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    Butterflies 'R' Free:  Investigating the Concept

    of Life Cycle                           



Teacher: Glendene Otake

Students: kindergarten


Kalei'opu'u Elementary School

Waipahu, Hawaii


                        Classroom Demographics

  • I have 17 students, 3 of whom speak English as a second language at home, and 4 of whom had only one parent residing at home at the time of implementation.


  • My students come from blue to white collar families of multi-ethnic backgrounds, living in a middle class community.


  • The typical instruction method that I use with my class is independent small group lessons during which I do one of the following:
    • go around to the groups and do one-to-one instruction as needed
    • remain in one group to guide in the focus lesson for the day
    • conference reading/writing with individual students
    • assess individual students



Students work in teams of four or five and rotate from station to station for four stations each day.  At each station, they have specific lessons to do.  The following is an example of the stations on any particular day:

    • Language Arts: Using magnetic alphabets, create sight words and/or sentences that use sight words
    • Mathematics: Look around the classroom and draw things that are circles
    • Science: Observe the object and record what you see (draw what you see and write about it)
    • Art: Using watercolor, create a scene in nature

                                                                                     Unit Plan

  I. Purpose:

  • Engage students in exploring the characteristics of the life cycle concept
  • Provide students the opportunity to experience the Research Investigation Process (RIP) in its entirety
  • Provide students with a system for life-long learning through which any question they have about the world around them can be answered
  • Provide students the opportunity to acquire the skills needed in performing scientific inquiry
    • teacher does not provide answers but rather facilitates how to find answers
    • teacher uses Socratic questioning to guide students throughout their learning
  • Stimulate student interest to learn about science by providing students with the opportunity to answer their own questions and test their own hypotheses about the natural world through investigation



 II. Student Outcomes—Students will...

  • explore and understand characteristics of the life cycle through scientific inquiry using the Research Investigation Process (RIP)
  • observe the life cycle of the butterfly
  • record observations accurately and honestly
  • ask wondering questions
  • gather background information
  • build tentative answers to one of the questions
  • design and conduct a study to test our answer to the question
  • record data accurately and honestly
  • evaluate findings and summarize what was learned about our tentative answer




III. Materials Needed:

  • Books about the life cycle of a butterfly
    • The Butterfly-by Paula Z. Hogan
    • The Very Hungry Caterpillar-by Eric Carle
    • The Monarch Butterfly's Life-by

    John Himmelman

    • From Caterpillar to Butterfly-by

    Deborah Heiligman

    • Butterflies-Zoobooks by Beth Wagner Brust


    • Butterfly & Caterpillar-by Barry Watts
    • Life of the Butterfly-by Heiderose and Andreas Fischer-Nagel
  • Blank KWL Chart with titles of columns



                                    KWL Chart

  • Source of monarch butterfly caterpillar food (in Hawaii, leaves of the crown flower plant)
  • Short vase with "frogs" to hold branch of crown flower plant


Setup for life cycle environment


  • Monarch butterfly caterpillar eggs attached to leaves of the crown flower plant
  • Monarch butterfly caterpillars
  • Large tub of water to hold vase so that none of the caterpillars escape and crawl freely around the classroom
  • Life Cycle of a Butterfly Timeline Book (made by students)
  • Caterpillar Log Book (one for each student to record daily observations)
  • Magnifying glass

IV. Procedure:

Because this is the first scientific inquiry experience for these students, students will be guided through the steps of the RIP and the method section of the study will be designed by the teacher.


Set the stage

  • Over a two-day period, read the books about butterflies to the students
  • Have students make a timeline book of the stages of the butterfly:
    • egg
    • caterpillar
    • chrysalis
    • butterfly


Students create the KWL Chart about butterflies

  • Have the students share information they learned from listening the books that were read to them and their own experiences and observations
    • List this information on the KWL Chart under the first column, "What I Know."
  • Model an "I Wonder..." question for the students.
    • Then have students ask their own "I wonder..." questions and list these under the second column of the KWL Chart.


Students incorporate "I wonder..." question into the RIP cycle

  • Select one of their "I wonder..." questions to be their research question:

When will the butterfly come out?

