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First StepsFirst-Steps

  • Subject: Life Science
  • |
  • Grade(s): 6-8
  • |
  • Duration: Two class periods

Lesson Plan Sections

Objectives


Students will understand the following:
1. Young children are generally able to learn foreign languages more easily than adults.
2. This is because, in young children, language learning occurs in a different part of the brain than in adults.

Materials


For this lesson, you will need:
Several foreign-language dictionaries or access to dictionaries in languages other than English

Procedures


1. Ask your students if they have ever studied or learned a second language? Encourage them to talk about their experiences, especially students who learned second languages when very young. Do they think it is harder or easier to learn a language as a very young child or as an adult?
2. Continue the discussion by letting students know that most people believe that children have a greater capacity for learning new languages than adults do. In fact, there is scientific evidence that, in young children, language learning occurs in a different part of the brain than in adults. Tell your students that they are going to devise a test to show whether this belief is valid.
3. Divide your class into groups so that at least one student in each group has at least one family member who is roughly three years old.
4. Have each group choose a foreign language with which none of their family members is familiar, and then find ten vocabulary words for simple, everyday objects in that language. The objects should be easily found in any household, or easily transported.
5. The group members should use the words to conduct tests of the language-learning abilities of at least one adult and one three-year-old. (Subjects should be given identical tests, but tested separately.) A student should first show the subject the ten objects the group has selected, pointing to each one and pronouncing its name until the subject can pronounce the word correctly. The next day, the same student should present the subject with the ten objects, one by one, and record how many words he or she can accurately remember and pronounce correctly. Students should carefully record the results of their tests.
6. When all groups have completed their testing, they should compare results. Have their results shown whether the common wisdom is correct? Why or why not?
7. Discuss with the class if they think their test results were valid. If not, what factors do they think might have influenced the accuracy of their tests? (Perhaps adults learned more easily because they were familiar with other languages related to the language of the test. To eliminate this factor, students could devise another test in which the words are made-up and compare the results of the two tests.)
8. Have students write up brief reports describing their subjects, procedures, and results, and evaluating the validity of their tests.

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Adaptations


Adaptations for Older Students:
Have students research experiments that have been conducted to test the language-learning abilities of young children vs. adults.

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Discussion Questions


1. Almost all babies are born with an ability to perform two simple tasks that most of us take for granted: they can grab onto things, and they know not to breathe when they’re underwater. These abilities are known, respectively, as thegrasping reflexand thediving reflex.Hypothesize about their origin. Are they remnants of traits that have been passed down from our evolutionary ancestors?
2. Discuss ways in which babies are able to communicate their needs and emotions even though they are not able to speak until they are approximately 15 months of age.
3. A baby’s brain develops at an incredible rate during its first few years. Studies have shown that stimulating a baby’s senses makes their developing nerve connections grow faster and more intricately. Brainstorm a list of activities you could do with a young boy or girl—a brother, sister, cousin, or someone else you know—in order to encourage greater brain development. Explain which part of his or her brain the activities might enhance.
4. What can you remember about the things you learned during your first three years? At some point after you were born, you learned to walk, talk, read, feed yourself, tie your shoes, write, and even clap your hands together, among countless other simple and complex tasks. Do you think you could learn as many new things now during a three-year period as you did back then? Are babies’ brains more adaptable to new knowledge and information? Explain your thinking.
5. Many parents enroll their children in day care in order to be able to return to work or to help their children learn to socialize with other children. Some parents, on the other hand, believe that their children need to spend their early years at home with a mother or father. Debate the pros and cons of day care for a baby or small child. What could be done, either by legislation or by individual companies, to find a middle ground between these two options?

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Evaluation


You can evaluate your students on their write-ups using the following three-point rubric:
  • Three points:subject, procedures, and results clearly and completely described; evaluation shows thought and careful reasoning
  • Two points:subject, procedures, and results described with sufficient clarity, evaluation lacks thought and careful reasoning
  • One point:subject, procedures, and results clearly and completely described; evaluation shows thought and careful reasoning
You can ask your students to contribute to the assessment rubric by determining satisfactory formats for the recording of test results.

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Extensions


Moral Development Test
Stages of moral development are ages at which children begin to understand early concepts of right and wrong. (You can find useful links to sites that investigate research done on the stages of moral development at http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/genpsymoraldev.html.) The psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg developed a series of “dilemma tests” to determine which stage of moral development a child has reached. Have your students give the following dilemma test to one to three children between the ages of 3 and 10 (if possible—some may need to use slightly older subjects). After they’ve given the test, ask them to write summaries of their subjects’ answers. When their tests and writing are complete, ask your students to compare their subjects’ responses with the summary of Kohlberg’s stages of moral development athttp://faculty.plts.edu/gpence/html/kohlberg.htm. Did their responses fit neatly into Kohlberg’s stages? Was this an accurate way to measure a person’s moral development? What other methods might be useful? The dilemma test is as follows (ask students to read this paragraph aloud to their subjects, and then ask for their responses): “In Europe, a woman was near death from a special kind of cancer. There was one drug that doctors thought might save her. However, the druggist who invented it was charging $4,000 for a small dose of the drug. The sick woman’s husband, Heinz, went to everyone he knew to borrow the money and tried every legal means, but he could only get together about $2,000. He told the druggist that his wife was dying and asked him to sell it cheaper or let him pay later. But the druggist said no. Having tried every legal means, Heinz gets desperate and considers breaking into the man’s store to steal the drug for his wife.” Should Heinz steal the drug? Why or why not?

