Panda-mania in Class II begins in late January each year. We introduce the endangered animals research that will be our magnum opus for the year. To begin the lengthy process, we complete a report about the giant panda (a well-known endangered animal, recently upgraded to “threatened” status) as classes, learning the steps and techniques along the way we will need to complete our individual reports on our chosen endangered animals.
Overnight, classrooms come alive with stuffed pandas, panda photographs, panda posters, and panda books. We spend time looking at the San Diego Zoo’s panda cam to observe pandas in action.
We read panda books in our reading groups, acquiring new vocabulary and learning to extract facts from nonfiction text. We also learn to use the table of contents and the index of a book to locate specific facts. In teacher-supported small groups, students find important information related to pandas and use color-coded sticky notes to identify pages for future use. Next, from the color-coded pages, they extract the facts necessary to fill out a graphic organizer in five key topics: characteristics, habitat, eating, babies, and reasons endangered.
Each graphic organizer topic is fully researched before students receive small group instruction in sequencing the information and turning it into a paragraph, complete with topic and conclusion sentences. The resulting rough draft is self-edited, peer-edited, and teacher-edited before being rewritten into final draft form. We carefully practice drawing pandas, starting with step-by-step instruction before independently illustrating our final drafts. Each illustration seeks to display what is written in the paragraph it accompanies. Students choose one of their final drafts to display in the hall. By the end of the process, students are fully immersed in Panda-mania; one student even taught herself to fold an origami panda. This portion of the process is completed as we dismiss for Spring Break.
Immediately before Spring Break, students select an endangered animal they would like to study. Our Waterford librarians are a tremendous help to the students in finding books on their animals. Students also borrow additional resources from public libraries since every Class II student needs three to five books on his or her animal. Teachers demonstrate the process of searching for and reserving books from the Salt Lake County Library, and students bring their books to school the week we return from Spring Break.
Once students have the books about their endangered animal, individual research begins. This process follows the pattern taught during the panda project, but students are much more independent. All of the writing process is completed in class, and teachers support students as needed. It takes four to five weeks to complete the entire procedure. Students take great pride in becoming experts on their animals and in demonstrating their animal-specific knowledge in their reports and illustrations.
When the research and writing is complete, students prepare their presentation boards. Excitement abounds as the floor space in each classroom is cleared to accommodate the boards, which include the reports and illustrations, along with a diagram of the animal. Boards are decorated with borders, colors, pictures, and possibly a poem. Each student creates a spinner listing each of the five topics covered in their report. The completed boards and spinners are collected to display at the Endangered Animals Exhibition.
The Exhibition is the culmination of our weeks of work. After school, teachers and parent volunteers set up all of the presentation boards in the West Gym. On the big day, students dress as explorers, and many bring a stuffed animal to display along with their board. Parents, administrators, buddy classes, and our Kindergarten and Class I friends come to see the displays. Guests spin the spinners, and students have the opportunity to tell what they know on that particular topic. The justifiable pride the students feel is truly rewarding to see; it’s amazing what seven- and eight-year-olds can produce!