Kim Heckart integrated science and literacy in an inquiry unit investigating the declining bee population. Her third-graders used nonfiction texts to research the reasons behind the decline. They also communicated the problem to their school community and created bee “hotels” to help provide habitat for bees.
The inquiry unit you did with your students seems quite multifaceted. What were the major features of the project?
We began by reading National Geographic Explorer magazines as a group. There was an article about the lack of bees, and the issue of bee population decline really resonated with my students.
At first they were worried. Then they read that many other animals act as pollinators, and they wondered if bee decline wasn’t a big problem after all. They researched and discovered that our home state of Iowa does depend on bees as pollinators. Students’ curiosity, sparked by the magazine article, led them to start asking how they could help bees.
Next, we invited a beekeeper to come to our classroom. Students asked him questions about hives, honey, the bee decline, and his research. From there, students wanted to know how they could best help bees. They came across the idea of building bee hotels and wanted to give it a try.
My students knew they would need wood, and they knew my dad lives on a farm, so they wrote him a letter asking if there were any fallen trees on the property. He visited our class with some logs from a fallen tree and a drill press. Students helped him drill bee-sized holes into the wood. Each student either took home their “bee hotel” or donated it to a nature center.
I saw tremendous growth in my students over the course of this project. It increased their ability to search for answers and find evidence using different sources.
Is there a moment from the project that sticks out in your mind?
While reading Explorer magazine, students were really struck by the National Geographic Explorers who were highlighted. I set up a video call with an oceanographer. They thought that was absolutely amazing, and one boy said, “Mrs. Heckart, I hope that someday I am one of those National Geographic Explorers.” This school year, the same boy came in on the first day of school and told me that a bee is using the bee hotel he hung in his backyard.
Do you have advice for teachers looking to implement student-directed learning in their classrooms?
I recommend the book The Curious Classroom, by Harvey Daniels. Each chapter has a different way you can implement inquiry in your classroom, and I see connections to my learning through National Geographic Educator Certification.
From the book, I’ve taken the idea of “wonder questions.” All my students have wonder notebooks divided into three sections: questions, think tank, and writing. At any time throughout the day, students can pull out their notebooks and write down questions.
Eventually they all have lists of rich questions, and they each choose one to research. They note main ideas and details in the “think tank” section of their notebook. Next, students choose the writing format they want to use to consolidate their research. On “Wonder Fridays”, students have the opportunity to share their research while other students ask them questions. These questions have helped us begin the “Ask” stage of the National Geographic Geo-Inquiry Process.
What is the most important concept you hope students will learn in their year in third grade with you?
I hope my students realize they can be kind citizens who try to make our world a better place to live. I have a strong belief that if we don’t help kids see their importance in making the world a better place, we are missing the boat.
Interested in joining Kim as a National Geographic Certified Educator? Learn more at NatGeoEd.org/Certification.