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My Cricitcal Task


One of the major concepts of science that elementary students should learn is migration.  This concept is important because it relates to several of the National Science Educational Standards (NSES).  In teaching this concept to students, it is important for the teacher to uncover misconceptions, help develop understanding, and provide support in research. 

Content Standards

            According to the National Science Education Standards (NSES), the following concepts should be covered between kindergarten and fourth grade[1]:

o          Science as Inquiry (4ASI)

o       Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry (4ASI1)

         Ask a question about objects, organisms, and events (4ASI1.1)

         Plan and conduct a simple investigation (4ASI1.2)

         Employ simple equipment and tools to gather data (4ASI1.3)

         Use data to construct a reasonable explanation (4ASI1.4)

         Communicate investigations and explanations (4ASI1.5)


o          Life Science (4CLS)

o       Organisms and Environment (4CLS3)

         Organisms’ relations to the environment (4CLS3.2)

         Organisms’ effects on the environment (4CLS3.3)

         Humans and the environment (4CLS3.4)


o          Science in Personal and Social Perspectives (FSPSP)

o       Changes in the Environment (4FSPSP4)

         Environmental factors affect the ability to survive and the quality of life (4FSPSP4.1).

         Changes in environment can be natural or influenced by humans (4FSPSP4.2).

         Some environmental changes occur slowly, others occur rapidly (4FSPSP4.3). 


Students must master the concept of migration between kindergarten and fourth grade.  Through gaining an understanding of migration, students will thus gain deeper knowledge about the interactions between humans, animals, and the environment.  Students will also develop this knowledge through science inquiry.  The unit will focus on strengthening student’s abilities of questioning, investigation and forming conclusions necessary in inquiry-based science.     


            The objectives of a fourth grade class will be covered in the unit, specifically relating to the NSES standards to migration. 

         Students should understand the general concept of migration.

         Students should be able to explain the purpose of animal migration. 

         Students should be able to identify and list limiting factors.

         Students should be able to distinguish between natural limiting factors and human-caused limiting factors.

         Students should appreciate the importance of a safe habitat for a population to survive.

         Students should gain an understanding of the role a stopover plays in migration. 


Misconceptions (Standard 1.1)

            Misconceptions can greatly hinder a student’s understanding of a new concept.  A teacher should be careful in assuming a student possesses the correct background knowledge.  A useful tool to use in gaining an in-depth look at what students already know is the KWL.  The K in KWL stands for what the students already know.  The most effective way to discover students’ prior knowledge is to simply ask them, “who can tell me something they know about migration?”  All of the answers that students provide are valuable because they allow the teacher to construct lessons to correct misconceptions and support development of a deeper understanding (standard1.1).  A few possible misconceptions of migration follow.       

  1. Only birds migrate.

Many children believe that only birds migrate.  This belief stems primarily from the fact that bird migration is the most easily visible form of an animal’s migration.  However, this misconception restricts a child’s acknowledgement of the many animals that migrate (standard 1.2).  Some other species of animals that migrate consist of: butterflies, fish, insects, whales, bats, polar bears, etc. 

  1. Only animals migrate.

Children who do understand that many different species migrate may still limit migration to the animal population.  However, throughout history humans have migrated in response to climate and environmental changes.  Even today the Kung Bushmen, who reside in the Kalahari Desert, follow migrating game animals that serve as food for the tribe.  Children must gain an appreciation for the migration of both animals and humans.  This concept remains critical for the understanding of the true definition of migration; the periodic movement of living things from one area to another and back again as a natural part of their lives.



  1. All animals migrate south during the winter. 

This statement serves as a common misconception for children and adults alike.  Most animals do migrate to warmer climates during the winter months.  However, one should always consider the hemisphere in which the animals originate.  Animals that live in the northern hemisphere migrate south, towards the equator, when moving to warmer climate.  Animals that live in the southern hemisphere move north, towards the equator, during their winter months.  This is an important misconception to correct because students need to understand that living things often migrate in response to climate.  Students must develop an understanding of the different hemispheres and how the seasons occur in different months in the respective hemispheres. 

  1. Animals migrate hundreds or even thousands of miles.

Although many animals do travel great distances, this does not hold true for all animals that migrate.  Some animals may only travel a few feet in search of a different environment.  An example is the earthworm, which has a vertical migration.  As the ground freezes during winter months, the earthworm travels deeper into soil.  It is important for students to understand that migration is not defined by the distance traveled by a living thing.

  1. Animals migrate because it is too cold in their environment. 

Often, the changing of temperatures marks the beginning of migration for many species.  However, students must understand that temperature is not the only factor involved in migration.  In some circumstances, winter signifies a shortage of food as a result of plants dieing and animals hibernating.  For some animals, summer signifies an increased chance of drought and, therefore, migration results.  Many species migrate to reproduce in an environment that has an increased food supply.  All of these factors play an important role in the migration of animals. 