  • Use Socratic questioning to derive the student observation which took place that led to the research question
    • Which of the five senses were you using when you asked this question?
    • What were you observing when you came up with this question?
  • Use Socratic questioning to come up with the background information
    • Did we hear any information about how long it takes for the chrysalis to turn into a butterfly?

    Yes, from the books.

    • What did the book say?

    It would take two weeks.

  • Use Socratic questioning to come up with the hypothesis
    • What do we need to do to see if the butterfly will come out?

    Look at the chrysalis and wait.


    • How long do we need to wait?

    Two weeks because the book said so.

    • How many days are in two weeks?

    Fourteen days are in two weeks.


       Original KWL Chart Constructed in Classroom


                            Re-written KWL Chart






Thus, our hypothesis was:


If we watch the chrysalis each day to see if the butterfly comes out, then we will see the butterfly on the fourteenth day because the books say that the butterfly will come out of the chrysalis at the end of two weeks.


Students observe caterpillars and eggs daily

  • Students make illustrations of their observations
  • Students record their observations into their caterpillar log daily
  • Students record daily observations of the chrysalis onto a timeline

Students summarize and analyze the data they have collected

  • When butterfly comes out, record the number of days in the Results step of the RIP.

Guide the students through the Discussion and Conclusion step of the RIP

  • Use Socratic questioning to lead students into drawing conclusions about the hypothesis they were testing and the answer to their research question:
    • How long did you say that it would take for the butterfly to come out from the chrysalis before we began our RIP?
    • What do you notice about the number of days the book says it takes a butterfly to come out from the chrysalis and the number of days it took our butterfly to come out from the chrysalis?
    • Why was the number of days different?
    • What if the book is not wrong?
  • Students discover answers to their "I wonder..." question.
    • When will it become a butterfly?
    • about the answer to their research question
    • about scientific inquiry
  • Students plan what they will do next:
    • Repeat their study to see if they get the same results and can learn more about the answer to their research question


Teacher guides the Next Step component of the RIP

  • Students share what they have done and learned with others
    • about the life cycle of the butterfly

                       The life cycle of the butterfly



Students summarize their discovery

Use Socratic questioning to lead students in making summary statements:

  • What was it like to discover how many days it took for the chrysalis to turn into a butterfly?
  • How did you feel while doing this scientific inquiry?

V. Evaluation

Did students:

  • Ask wondering questions?
  • Observe the cycle of a butterfly?
  • Learn about the concept of a life cycle?
  • Record observations and collect data accurately and honestly?
  • Discover answers to their wondering questions?
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the steps in scientific inquiry?
  • Summarize and evaluate what they learned?

How well can students explain about the       Research Investigation Process?  


           Flowchart of the RIP for elementary students

                       (Click on chart to enlarge)

                                                Introducing the Research Investigation Process (RIP)

I applied the RIP flow chart to define the steps of scientific inquiry using one of the students' "I wonder..." questions from the KWL Chart as the research question. 

The research question: When will the butterfly come out [of the chrysalis]?

After I completed the RIP flow chart for this research investigation and reproduced it onto a chart paper, it appeared too wordy for the students in my class, even when I broke it down into parts.

It then dawned on me that since the concept of "cycle" was already introduced in the diagram of the Life Cycle of the Butterfly, the students' exposure to and understanding of the circular nature of the life cycle concept could be used to simplify the RIP flowchart.   Thus, I made the flowchart simpler for the students by by using a circle with arrows. Simplifying the system made it possible for the students to read each step.

It took about six days over a two week period to complete the RIP cycle with the students. The Observation, Research Question, Background Information, and Hypothesis were completed in one lesson.  Socratic Questioning was used in order for the students to verbalize each of these four components.  On the second and third day, I had the students read and re-read each of these components. Then, in the fourth lesson, I introduced the Plan of the Study.  Because this was the students' first experience with the RIP, the Plan of Study was teacher-created and was already written down.  The students made illustrations to match the words.

To carry out the Plan of the Study, each student had a Caterpillar Log where they recorded (drew pictures and wrote down) what they observed:




                         Student log book entry




                           Student log book entry


As important events took place (hatching of the egg, caterpillar turning to a chrysalis), I was sure to assess that the students' observations included these and made sure that they recorded these observations.






