Jaws got us excited about sharks, but the Discovery Channel got us curious. Sharks are terrifying and majestic at the same time making them ideal for engaging middle schoolers. When I see something that middle schoolers find interesting, I pounce on it. Here’s the new unit I designed this year for A Week of Sharks! Students love celebrating shark week in middle school!
In this thematic unit, I address the following Next Generation Science Standards performance expectations:
- MS-ESS3-4 Construct an argument supported by evidence for how increases in human population and per capita consumption of natural resources impact Earth’s Systems
- MS-LS4-1 Analyze and interpret data for patterns in the fossil record that document the existence, diversity, extinction, and change of life forms throughout the history of life on Earth under the assumption that natural laws operate today as in the past.
- MS-LS4-6 Use mathematical representations to support explanations of how natural selection may lead to increases and decreases of specific traits in populations over time.
To get kids engaged in the unit, I share with them a (fictional) news article about shark sightings in a community resulting in beach closings. Then, we do a quick KWL (Know, Want to Learn, Learned) activity to reveal hidden misunderstandings. Finally, we wrap up the first day with a Fast Facts activity in which students learn about shark adaptations.
Day 2 – Research
On the second day of the week of sharks, students work in small groups to learn more about sharks. They choose from a series of driving questions like “What was the Megalodon?” and “How do shark attacks on people happen?” and prepare infographics to share with their class. This leads to terrific class discussions!
Day 3 – Picture Walk
On the third day of the week of sharks, students participate in a picture walk about several different species of sharks. I included the Great White Shark, the Shortfin Mako, the Hammerhead, the Bronze Whaler, the Tiger shark, the Whale shark, and the Bull shark. At each station, student read about unique adaptations for each shark as well as their sizes and geographic range. Then, students compile what they’ve read into a chart. Using what they learned, students finally create a bar chart comparing sizes and a map comparing ranges.
Day 4 – Food Web
On day 4, each student is assigned an organism in the shark food web. They are provided with information about their organism – what it eats and what eats it. After everyone has read about their organism, they attempt to connect to their food and their predators using yarn. The class creates a three dimensional food web based on the information about each organism. We discuss how each organism affects the other organisms in the food web.
Day 5 – Wrap Up
To review what we learned, students complete a self checking digital worksheet.
As a final assessment of the week of sharks, students complete a crossword puzzle.
Throughout the week of sharks, students learn about adaptations and food webs, and practice their mapping and graphing skills as well. If you’re interested in reading more about this unit, click here.