Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

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Learning Challenges

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Scenario 5: Butterfly Garden


three students working

Teacher:   Yvonne Scott

School:      San Francisco Community School

Grade:       fourth and fifth

Video:        Episode 7, Learning From Others. Segment begins approximately 3 minutes 15 seconds into the program.

Primary Learning Objectives

At the conclusion of their project, the students should be able to:

  • use key concepts of animal classification systems to categorize butterflies and other related species
  • describe the basic steps of planning, problem solving and executing a project
  • use observation and reading skills to research scientific questions
  • communicate what they know about butterflies in writing and other media
  • work with others in a context that creates opportunities and places demands on them
  • recognize that science knowledge is developed using scientific methods -- particular techniques that shape what is to be learned and how it is to be demonstrated

Learning Activities

Students form teams to create a butterfly garden by discussing what they know and what they need to know. As the project advances, students bring their own special abilities into play as they discover how to learn on their own and how to teach each other the necessary skills to complete the project.

When the project is completed, the students communicate what they have done and learned through presentations to other students and their parents.

Learning Theories to Consider

  • Learning in a Social Context
  • Cognitive Processing
  • Culture and Learning
  • Metacognition


Yvonne Scott challenges her fourth/fifth grade students to create a butterfly garden after the school receives special funding from a grant. The garden will consist of a mural describing different species of butterflies on plaques that will include information such as wing span, coloration and life cycle. Although the fourth and fifth graders create the garden, it will be a place of learning for the entire school.

The teacher begins the lesson by asking questions to determine what students know and what skills and knowledge they will need to make a butterfly garden. As the students brainstorm they realize they need lots of information about soil, plants, and the type of garden that will attract butterflies. They also learn they will need math and writing skills to design and chronicle the garden. Yvonne Scott suggests that the students form two teams - a butterfly research team and a garden layout team. As the project develops, the teams present their research and drawings of the garden to the entire class. They record the feedback from the presentation and based on the feedback, present a final plan for the garden.

In this scenario, Yvonne Scott applies Learning in a Social Context by placing students in a communicative and interactive learning culture. Students work collaboratively in teams, and as their individual talents emerge, they become teachers as well as learners. She applies the theory of Cognitive Processing as she challenges the students to create the garden, while helping them retrieve what they already know and what they need to know to become problem solvers. As the project develops over a ten-week period, Yvonne Scott sees the culture of the classroom change dramatically. The theory of Culture and Learning shares that students make sense out of their environment by their own personal experiences. As the students become personally involved and responsible for segments of the work needed to build the garden, they are experiencing a shift in culture. Students learn to rely on each other for "pieces of the puzzle" instead of working independently. They also learn to appreciate and value each other for who they are and the talent each student brings to the project. Diversity is viewed as a big asset in this multiethnic and multitalented class.

Throughout the project the students are asked "what do you wonder; what do you think?" They also discuss their specific problem solving strategies. These are examples of Metacognition, a learning theory that describes how students learn to think about their own thinking.

Sequenced Writing Assignments

  1. Make a list of up to five key ideas from each of the four learning theories presented: learning in a social context, cognitive processing, culture and learning and metacognition. Next, try to identify a way the teacher applied each of those key ideas as she planned and executed her learning activities. For example, under "culture," you might list, "extended group projects and thematic units selected by students with their teacher help develop strong relationships in multicultural classrooms – butterfly garden project included many components organized around student work groups and was conducted over a six week period."

    You may find it useful to put your list in the form of a table. We have provided templates in either Word or PDF format if you choose to do this.

    You may find that some key ideas you listed from the learning theories are not represented in the scenario. For now, leave a blank space after them. You will also find that you are repeating some of the things the teacher did because they are applications of key ideas from more than one learning theory.
  1. Review your list of key ideas and fill in the blanks from Assignment A by suggesting things the teacher could do to apply the key ideas you listed but did NOT see represented already. Suggest other practical things the teacher could do to incorporate key learning theory ideas into his classroom activities.
  1. Reflect on the completed table and record your reflections about how the theories intersect or interact. How might your own teaching practices take advantage of what you see happening in this scenario?
  1. As an alternative to these tasks, follow the directions of your group leader or the teacher of your class to write about this scenario and how one or more learning theories might apply to it. Or decide as a group how you might use it as a case for further study and discussion.

Samples and tools to help you with the scenario assignments

  • Sample rubrics in html or PDF format to assess your writings
  • Writing sample for Scenario Four, Assignments A and B, (in PDF format) to use as a model
  • Templates in Word or PDF format for the assignments


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