After identifying the misconceptions students have, the teacher must support students in the correction of these false beliefs.  An effective way of addressing misconceptions would be to follow the KWL by some of the important terms or facts of migration (please see attached PowerPoint handout).  As students are provided with the correct facts a teacher can initiate a discussion by referring back to KWL.  For example, when students are given examples of living things that migrate, they can compare this list with animals that were mentioned previously in the KWL.  The teacher can then explain different reasons for migration and the different forms of migration.  This allows students to reflect on their prior knowledge, and correct any misconceptions (Standard 1.2).


Multiple Ways of Teaching Migration

Migration Headache[2]

The Migration Headache activity from the Project Wild Aquatic K-12 Curriculum & Activity Guide helps students develop an understanding of how and why migration occurs.  This activity can be used to introduce main concepts of migration and the interaction between humans and animals.  Migration Headache illustrates the role different habitats play in a species migration.  More important, it also demonstrates to students the impact limiting factors can have on a population (standard 1.11).  Through reading multiple scenarios students act out the migration of a bird population.  During the course of the migration, the “birds” (students) run into obstacles, such as the development of a Cheesecake Factory on their stopover habitat, or the increased population of raccoons. 

An adaptation that should utilized for younger grade levels, or when the activity is completed inside, follows.  Rather than decreasing the number of plates at each stopover, provide one plate for each student.  On the under side of each plate either write a habitat scenario, or color the plate green.  Once all the students have chosen a plate, instruct them to turn the plate over.  If the plate is green, that student is safe.  However, if the plate has a scenario written on it, the student must read the passage to the class.  The scenario will either tell the student that he or she is safe, or that they have died and why this has occurred.  Ex: “Several years of sufficient rain and snow has replenished the water supply, thus increasing the food supply.  Habitat safe.”  (Standard 1.12)

After completing the activity, students will form small groups and decide which factors were human-caused or natural.  They will then answer the questions: Do the factors reduce or enhance the quality of the habitat?  What are the long-term or short-term affects?  How will the scenario affect the bird population?  The class will then be bought back together, and groups will take turns presenting what they found to the class.  This discussion will sever as an informal assessment of the students’ understanding of limiting factors and the difference between natural and human-caused factors. 

Specifically this activity addresses the following NSES standards:

o          Environmental factors affect the ability to survive and the quality of life (4FSPSP4.1).

o          Changes in environment can be natural or influenced by humans (4FSPSP4.2).

o          Some environmental changes occur slowly, others occur rapidly (4FSPSP4.3).

This activity is ideal for students who learn in a kinesthetic or social environment.  The Migration Headache activity is a physical activity in which students are required to move around the classroom.  This allows students to develop new knowledge in an inactive environment where students learn by doing.  Also, the discussion that follows the activity encourages students to discuss their thoughts and ideas with others.  The articulation of thoughts and ideas is an important skill for students to master.  In a social activity, students are able to express their opinion, while also being exposed to an alternative opinion.  Working in groups provides students with the opportunity to collaborate ideas and understand multiple perspectives.   

Video: Winged Migration - Documentary about Birds and Earth

The video Winged Migration - Documentary about Birds and Earth[3] will be used as a visual and auditory material.  This video follows the migration of birds, from the bird’s perspective.  This video was an academy award nominee and portrays bird migration accurately.  It illustrates many of the limiting factors caused by nature and humans as explored in the previous activity. Specifically it covers the following NSES Standards:

o          Organisms relations to the environment (4CLS3.2)

o          Organisms effects on the environment (4CLS3.3)

o          Humans and the environment (4CLS3.4)

o          Changes in environment can be natural or influenced by humans (4FSPSP4.2).

o          Some environmental changes occur slowly, others occur rapidly (4FSPSP4.3). 

Following the video, the teacher will initiate and monitor a class discussion.  To begin the discussion, students will simply be asked to respond to the video.  What did you like?  What did you dislike?  Was it effective?  What is the purpose of the video?  How does it make you feel?  Etc.  Again, this can lead into a comparison between what they knew before the migration unit (refer back to KWL) and what they now know.

The teacher can then turn this discussion towards a new goal.  How can we make people aware of their affect on animal migration?  What can we, as students, do to make a difference?  Students will brainstorm activities or programs they could use to raise awareness either as a class, in small groups, or individually.  This serves as a connection between the classroom and the community.  Students need to understand that topics and concepts they learn about in the classroom are real world problems that need to be addressed.      

Group Project

            In small groups students will choose a migratory animal and research its migration.  Students will be expected to demonstrate the concepts of migration they have learned by applying them to a new animal.  Topics that the groups will need to cover include, but are not limited to: animal, habitat, migration path, reason for migration, limiting factors experienced by population, contact with humans, and current news.  Students will be given time to research their animal on the internet and in the school library.  In order for groups to be assessed on their research and data gathered, they will be expected to create a poster and give a presentation.

            This group project is an effective learning tool because it is a social activity that requires students to create a visual for their peers, and then to orally explain what they discovered through research.  Therefore, the activity utilizes three of the four ways in which people receive information: visual, auditory and social.  It also gives students the opportunity to use what they learned and apply it to a new situation.  This allows students to discover how much new knowledge they have now acquired and add to their understanding through investigation. 

