Science and ELA lesson for students grades K-6

Who is puppet artist Heather Henson?

Headshot of Heather HensonHeather Henson (daughter of legendary puppeteer Jim Henson), is a visionary puppet artist, director, and producer who creates transformative and educational experiences that honor Mother Earth and inspire people to nurture the planet. She is best known for performances that illustrate the harmonious relationship between humans, animals, and the environment.

Heather’s storytelling is inspired by her sense of kinship with the endangered species of the world—particularly whooping cranes—the symbiotic relationship between indigenous people and the land, and how communities develop holistic food systems.

The below video features excerpts from Ajijaak on Turtle Island, a production by IBEX Puppetry and Heather Henson. FirstWorks brought the performance to Rhode Island in January 2019 as part of an “Earth First” artist residency. Excerpts from Henson’s accompanying artist talk focus on the interconnectedness between humans and nature across millennia, and the symbolism of the beautifully crafted animal puppets depicted in the performance.

Watch Artist Talk and Performance Highlights

Heather received her undergraduate degree from Rhode Island School of Design and studied at the California Institute of the Arts. Over the past 25 years, an awe for nature’s balance and messages of health and healing for the planet have been ingrained in her work. As the youngest child of legendary puppeteer Jim Henson, Heather gained an appreciation for nature through time spent with her father. Her memories of how he was able to weave his many passions—including nature—into his work have served as motivation throughout her own career.

Kindergarten-Grade 6 Lesson: Bird Migration

K-ESS2-1 Use and share observations of local weather conditions to describe patterns over time.
K-ESS3-2 Ask questions to obtain information about the purpose of weather forecasting to prepare for, and respond to, severe weather.
1-LS1-2 Read texts and use media to determine patterns in behavior of parents and offspring that help offspring survive.
3-ESS2-1 Represent data in tables and graphical displays to describe typical weather conditions expected during a particular season.
MS-LS2-4 Construct an argument supported by empirical evidence that changes to physical or biological components of an ecosystem affect populations.
MS-LS2-5 Evaluate competing design solutions for maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services.
MS-ETS1.1 Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions.
MS-ETS1.3 Analyze data from tests to determine similarities and differences among several design solutions to identify the best characteristics of each that can be combined into a new solution to better meet the criteria for success.

Here’s an easy way to study a bird’s migration route. Try this birds’ migration activity to learn about a bird’s pattern of flight.

What You’ll Need

Reference book or internet access
Globe or world map
Rubber cement
Different colored yarn, string

1. Migratory birds fly thousands of miles every year. If students have a book about migratory birds, ask them to use it. If not, have them search “migratory birds” on the internet.
2. Ask them to see if their home is on the migration path of any birds. (If it is, encourage them to watch for them at the times of the year when they migrate.)
3. Then, on a globe or world map, have them mark the migration paths of some birds. Using rubber cement or other temporary adhesive, they can attach a piece of yarn to each bird’s starting place and attach the other end of the yarn to the bird’s summer home. They can use different colors of yarn for different birds.
4. Have students create a large wall-sized calendar on a wall or board. Every morning, have them note the weather conditions and mark it on the calendar; also mark the date and time of each bird’s migration. Have the students compare this information to the patterns of flight listed in the book.

Ask students the following questions to generate a discussion:
1. Do the patterns match what the book states for each bird? If not, why do you think it is different?
2. What environmental factors may affect flight patterns?
3. What weather conditions did your home experience that may affect flight patterns?
4. Are there any man made factors affecting the patterns? Name some.
Have the students record this information in a special section of their notebooks, being sure to have them draw a picture of each bird that migrates over their home. If helpful, please see the journal page templates provided (available as downloadable PDFs at the bottom of this web page.)

We have provided a crane puppet made of paper! Along with other animals the crane may come in contact with, you will see materials for her nest as she lays her eggs.

Follow the simple instructions:
1. Cut on the bold black line only.
2. Fold on the dotted line.
3. Once it is cut and folded in the proper places, you may find it helpful to tape certain sections (such as the hindquarters and each wing) together so that the puppet has dimension.
a. Don’t completely fold the beak so that it resembles a crane’s bill.
b. Slightly curl the wings so that there is a bit of a curve.
And, you and your students will have a fun crane diorama!

