Year 4 STEM day at JFK Primary School

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TICE spent a day with Year 4 at John F Kennedy Primary School in Washington. The topic of our day was Horticulture and Biodiversity and Sam and Lottie devised some music and art activities to introduce these fascinating areas.

We started things off with a fun, interactive game about the metamorphosis of a butterfly. Everyone in Year 4 had a role to play and demonstrated some excellent mathematical problem-solving skills. Everyone started as little caterpillars and had to battle other students in a speed adding up activity to then progress to a cocoon and finally a butterfly. Just like in nature only the strongest survived!

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Now that we were warmed up, it was time for an interactive presentation that explained the science of plants, what plants give us and why we rely so much on other living micro-organisms, insects and animals. Year 4 knew lots about this topic already and we had some excellent contributions to our group discussion.

After taking in a lot of new information about Horticulture and Biodiversity, it was time to get hands-on and creative. One of the many things we get from plants is pigment; this pigment can be used to create dyes, paint, cosmetics and medicine. Lottie brought along some home-made inks made from beetroot and turmeric, an intense yellow spice that is used to give curry a rich, golden colour.

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Year 4 spent some time drawing beetroot plants, seasonal flowers and garden critters. As the fabulous illustrations took shape, the children considered how to draw the roots that anchor the pants and, because plants need sunlight to grow, added suns in yellow turmeric ink. Ladybirds (gardener’s best friends) were added to eat up green fly and we even drew bees to help pollinate the beautiful flowers that were taking shape.

A handsome beetroot illustration, featuring roots that anchor the plant and suck up nutrients.
A handsome beetroot illustration, featuring roots that anchor the plant and suck up nutrients.
A beetroot ink ladybird, created using a drinking straw fountain pen
A beetroot ink ladybird, created using a drinking straw fountain pen
A turmeric ink ladybird
A turmeric ink ladybird

The natural ink studies were put to one side to dry and Year 4 popped on their coats, ready to explore the school garden. The group challenge was to collect a bag full of interesting nature finds. We found conkers, sycamore propeller seeds (just like the helicopter picture we looked at in the presentation) dry leaves, twigs, bark and catkins. The changing of the season, from winter to spring, also lead to a few new surprises in the garden. Sam showed us a range of beautiful springtime flowers – daffodils, crocuses, primroses and tulips. The crocus plants were shut that day, as the sun was hiding, but when we carefully peeled back the petals, we could see the bright yellow stamen and flower centre.

We headed back to the classroom and it was time to get creative again. We looked at some fabulous mandalas made completely out of natural resources on the SMARTboard. The mandala is a religious symbol, used primarily in Buddhism; it symbolizes the world and how everything in connected (this message was very relevant to our topic of the day!)

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Lottie demonstrated how to start creating the mandalas, from the centre working out, and also that we had to think about the task like mathematicians. Year 4 guessed that the mandalas were ‘symmetrical’ and we found out that mandalas used fractions -to work out where to place leaves, petals and seeds ½ and ¼ of the way round their circle. We also started to think about sorting and scale, trying to find petals and leaves the same size to make sure our designs were as symmetrical as possible.

Mandalas are used in meditation and to help relaxation. Year 4 found that their concentrating and creating lead to them feeling very ‘chilled out’! During the task the classroom became quite peaceful and quiet and the resulting mandala artwork was simply stunning.

Catkins, sycamore seeds and other garden finds were used to create unique and inspired results
Catkins, sycamore seeds and other garden finds were used to create unique and inspired results
Carefully arranging petals to create a 3-D effect
Carefully arranging petals to create a 3-D effect
Using pumpkin seeds and dried rose petals to add more detail
Using pumpkin seeds and dried rose petals to add more detail

After a bit of fiddly gluing, our mandalas joined our ink drawings and it was time to finish off with another song.

Sam guided us through an Irish folk song called ‘The Rattlin’ Bog’. The song broke down the structure of a tree and helped us to summarise all the things we had learnt that day.

Here is Year 4’s rendition…
Caution: this song is incredibly catchy! I’ve still got it stuck in my head (!)