct students, but note misconceptions and general understanding.

"What will we observe about the organisms in a healthy ecosystem?" (They are in balance; all of the organisms can get their needs met in a stable environment; there will be a diversity of organisms, including lots of producers (like plants) and some primary consumers and a few secondary consumers.)

"What will we observe about the water, soil, and air?" (It is clean; water and air will cycle through organisms; the nutrients in the soil will be part of the cycle of matter.)

"What will we observe about the whole system and how it works?" (All parts of the system will work together to keep the ecosystem stable.)

  • Give students a few minutes to jot down their takeaways from the conversation in their student science notebook.
  • At the end of the conversation, direct students' attention to the Norms of a Scientists Meeting anchor chart. Briefly discuss how well the class kept the norms of the Scientists Meeting (6).
  • Give students specific positive feedback on their first Scientists Meeting. (Example: "I noticed many of you using eye contact with and speaking to each other rather than only to me.")
  • Invite students to return to their seats.

(1) How can I record the Scientists Meeting for students to listen to at the end of the module so they can track their learning about the health of an ecosystem?

(2) A Scientists Meeting is different from a regular group discussion. What group norms will I emphasize?

(3) What probing questions can I ask if students are struggling to engage in the meeting? (Consider questions that ask students to look closer like "Did you notice...? What else do you see?")

(4) Do not correct student thinking about the health of the ecosystem at this time; the purpose of this conversation is to document students' current thinking.

(5) My students may not have accurate background knowledge about energy. What additional questions can I ask to surface misconceptions? Consider:

    • What would happen if logs never rotted?
    • What happens to the bear when the bear dies?
    • Where does the fish get the energy to try and swim away from the bear?
    • Where did the deer get the energy she needed to reproduce?

Note: Students will likely not be able to articulate the answers to these questions. By the end of the module, they will have learned these concepts. I'm eliciting students' current thinking; I should not give them the answers at this time.

(6) How much practice do my students have with self-evaluation? Will they need a more structured way to reflect on how well they kept the norms?

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