We have found that all ages enjoy this puppet, so, do encourage students to share this activity with their families, and, enjoy nature!

Grade 6 Lesson: Turtle Conservation

Science Standards:
MS-LS2-4 Construct an argument supported by empirical evidence that changes to physical or biological components of an ecosystem affect populations.
English Language Arts Standards:
RST.6-8.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts.
RI.8.8 Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is sound and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; recognize when irrelevant evidence is introduced.
WHST.6-8.1 Write arguments focused on discipline-specific content.
WHST.6-8.9 Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Essential Question: How does an ecosystem preserve biodiversity?

Learning Goals

Students will:
• explore the Ojibwe Turtle Island story
• research turtles to understand their importance to local ecosystems
• investigate how to protect turtle species and preserve biodiversity

1. Ask students if they have ever heard of Turtle Island and if so, to explain what they know.
2. Explain that Turtle Island is the name for North America in the Ojibwe story. Ojibwe-Anishinaabe is the second largest group of First Nations People in North America, spanning three provinces in Canada and five states in the United States. Many other indigenous people tell the same story through oral tradition.
3. Read the included Turtle Island story to the students. Before sharing the story, instruct students to write down any words or questions that come to mind as they listen to the story. Ask students to close their eyes while they listen to the story.
4. After sharing the Turtle Island story, have students work on a KWL chart. Ask students to draw a chart with three columns labeled Know, Want to Know and Learned. Instruct students to fill in the first two columns to the best of their abilities with information about turtles and the relationship to Indigenous Peoples.
5. Assign one to two of the following questions to each student. Using research tools available at home or online, have the students research answers. Review the questions with students to ensure the points students listed in the “want to know” column are included.
a. What are the different turtle species?
b. What is the importance/significance of turtles to Indigenous Peoples?
c. Where do turtles live?
d. What do turtles eat?
e. How do turtles fit into the food chains?
f. Why are they important to their habitat/ecosystem?
g. What are some threats to their survival?
6. Once students have completed their research, have them share their findings with the class. Instruct students to complete the third column of their KWL chart.
7. Next, read the “Healthy Habitats” chapter from the Turtle Island Conservation Toronto Zoo curriculum book Highlight the relationship with Mother Nature and the importance of respecting all living things.
8. Based on that reading, ask students the following:
• What is our responsibility as humans to protect the environment?
• Take note of the ‘challenge’ raised in the reading: “My fifth challenge asked you to find out what turtles need to survive. What does a healthy habitat look like? Do you think that the habitat in your community is healthy for you and me?”
Share the Mind Map Template accompanying this lesson with your students.
(Mind Map Template available as PDF download at the bottom of this page.)
• Create a mind map of your local environment.
• What changes will you make to create a healthier environment?
9. Encourage students to take a nature walk around their home with a parent or guardian.
• Go outside and explore your neighborhood to see whether “The habitat in your community is healthy for you and me?”
• Look for living things and think of ways to positively improve their environments (e.g., picking up litter, putting up signs to raise awareness about the turtle and/or wildlife populations there).
10. Ask students to reflect on what they have learned. Assign the following questions for individual and collective discussion:
What have you learned about the environment and its importance to First Nations Peoples?
What can we do to make a positive difference protecting turtles and the environment?
How would you conserve the environment to protect the turtle’s habitat?
Why is it our responsibility as humans to conserve the environment?

Extra Lesson:
1. Using online resources, books, etc., have students research the different types of turtles that live in Rhode Island. Ask the students to provide the following:
• Describe their color, size, etc.
• Where can they be found? What are the characteristics of their habitat?
• What are their favorite foods?
• What are their nesting habits? When do they have their babies?
2. Have students choose their favorite type of turtle from their research. Then in word, song, by drawing, or some other visual method, have them describe/portray the turtle’s characteristics. Consider sharing to #FirstWorksArtsLearning on social media.

Download these lessons as PDFs