Dear Sibby

It’s one thing to learn about how children develop in theory, but quite another thing entirely to see those theories become reality in a young sibling or cousin. Ask your students to imagine that they have been asked to write a “Dear Abby” column for their school paper. Have them examine each of the following “real-life” sibling dilemmas and write witty, informative, one-paragraph responses to each of them:

My two-year old brother, who used to be a nice kid, has suddenly started to hit me, yell at me, and steal all my stuff. Why is he acting so differently? How can I deal with him? When will he ever be nice again?
When my sister, who is three and one-half, breaks a rule and gets caught, she usually says that “Emily,” her imaginary friend, has done the deed—but sometimes she tells my mom and dad that it was me! Why does she lie like that all the time? Doesn’t she know it’s wrong?
My eight-month-old cousin can say “Mommy” and “Daddy” already. Is she some kind of genius? Is she smarter than I am? Is it normal to be able to talk at her age?
My one-month-old brother doesn’t look at me—not directly into my eyes, anyway. Is it my fault? Should I not make strange faces at him? And how come when I dangle toys in front of his face, he won’t even look at them? Doesn’t he want to play with me?
My sister, who’s 10 months old, doesn’t crawl like other babies. Instead of crawling on her hands and knees, she uses one knee and sort of drags the other foot behind. Is there something wrong with her legs? Will she be able to run around with me when she grows up?

After your students have written their responses, give several volunteers a chance to read their work aloud; then lead a class discussion about what they wrote. Try to achieve a consensus among the students about the best possible response to each situation. After the discussion, guide the students to the following Web sites to compare their ideas with those of experts:

http://www.baby.com/baby-development/johnson-johnson-pediatric-institute.html—hosted by Johnson & Johnson’s Pediatric Institute
http://www.ama-assn.org/—hosted by the American Medical Association

Conclude with a discussion about how students’ responses differed from the opinions they discovered on-line.


 

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Suggested Readings


How Babies Talk: The Magic and Mystery of Language in the First Three Years of Life
Roberta Michnick Golinkoff and Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek. NAL/Dutton, 1999.
Did you know that a fetus can distinguish between similar sounds? Or that a four-month-old can recognize its name? The culmination of years of research, this fascinating book explains exactly how babies learn language in their first three years of life.

The Emotional Life of the Toddler
Alicia F. Lieberman. Free Press, 1995.
An active toddler is a whirlwind of explosive, contradictory, and ever-changing emotions and ideas. This original, readable book offers an in-depth examination of the varied and intense internal life of children from ages one to three.

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Links


Language Acquisition
Reviews some of the theories of children’s innate ability to learn not only vocabulary, but also the grammar, of a language without any formal training.

KidsHealth at the AMA
Provides information on infant and child nutrition, development, and health issues. Sponsored by the American Medical Association.



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Vocabulary


Click on any of the vocabulary words below to hear them pronounced and used in a sentence.

speaker    adrenaline
Definition:A colorless, crystalline, blood-pressure-raising hormone secreted by the adrenal medulla.
Context:The trauma of the birth is so severe that the baby has adrenaline levels even higher than that of a person suffering from a heart attack.

speaker    larynx
Definition:The modified upper part of the trachea of air-breathing vertebrates that in humans, most other mammals, and a few lower forms contains the vocal cords.
Context:The larynx, a pipe at the top of the lungs, is positioned high up, right at the back of the throat.

speaker    rooting
Definition:Discovering and bringing to light.
Context:The rooting reflex helps babies find food.

speaker    self-awareness
Definition:An awareness of one’s own personality or individuality.
Context:She fails to recognize that the reflection is her because she lacks self-awareness.

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Standards


This lesson plan may be used to address the academic standards listed below. These standards are drawn from Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education: 2nd Edition and have been provided courtesy of theMid-continent Research for Education and Learningin Aurora, Colorado.
 
Grade level:6-8
Subject area:science
Standard:
Knows the general structure and functions of cells in organisms.
Benchmarks:
Knows that multicellular organisms have a variety of specialized cells, tissues, organs, and organ systems that perform specialized functions (e.g., digestion, respiration, reproduction, circulation, excretion, movement, control and coordination, protection from disease).

Grade level:6-8, 9-12
Subject area:health
Standard:
Understands the fundamental concepts of growth and development.
Benchmarks:
Benchmark 6-8:
Understands the processes of conception, prenatal development, and birth.

Benchmark 9-12:
Knows sound health practices in the prenatal period that are important to the health of the fetus and young child (e.g., diet, refraining from cigarette smoking or use of alcohol or other drugs).

Benchmark 9-12:
Understands a variety of physical, mental, emotional, and social changes that occur throughout life (e.g., during young adulthood, pregnancy, middle age, old age) and how these changes differ among individuals.

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Credit


Kirsten Rooks, former biology and geography teacher and current freelance educator.

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