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ScienceFix: Patterns for Making Meaning

A Writing Across the Curriculum Lesson from ScienceFix
Scientific Topic: any Students Write: a short expository response about science content

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Patterns for Making Meaning
explaining patterns one discovers from science

This writing across the curriculum lesson was written by ScienceFix Coordinator, Yvette Deighton. Yvette believes the lesson would work well students in grades 4-12.

This lesson was proposed to ScienceFix using this template. If you have a science/mentor text lesson you'd like to have published, fill out the template and send it to Yvette Deighton, our ScienceFix Coordinator: We'll send you an NNWP Print Publication if we post your lesson here!

Lesson Overview:

Lesson Objective: Students will deepen their understanding of “science” content when they make connections between what they know, what they are learning and the Sixteen Patterns of Life presented in The Way Life Works: The Science Lover's Illustrated Guide to How Life Grows, Develops, Reproduces, and Gets Along. The format of this lesson can then be used throughout the year by the students so that they become very familiar with the organizational pattern of writing expository texts and so they become very aware of patterns in nature.

Writing skills (traits) to stress while teaching this lesson:

  • Idea Development (putting learned information and research into one's own words)
  • Organization (creating a short essay, complete with introduction, conclusion, and supporting details)
  • Conventions (using correct spelling, especially of scientific vocabulary words from their research)

Materials List:

Setting the Stage:

Our brains are pattern seekers. It is natural for all humans to identify and study patterns between objects, ideas, behaviors, and natural phenomenon. How many of us like to solve puzzles, organize our spaces, or solve mysteries. All of these involve patterns. When we identify or create patterns, we make connections between the billions of neurons that help us understand and make meaning of the world around us. The more connections we have between seemingly disconnected ideas the easier it is for us to recall vast amounts of information or understand events or ideas at a deep level. So, what we often think of as “being smart” is really an ability to make or see patterns between concepts

Teacher Instructions:

This lesson has many extensions or variations. The lesson described here is designed to be an ongoing exploration of the many ways all living things, systems and their parts are similar. The use of the Sixteen Patterns or Rules of life can serve as an essential question or writing prompt for the year, possibly being explored at the end of each unit or week of instruction.

First, explore the idea of patterns. For example what patterns can students identify within the classroom, their lives, in nature, on TV programs, etc. You may want to begin by having students discussing patterns in groups of two and recording their ideas on a simple graphic organizer or in a journal. An easy starting point for most students is the pattern of “cycles”. Then read the description of this pattern (pg. 21) aloud to the students.

Next, make a copy of or reproduce in some way the “Sixteen Patterns” listed on page 1 of the text. I ask every student to keep a copy for themselves in their notebooks, and I make a large display of the patterns for the classroom. The sixteen patterns that apply to all life, molecules, or systems are:

  1. Life builds from the bottom up
  2. Life assemble itself into chains
  3. Life needs and inside and an outside
  4. Life uses a few themes to generate many variations
  5. Life organizes with information
  6. Life encourages variety by reshuffling information
  7. Life creates with mistakes
  8. Life occurs in water
  9. Life runs on sugar
  10. Life works in cycles
  11. Life recycles everything it uses
  12. Life maintains itself by turnover
  13. Life tends to optimize rather than maximize
  14. Life is opportunistic
  15. Life competes within a cooperative framework
  16. Life is interconnected and interdependent.

The next step involves helping students make connections between the patterns and the content you are teaching. This may occur at the end of a large unit, a chapter, or a week of instruction.

First, in groups of two, ask the students to think and talk about “Which of the patterns may be connected to the content. Ask them to begin to explain how the pattern is connected, to give specific examples that support the connections. After students have had an opportunity to brainstorm in small groups, ask students to write a short explanation of the pattern and how it relates to the current topic of study. Here is an example that could be used to model (click here for model). Once the students have composed a short essay explaining the connections, ask volunteers to share with the whole class (I was always surprised at the variety of connections the students made.) You can choose to read the description of the pattern from the text that is them most obvious or direct connection.

Once students have the basic idea of the patterns, time and energy should be directed toward organization, idea development and the conventions. I use the trait Post-it® Note-sized templates to help guide the editing, peer review, and revision process.

If the writing prompt is done with regular frequency, you might consider making it apart of their working “journal” or as an exit ticket. I made it a regular item on the unit exam, but provided several opportunities for drafting the essay during class.

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