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Don't Be S-s-scared: The Truth About Snakes Model Learning Expedition

Don’t be S-s-scared: The Truth About Snakes was a six-month long learning expedition, during which second grade students became scientists, musicians, authors, and artists. They experienced the joys of the natural world and the pride of creating high-quality work about a topic that mattered deeply to them.

From the start of the expedition, students aspired to be young herpetologists, scientists who study snakes and other reptiles.

To discover the truth about snakes, students learned and practiced diverse scientific methods and skills including observing, questioning, conducting and analyzing surveys, researching, inferring, taking notes, and drawing scientific sketches. The expedition addressed life science standards on animal life cycles, behaviors, habitats, and adaptation. Students learned how a snake grows and reproduces, how it interacts with its environment through its senses, how its habitat provides for its basic needs, and how its physical features and behaviors help it adapt to its environment. 

Literacy skills were integral to the learning expedition. Students developed proficiency reading and comprehending challenging informational texts, understanding and using scientific vocabulary, and identifying text features to aid their research goals. The high quality of student writing and drawing was a significant outcome of the learning expedition. For their final product—What Snake Am I? A Clue Book of Snakes from Around the World—students persevered through multiple drafts and revisions to create accurate scientific sketches of their snakes and capture their readers’ interest with strong leads and a compelling first-person voice. 
Math skills were taught and practiced through measurement projects that ranged from comparing and contrasting the lengths of snakes to measuring and graphing the intensity of people’s fears about snakes. 
Two case studies framed the expedition. The first engaged the whole class in an in-depth investigation of the corn snake. Students built background knowledge about the corn snake and how to care for one before welcoming a pet corn snake to their classroom. The corn snake’s arrival transformed the classroom into a living laboratory charged with wonder, teachable moments, and daily discoveries. The case study culminated in an original song and music video about the class corn snake, “Lily, You Are Nice,” which quickly became a YouTube sensation!

n the second case study, students worked in pairs to become experts on a favorite snake from around the world. During  fieldwork at the Herpetology Department at Harvard University’s Museum of Comparative Zoology, students worked alongside expert herpetologists, heightening their sense of themselves as scientists with a real purpose for learning. For the final product—the snake clue book—each student contributed a text page and scientific illustration of his or her snake. 

Expedition author
Jenna Gampel, teacher
With assistance from Rhonda Berkower, senior editor and researcher

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EL Education

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