                    Caterpillars forming a chrysalis






                Circular flowchart of the butterfly RIP

              (Use slide control or click on square at top of chart to enlarge)





             Actual RIP flowchart in the form of a cycle




                           Student log book entry




                         Student log book entry



                                Students recording their data





                          Student using the magnify

                        glass as a tool for observation

                              in scientific inquiry

On a master calendar, I kept record of what stage of the cycle occurred each day: 


Once the caterpillar popped out of the egg, observations were recorded daily.  While observing the caterpillars and the chrysalis with magnifying glass, the students asked the "I wonder..." questions with more meaning and relevance.

The following are some of the student questions:

  • How long does it take a caterpillar to turn into a chrysalis?
  • How does it know to eat its own skin?
  • How does it know when to turn into a butterfly?
  • Is it a boy or a girl?
  • Is that the green blood? (One butterfly got flattened by the door hinge when we closed the door one day.)
  • Is it going to fall off? (This refers to the caterpillar when hanging during the formation of its chrysalis.)
  • What's that white thing? (referring to the silk-like thread that is sometimes on its feet)
  • What if it falls into the water?
  • I wonder where its mom is?




  • Is that the daddy?
  • Why is it wiggling like that? (when the caterpillar is turning into a chrysalis)
  • Is that the pee? (drips from the butterfly as it dries out its wings before taking its first flight)
  • Why do we have to let it go?  (referring to the butterfly after it emerged from the chrysalis)
  • Can't we keep it in our room?
  • Is it sleeping?
  • Why isn't it moving?


Questioning is a skill that students naturally display, if given the opportunity. Their potential and contribution to society is infinite as long as they continue to freely ask questions and conduct scientific inquiry procedures to discover their answers.





Using the students Caterpillar Logs, we determined the date that the caterpillar turned into a chrysalis. That date was recorded as 'Day 1' on the time sheet.  The date for each day after that was recorded and the chrysalis was drawn. The day that the butterfly came out was the last day to be recorded. The number of days was noted, and this became the results of our RIP-based scientific inquiry.


In the fifth lesson, through Socratic questioning again, they began the Discussion and Conclusion of the RIP. The students were able to come up with "The book said it will take 14 days for the butterfly to come out from the chrysalis. Our butterfly took 12 days."





                   Day 12: Butterfly begins to emerge

                                 from chrysalis 




                 Day 12: Butterfly almost completely

                              out of chrysalis



                  Day 12: Butterfly is out of chrysalis





Because this is the first RIP for these students, the Discussion and Conclusion part of the RIP was more teacher-directed rather than student initiated. Again, Socratic questioning was used. I had them work in their teams of 4 and 5 while answering my Socratic questioning. This worked out better, since they could talk out their ideas with each other:

  • What do you notice about how long the book said it would take and how many days are butterfly took to come out of the chrysalis?
  • How long did the book say it would take?
  • How long did our butterfly take?
  • Why was the number of days different?
  • What if the book is not wrong?

After about 20 minutes of having the students ponder these questions, one girl's eyes lit up and she exclaimed, "I know! Every butterfly takes a different time!" I worked with her on this idea, and we came up with "Every butterfly takes a different number of days to come out."

What a thrill it was to witness the gleam in her eye and the joy in her self-expression as she made this discovery on her own!


Again, because this was the students' first experience with scientific inquiry and the RIP, I guided them through the Next Step. We are now keeping track of other chrysalises to see what their number of days of transformation from chrysalis to butterfly will be.

Science Education Standards Addressed

                                                      NATIONAL SCIENCE EDUCATION STANDARDS


  • Science as Inquiry
    As a result of activities in grades K-4,
    all students should develop
    • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry
    • Understanding about scientific inquiry
  • Life Science
    As a result of activities in grades
    K - 4, all students should develop
    understanding of
    • The characteristics of organisms
    • Life cycles of organisms
    • Organisms and environments

                                                  HAWAII CONTENT & PERFORMANCE STANDARDS


Topic Scientific Inquiry
Benchmark SC.K.1.1 Use the senses to make observations
Sample Performance Assessment (SPA) The student: Uses the five senses (i.e., sight, smell, hearing, touch, and taste) to make observations about objects and events. 


Topic Scientific Inquiry
Benchmark SC.K.1.2 Ask questions about the world around them
Sample Performance Assessment (SPA) The student: Asks questions about objects, organisms, events, places, or relationships in the environment. 



