1. Using mind maps to record observations

Ponds and pools of water support a complex balanced system of life. Observations of such an ecosystem can be organised on a mind map (see Key Resource: Using mind maps and brainstorming to explore ideas [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] ). Pupils can then add their ideas in a different colour.

In Activity 1 we encourage you to start an open-ended project – making a temporary pond at school. This can be populated by plants and animals borrowed from a local source. It is best if you involve your class in discussions about how you will collect pond life and safely keep it in the temporary ‘pond’. Pupils make accurate observations of life in the pond over a few weeks. By temporarily bringing nature close to the classroom, you have a resource for extending initial observations into deeper science thinking.

Teachers often feel insecure when doing more open-ended work like this. But it is more ‘learner centred’; it builds on pupils’ ideas and interests. You will probably be surprised by your pupils’ enthusiasm and the high quality of work produced. Remember that there are no ‘right answers’ to open-ended work like this. There is accurate observation and there is good, clear thinking that builds deductions that make sense.

Case Study 1 describes how a specific local environmental problem can be the basis for similar work. Do you have any similar problems in your area? This is a good opportunity to ask a local expert to visit your classroom to talk about the problem; remember to spend time preparing questions with your pupils before the visit (see Key Resource: Using the local community/environment as a resource).

Case Study 1: Observing an invasive plant

Bongile Mpuntsha teaches in the rural Nxarhuni valley (South Africa) where there are weirs (barriers) to retain river water for farming. But there is a huge problem on the water. An alien plant – water hyacinth – is growing rampantly out of control and clogging the water.

Bongile uses the problem as a basis for science work. He starts with the observation of actual samples (specimens) of the plant. These initial observations are recorded on a collective class mind map (see Key Resource: Using mind maps and brainstorming to explore ideas). The pupils discuss the mind map, which leads to further observations. Then, from what they have observed, pupils work to answer the core question: What factors and adaptations make this plant such a successful invader?

It is clear that the pupils are able to think scientifically, given the opportunity. Bongile is surprised and pleased with their deductions. These are discussed and written up on the mind map in a second colour (see Resource 1: Mind mapping).

Activity 1: A temporary class pond project

Build and establish the pond using Resource 2: Ideas for a temporary pond to help you. It is really best if the ideas come from the pupils themselves. Remember that we all learn a great deal from our mistakes – especially scientists, who often have to change their ideas as projects progress.

With your pupils, think of ways to record information about animals and plants in your pond. Perhaps you need a checklist or table for noting the names of all the plants and animals found? How will the work of observing be divided and shared among pupils? How will recording happen? Will you keep a scrapbook near the pond?

When you have a good range of observations, try to make a mind map of them. How will it be organised? You could use a large piece of newsprint/paper, the wall or the chalkboard.

Next, ask your pupils, in pairs or small groups, to think of deductions that can then be added to the mind map in a separate colour. You could write pupils’ initials next to their deductions to acknowledge their work.

Section 4: Plants and animals adapting to survive

2. Thinking about adaptions