Elm Street Elementary School

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Whales, Ducks, and Polar Bears…OH MY!

Ms. Mackey uses cross curricular methods to teach her third graders. She recently designed an experiment around animal adaptations using anatomy, reading, writing, and science as part of the lesson. The students studied various animals and learned about their adaptations to their environment. Examples of these animals include whales, ducks, and polar bears. What they learned was then applied to the “Language Calendar” which taught students new words to describe what they had just been taught. As an example of a statement in the calendar: “Ducks have oil on their outer feathers to repel water.” The key word in this lesson is repel. The students learned that repel means to drive back, to oppose, or to ward off. Students were then given a writing assignment: “Choose an animal and write about how it adapts to its environment.”   

For the science experiment portion of the lesson, students learned how the blubber of polar bears and the feathers of ducks help them to adapt to their environment. Ms. Mackey used ice water and Crisco to demonstrate how the blubber of a polar bear keeps them warm in cold temperatures. To demonstrate how ducks are “water proof,” she instructed the students to oil feathers and see what happens when water is applied. In both instances, students were able to see how the physical anatomical properties of these two animals helps them to adapt to their environment.

After each experiment, the students were again asked to write. They were given a question, a hypothesis, a chart to draw/label their observations, and to finally record a conclusion based on everything they had learned.

Through this integration of all of these disciplines, Ms. Mackey builds critical thinking skills fundamental to student success. Academic performance improves when cross curricular learning is emphasized in the classroom. These techniques stimulate both the left and right sides of the brain. The cognitive stimulation of the entire brain in turn leads to better retention of knowledge as well as the ability to reason through complex problems. The way that she was able to teach all of these lessons in a simultaneous way also increased student engagement. To quote a student: “I really love science and this is fun.” As you will see from the photos, our students loved learning from Ms. Mackey. Helping students to learn and enjoy what they learn is a critical component to academic success. When students love what they are learning, they will retain that knowledge.

When you walk into Ms. Mackey’s classroom, the way that she speaks to and about her students sticks out. In her classroom, students are a valued part of the learning process. She has engaging conversations with her third graders and she elevates them in a way that makes them feel important. As an example, during the experiment, she kept referring to her students as “my scientists.” She also continually emphasized their intelligence, skill, and ability in an extremely positive way. These words have a much deeper meaning. They play a significant role in cognitive development and self-perception. According to the theory of self-fulfilling prophecy, a widely accepted and studied theory in communication science, a prediction that directly or indirectly causes itself to become true is based upon feedback between belief and behavior. In much simpler terms: You become who you believe you are or will be. How Ms. Mackey chooses to engage with students is critical to their success. She is shaping attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors in a way that can dramatically alter the course of her students' lives.

Ms. Mackey is an example of the exceptional teachers we have at Elm and PCLS. Our teachers are devoted to ensuring our students are successful. Their love, dedication, and passion for every student is what makes PCLS such a fun, engaging, and productive place to learn.