           Student drawn and labeled butterfly life cycle


Topic Scientific Inquiry
Benchmark SC.1.1.1 Collect, record, and organize data using simple tools, equipment, and techniques safely
Sample Performance Assessment (SPA) The student: Uses simple tools safely (e.g., magnifying glass, balance scales) to make observations about common objects in the classroom and uses simple techniques to record and organize data for analysis. 





                     Students viewing a caterpillar



Topic Scientific Inquiry
Benchmark SC.2.1.1 Develop predictions based on observations
Sample Performance Assessment (SPA) The student: Makes predictions based on observations about the world around him or her. 


Topic Classification
Benchmark SC.2.4.1 Explain how plants and animals go through life cycles
Sample Performance Assessment (SPA) The student: Illustrates the stages of the life cycles (e.g., germination/birth, growth, reproduction, and death) of various plants and animals, pointing out some details that distinguish each stage. 


Topic Scientific Inquiry
Benchmark SC.3.1.1 Pose a question and develop a hypothesis based on observations
Sample Performance Assessment (SPA) The student: Brainstorms different types of questions and develops a question and hypothesis based on observations. 





                                                          Language Arts Education Standards Addressed


                                                  HAWAII CONTENT & PERFORMANCE STANDARDS


Topic Vocabulary and Concept Development
Benchmark LA.K.1.8 Uses words to describe location, size, color, shape, and concepts (e.g., same, different, fast, slow) in speaking situations.
Sample Performance Assessment (SPA) The student: Uses words to describe location, size, color, shape, and concepts (e.g., same, different, fast, slow) in speaking situations. 


Topic Range of Writing
Benchmark LA.K.4.2 Describe familiar topics and convey thoughts, ideas, and basic information using pictures and phonetically spelled words
Sample Performance Assessment (SPA) The student: Writes phonetically spelled words to describe familiar people, objects, books, events, or instructions. 


Topic Spelling and Hand Writing
Benchmark LA.K.4.4 Use phonetic spelling to write new words
Sample Performance Assessment (SPA) The student: Spells phonetically, associating letters with sounds (e.g., kitn [kitten], wacht [watched]). 
Topic Meaning
Benchmark LA.K.5.1 Add detail to drawings and other products with simple descriptive words
Sample Performance Assessment (SPA) The student: Adds descriptive words to simple pictures and pictures with text through ideas generated in various ways. 
Topic Discussion and Presentation
Benchmark LA.K.6.3 Ask and respond appropriately to basic questions
Sample Performance Assessment (SPA) The student: Forms and poses questions and responds to questions related to activities and topics. 

                                                                          What Students Learned




                                                                 Teacher Observations & Reflections

Setting the Stage

  • At this stage of their learning, Kindergartners are like sponges.  They absorb information and can apply what they learned to other areas of their lives.
  • While reading to them during the first two days, it was fulfilling to experience the students' reactions to the information they were receiving about the transformation from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly.
  • It amazed me as to how much the students digested about the butterfly merely from the books that were read (as shown in the KWL chart: "What I Know" column).
  • I am being more okay with having the students ask "I wonder..." questions that only true scientists can answer. In the past, I viewed it to be my role and responsibility as the teacher to provide the student with all the answers. I am okay with not knowing the answer and researching with the students ways to find the answers.


Caterpillar Log

While they were making their observations and recording these observations into their Caterpillar Log, here are what I observed about the student's learning:

  • At this stage of their learning, not only are they sponges--absorbing, storing, and applying new information. They view their world and nature with such wondrous eyes. They are in awe when they actually discover for themselves that the caterpillar that was crawling around the previous day is then hanging in "j".
  • And how their eyes light up when the students see that the caterpillar that was a "j" has turned into a chrysalis.
  • They ask, "Why did that happen? How did that happen?" My response is always---"That is how nature works." As they gain more experiences of the processes of nature, the students will get a better understanding of the concept of nature and about things that occur naturally.
  • When recording the color of the objects they saw, many times, they preferred to be creative and select the color of their choice. I reminded many of them that they needed to be accurate and record the actual color that they see-that is the job of the researcher  or scientist. (For the purpose of enhancing all areas of learning, I allowed them the time to apply their imaginations and create scenes of butterflies, caterpillars, and chrysalises using any color they desired.)





