"Flight for Survival: Kindergartners’ Journey with the Whooping Cranes"
Toyota TAPESTRY Mini-grant

“Where are the cranes? Where are the cranes?” the kindergartners clamored as they arrived to school on a cold, windy day in January. The idea for the project we are submitting began with our experiences with the whooping crane migration this schoolyear. Unfortunately, we did not find out about the whooping crane migration posted on the Journey North website until after the migration had started. Nonetheless, we decided to join the migration in progress. The students were overjoyed today when they learned that 16 of the 17 whooping cranes had landed safely in their winter home in Florida.

Based on our positive experiences with following the whooping crane migration, our team has brainstormed an interdisciplinary unit to teach next year. We are calling our project, Flight for Survival: Kindergartners’ Journey with the Whooping Cranes. We will use the plight of the whooping crane as our vehicle to make meaningful the science and literacy standards we are required to teach. The unit will also integrate art, music, social studies, mathematics, and career awareness.

The Journey North website provides the basis for our project. Journey North engages students in a global study of wildlife migration and seasonal change. We will be tracking the migration of the whooping crane. The whooping crane migration is unique in that the cranes must be taught the migration route by humans flying in an ultralight “trike”. Scientists wanted to bring the cranes back to a part of North America where they vanished over a century ago. The plan will help save this endangered species by starting a whole new flock of migration wild whooping cranes. The new flock is called the Eastern flock.

Our project will begin with the children being introduced to the baby cranes through books made from images from the Journey North Website. The “whoopers” are hatched and raised at USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, nearby in Maryland. We will also show a brief video clip of a journalist observing the cranes and flying in the ultralight plane used to lead the cranes. We anticipate that the children will be the ones to raise many of the questions that correlate with the design of our unit. “Why aren’t the babies with their mom? Why are people wearing costumes when they are around the crane? Why is the scientist holding a puppet crane? What is the baby eating? Why aren’t the cranes scared of the plane and why do they follow it?” These questions will set the stage to learn about animal needs and life cycle, physical attributes, habitats and habitat loss, stewardship, engineering design of the ultralight aircraft, senses and sensing organs, weather patterns and change over time. As we learn about the whooping cranes, we will also make connections and observations in our schoolyard habitat. What animals live in our area? What do they need? What birds do we see? Do we see them all the time? How has all the construction affected the animals’ habitat?

Engaging in this scientific inquiry will create a need or desire for literacy; the children will want to read, write, and communicate orally as they investigate the whooping cranes. We are looking forward to applying our knowledge in literacy instruction to support and enhance this science unit and to make our literacy instruction meaningful. All of us have read Robust Vocabulary Instruction: Bringing Words to Life by Isabel Beck and Margaret Mckeown. McKeown spent the day at our school some years ago so we have witness the strategies in action by the author! We plan to use the strategies to introduce vocabulary related to the cranes. We also plan to make an ongoing bulletin board with the robust vocabulary. We are going to call it Whooping Word Wall (WWW). We will have a map on the wall as well to plot the migration route. Other literacy activities we are planning for next year are to do concept sorts (things that fly, things that don’t fly, etc), Readers Theater (fluency work with crane content), poems, songs, and sight word recognition by circling the words in the crane books printed from the Journey North Website. We also plan to make an alphabet book relating to the crane migration. We have drafted a play in which the students will simulate being either a crane or a researcher. Another literacy activity in which the students will be involved is writing in their observation journals to observe and track the local birds. In the spring we will produce a “Student Treasures” hardcover book of all the activities related to the whooping crane project. Multiple copies of the book will be available for check out from the library.

We feel an important part of the project is time for communication with classmates, other students in the school, parents and the community. Each Wednesday will be Whooping Crane Wednesday. During the Kindergarten Morning Meeting, the students will share their wonderments relating to the cranes. We will display the Journey North website to learn how the migrating cranes have fared for the week. Has weather delayed the flight? Where are the cranes? What is the landscape? We would like to share our learning beyond the classroom. To do this will we have weekly updates on our in-school TV show. We will post on our school website migration updates. We are also willing to share our unit design with the educators connected to the Journey North Website. One innovative aspect of the project is a new endeavor for us. We plan to use live streaming technology to produce a weekly Whooping Crane News Report. The students will have a green screen behind them to show images related to the report. Anyone in the world can watch the program. And since the program is live, it encourages interaction. Parents at work, students in school, researchers in the field, anyone can post a question to the chat space and we can answer it. And if the students don’t know the answer, you can bet they will be motivated to find the information for the following week’s show. Each show will be recorded and at the end of the year all the episodes will be compiled onto a DVD that each child may take home.

Project Discovery Teacher Laurie Sullivan, Project Interaction Teacher Renee Shaw, Instructional Technology Coordinator Fred Delventhal and Kindergarten Teachers Susan Golden, Elizabeth Rente, Cristina Torres, Wendy Ratcliffe.