            Allowing students use of the internet and tradebooks in the library requires that they critically analyze their sources.  This topic will be bought to the attention of the students before they begin their activity.  Students will discuss how to judge whether a website is valid or reliable.  Since students now have a solid foundation of knowledge concerning migration, they are able to critically examine the resources they use to complete the project to determine if they provide accurate information.     

             As part of the group project, groups will be expected to present their findings to the class.  This allows the teacher to assess the group on their understanding of the material and their ability to communicate the research.  In this situation the group presenting become the teachers.  They provide their peers with a new perspective to migration by introducing new limiting factors and reasons for migration.  The students not presenting will be instructed to listen to the presentation because they will all have to give one response or ask one question throughout the duration of group presentations.     

            This activity requires students to address the following NSES standards:

o          Science as Inquiry (4ASI)

o       Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry (4ASI1)

         Ask a question about objects, organisms, and events (4ASI1.1)

         Plan and conduct a simple investigation (4ASI1.2)

         Employ simple equipment and tools to gather data (4ASI1.3)

         Use data to construct a reasonable explanation (4ASI1.4)

         Communicate investigations and explanations (4ASI1.5)

 Journey North: The Monarch Butterfly[4]

            The Monarch Butterfly journal will serve as a continuous assessment process embedded in instruction.  This will be a long-term project what will last for several weeks.  Journey North provides a website which makes it possible for students to track the migration of the Monarch Butterfly, from Mexico to the northeastern states of America.  Students will follow the migration of the butterfly during either the spring or the fall migration period.  Once a week, students will use the online website to discover where in the migration path the butterflies have been spotted.  Since this is a long-term project, the migration of these butterflies will be tied to their reproduction cycle, geography of the United States, and climate changes.  The journal will be used to assess their understanding of the particular topic and how they understand the relationship between them.

            An example of one of the journal topics that appears online asks, “What does the map reveal about migration?”[5]  It then provides a map that shows where in the United States the Monarch Butterfly has been spotted.  The website also models how to critically look at the map and make predictions about what could be happening.  Every week a new discussion topic or question is posted.  Teachers can use these journal suggestions, or modify them to tie more closely with what is being covered in class.  These journal entries can then be used to assess students understanding of the material.  The response should be graded on quality of responses and insights or connections that they make.  Since they are journals, a right or wrong answer should not be considered.     

            This long-term project provides students with the opportunity to observe a real migration path.  It also ties together the different reasons for migration which include reproduction, climate change, environmental changes and food.  Since Journey North focuses on the migration and the reproduction cycle, students are introduced to the knowledge that a single generation may not complete an entire migration cycle.  In the case of the Monarch Butterfly, the butterfly only lives two to six weeks in the summer months.  During the trip from Mexico to the northern states, the migration journey can take up to five generations of butterflies to complete.[6]  As one can see, this project is fascinating to both students and adults alike.  Through continual research and journaling students are presented with a vast variety of new knowledge that all interrelates.  This project is a long-term project, but all the parts are closely related to one another.      


            Since all students have different learning styles, it is important as a teacher to utilize all of these methods.  The concept of migration can be hard for children to understand since the majority of fourth grade children only have memories of living in their current home.  Therefore, providing students with multiple perspectives, resources, explanations and illustrations of migration remains vitally important.  The choice of resources is also crucial because one does not desire to repeatedly cover the same material.  Rather, students need to cover the material thoroughly and in different manners to understand all aspects of the concept.  At the end of the unit, a teacher should be able to ask students what they have learned about migration.  This is the last part of a KWL and should clearly demonstrate the new knowledge students have developed through a teacher’s support and their own inquiry.  





1.         Performance Assessments Links in Science. Website. 2005. Available from Internet. Accessed 2 November 2006.


2.         Project Wild Aquatic: K-12 Curriculum & Activity Guide. Texas: Council for Environmental Educators, 2006.


3.         Perrin, Jacques & Cluzaud, Jacques. Winged Migration - Documentary about Birds and Earth. Sony Pictures Classics, 2003. DVD.


4.         Journey North Monarch Butterfly. Website. 2006. Available from Internet. Accessed 2 November 2006.


5.         Journey North Monarch Butterfly. Website. 2006. Available from Internet. Accessed 2 November 2006.


6.      Journey North Monarch Butterfly. Website. 2006. Available from Internet. Accessed 2 November 2006.

[1] Performance Assessments Links in Science [website] (2005); available from; internet; accessed 2 November 2006.

[2] Project Wild Aquatic: K-12 Curriculum & Activity Guide (Texas: Council for Environmental Educators, 2006), 15-18.

[3] Winged Migration - Documentary about Birds and Earth, dir. Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud, Sony Pictures Classics, 2003. DVD.

[4]Journey North Monarch Butterfly [website] (2006); available from; Internet; accessed 2 November 2006.

[5] Journey North Monarch Butterfly [website] (2006); available from; Internet; accessed 2 November 2006.

[6] Journey North Monarch Butterfly [website] (2006); available from; Internet; accessed 2 November 2006.



Written November 6th, 2006