Making Observations

  • As the students make their observations, many more questions come about. Children are naturally curious, and their curiosity is aroused further when they look closely at the caterpillars or the chrysalis with the magnifying glass. These are the windows of opportunity where teachers can be of most service to student learning.






  • I love to immediately jump into their journey of wonder and assist them with deriving their own inference or prediction or conclusion to their question at hand. I ask other students if they can figure out why or how. I share with them another piece of information that they can use to come to a conclusion or make a prediction or an inference to their question. Or I model how they can look up information in books or on the Internet.


Integration of Language Arts & Science

  • I love this opportunity for the integration of Language Arts and Science. The students are writing with a purpose. They are asking each other questions and verbally sharing their ideas. Their writing makes sense and has meaning and relevance to their lives. For those who are able to use letter sounds, they are able to read what they wrote a week later. Writing becomes fun. There is a sense of accomplishment when they can refer back to their writing in order to find the day the caterpillar popped out or the day the caterpillar turned into a chrysalis.


Working in Teams

  • Because the students worked in teams, small group discussions occurred automatically. The learning becomes richer when the bounce off ideas with each other. They realize that sharing ideas is okay; they need not be so possessive of their ideas (i.e., "I said that first" or "I thought of that first").


Impact of "Raising the Bar" on Reading Skills

  • Because the "bar" of expectations was raised," the readers in my classroom pushed forward and read the "RIP Cycle" and all the parts. As they use their reading strategies (i.e., sounding out, context clues, does it make sense, etc.) to figure out the words and sentences, they model these skills for the emerging readers in their class. Peer-teaching and peer-learning add another dimension to the classroom learning culture.



                                                Teacher's Evaluation of Butterfly Life Cycle Inquiry Unit

Regarding Evaluation Questions in Unit Plan

  • The students asked "wondering" questions.
  • The students observed the life cycle of the butterfly.
  • The students recorded observations accurately and honestly.
  • The students discovered answers to two of their wondering questions.
  • The students summarized and evaluated what they discovered:
    • We learned how many days it takes for the butterfly to come out.
    • Every caterpillar eats lots of leaves.
    • The caterpillar always gets bigger and bigger.
    • We like the butterfly because it lets us hold him.
    • When we held the butterfly on our hands, it felt tickly.
    • We were lucky we got to watch the caterpillar everyday.
    • We were lucky when we felt the caterpillar walk on our hands. It tickled.
    • We are happy because we have caterpillars.

Student Understanding of Scientific Inquiry and the RIP

With the RIP Cycle chart at the front of the classroom, I asked the students, "What is this chart about? What do you remember from this?" Here are the students' responses:

  • Observation--There are 5 chrysalises in our classroom.
  • Research Question--When will the butterfly come out?
  • Background Information--The book says that the butterfly comes out of the chrysalis.
  • Background Information--The book says it takes 2 weeks for a chrysalis to turn into a butterfly.
  • Hypothesis--If we wait for 14 days, then the butterfly will come out.
  • Results--The butterfly comed out of the chrysalis. It took 12 days to come out.
  • Next Step--We will watch are chrysalises and keep track of how many days it takes for the butterfly to come out.

These student responses were not edited. I took dictation as they stated or read the information from the RIP Cycle chart. The responses for the scientific inquiry and the RIP were from individual students.


This unit is the beginning of using the Research Investigation Process (RIP). I am very confident that as we do more units involving RIP, the students will be able to participate actively in creating future RIP cycles to seek answers to other research questions.

RIP is a system that can be applied to many areas in the student's life, once the student becomes familiar with it. It is a fundamental scientific inquiry process that may also be used to organize the student's thought process in problem-solving and critical thinking in any area of life. RIP is unlike the traditional lecture type teaching, where the teacher does most of the work and the student takes on a passive role. With RIP, the student takes an active part in exploring, discovering, and analyzing the world around him or her. Because the student is an active learner, the aha's that the student experiences are meaningful and memorable. The learning that takes place has more impact in the students' lives. I look forward to incorporating more RIP cycles with my students.


Glendene Otake shared her experiences with implementing RIP scientific inquiry in the classroom at the NSTA National Convention in Anaheim, CA,  April 7, 2006.















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