One of the most enjoyable investigations that I recently observed was during science time in a pre-K classroom. After the teacher reminded students to wash their hands and not to squeeze the little creatures, the excitement built as each student was given a worm to study. The students, holding out their hands as if they were waiting for a prize, immediately began to smile and ask questions.
This investigation was part of a sustained inquiry that began earlier in August when students were introduced to a tub of shredded newspapers, sliced potatoes, and a small container of worms. Using hand lenses and watch glasses to help them see the details, students had the opportunity to set up the worms' home and to observe them from time to time. Their task was to watch and record how the worms changed during the ten months of the school year.
The first lesson taught students how to handle the worms while making observations. They discussed how worms in the natural world are not used to being handled by children and how it is important for students to wash their hands to keep from giving the worms any germs that might be harmful.
The pre-K students also learned how to measure the length of each worm by using the lengths of their little finger as a nonstandard unit of measurement. The children were able to determine the worms were about one finger long. Their teacher took pictures of the worms while they were lined up with students' little fingers to record the length. They also counted the number of worms being introduced to the tub and recorded the number on a wall chart.
During their fist few observations, students talked about the worms' home. They discussed what the worms needed in order to survive as living organisms. The students knew that worms needed moisture, oxygen, food, and a place to live; they also learned that these worms needed warmth and darkness. On the days the worms were observed they added additional food scraps, such as banana peels, coffee grounds, and eggshells. They also checked to ensure the moisture in the tub felt no more than that of a squeezed-out sponge. If it was too dry, they added water.
In later sessions, students talked about the anatomy of the worm as they were trying to figure out which end was the head and which was the tail. They watched as it moved across their hands and on the table top in a wiggle motion. Several students used their fingers and arms to replicate how the worms moved. Students were encouraged to feel the surface of the worms so that they could feel the small hairs that helped worms to move through the soil and across their hands.
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