Lesson Categories: Nature and Process of Science  |   Species Identification  |  
Making Collections  |   Biodiversity: Ecology and Evolution

Nature and Process of Science

The egg activity
Author: Brian P. Kraatz
The main goal of this activity is to help students understand three basic steps of science: (1) Observation; (2) Statements of cause and effect (hypotheses); and (3) Testing. By working with an egg, the students are required to observe an object that is very common to them.
Student examines an insect
Scientific measurement exercise
Author: Matt Wedel
In this lesson students measure irregularly shaped bones, once using a variety of measurement methods and tools, and then again using standard conventions and metric tape measures. The students learn firsthand that standardizing data collection makes observations more precise and repeatable. In addition, they learn that the forms of bones are related to their functions.
Exercise in creating drawings for field notebooks
Author: Crissy Huffard
Students draw and describe a leaf in its natural setting, and then re-find leaves drawn and described by classmates. The exercise helps them think about observations in science, what to put in a field notebook, to pay attention to detail, and to gain confidence in drawing.
Snail observation exercise
Author: Matt Wedel
In this exercise, each student is given a pond snail in a clear glass and asked to make observations on the snail’s form and behavior. One of the key ideas is that seemingly common subjects (like snails) often have surprising or interesting properties, if only we take the time to look carefully.
Bone thickness (pdf version)
Author: Matt Wedel
In this exercise we will measure the wall thickness of the limb bones in five animals: alligators, chickens, cows, humans, and the giant dinosaur Stegosaurus. Students learn to make scaled comparisons using relative thickness, called the K value.
Making observations and generating hypotheses and expectations using our senses
Authors: GK-12 2006-2007 folks
In this lesson, students practice how to approach a problem scientifically. They use their senses to make a detailed description of a natural object and to generate hypotheses about the identity and features of the object hidden within a box.
Learning about classification
Authors: Dan Schmidt and Jennifer Hernandez
This lesson introduces the students to three main organismal divisions: invertebrates, vertebrates, and plants. The lesson emphasizes the differences and similarities between these groups. The skills enforced in the lesson are the ability to closely observe morphological differences of organisms and to group specimens accordingly.
Exercise in creating drawings for field notebooks
Author: Emily Limm
Students thoroughly observe a leaf specimen and create a scientific notebook page entry documenting the leaf shape, texture, color, and general appearance through a line drawing with written descriptions.

Species Identification

Grasshopper population dynamics, part II: Visualizing and understanding data
Author: Gordon Bennett
In this lesson, part II of a series, students will review the life cycle of grasshoppers, learn how to identify grasshopper species using a dichotomous key and observations of insect morphology, convert their fall observations of grasshopper populations (numbers of males, females, nymphs and adults) into numerical data, and construct graphs to visualize and interpret the data. Based on the fall data and their knowledge of the life cycle, they will discuss hypotheses about what the population might look like in the spring.
Describing birds
Authors: Andrew Rush
This lesson introduces students to the study of birds, challenges them to carefully observe and describe bird specimens, and demonstrates the importance to scientists of taking good field notes.
Spot identification of some of the most common insect orders
Authors: Joseph Spagna, Sean Schoville, and Anna Larsen
This lesson is designed to help students develop the skill of identifying insects using simple "shortcuts" or "key characteristics" to help determine to which taxonomic order the insects they collect are assigned. A game of Insect Bingo reinforces the concepts that students have learned.
Student examines an insect with a hand lens
Introduction to floral morphology
Author: Meredith Thomsen
This lesson introduces the four floral whorls using a simple model. Additionally, students create a reference worksheet to use later with a diagram and notes about these structures. Students then examine a selection of simple flower specimens to gain an appreciation of the diversity among types of plants in the relative sizes, color, shape, and texture of these parts.
Finding animal signs (pdf version)
Author: Jack Tseng
This is a handout from a class lesson about looking for and identifying signs from animals in nature. The handout supplements a coyote scat dissection activity.
Dichotomous key for identifying pine trees (pdf version)
Author: Anna Larsen
Students learn to use a dichotomous key to identify species of pine trees and then use a field guide to understand the natural history of their chosen tree.
An introduction to insect and spider body parts
Author: Nicole VanderSal
This lesson gives an introduction to the basic insect and spider body plans and then goes into more detail of specific insect mouthparts, wings, and leg types, different spiders and other common invertebrates.
Plant observation and morphology
Author: Anna Larsen
Students will use plant specimens to learn to recognize differences in plant morphology and to develop a vocabulary to describe these differences.
A quick way to identify common insect orders
Authors: Ryan Hill and Nicole VanderSal, with contributions by Pete Oboyski, Joe Spagna, and Jen Skene
A Powerpoint presentation helps students to quickly identify some common insect orders using "spot ID" characters. The characters are meant to illustrate the obvious things to look for.

Making Collections

Pinned butterflies
Introduction to pinning insects
Author: Ryan Hill
This lesson teaches students how to properly pin insects and reviews insect morphology and insect orders.
Introduction to "bug collecting": Collection techniques for insects, spiders, pill-bugs, etc.
Author: Joseph Spagna
Students will be able to identify three types of insect-collecting gear, explain what they are used for, and use at least one to collect and observe an insect or spider.
Insect collection
Authors: Ryan Hill, Nicole VanderSal, and Alison Purcell
In this lesson students will learn how to use several types of insect sampling and collection equipment. Students will work in groups to collect insects in different areas of their schoolyard.
Pinning and labelling insects
Author: Joe Spagna: Lesson plan week 3
Students will be able to produce labels for collected insects according to the proper format, and to attach the specimens and their labels to insect pins using the correct technique.
A mini insect field trip: Collecting, labelling, pinning, and note-taking.
Author: Joseph Spagna: Lesson plan week 4
Students will practice the four skills they have learned so far: collecting, labelling, pinning, and making field observations on insects and plants in the RHS Outdoor Science Classroom.
Insect curation
Authors: Ryan Hill, Nicole VanderSal, and Alison Purcell
In this lesson, students will learn how to curate insects that they collected in previous lessons.
Plant collection I
Authors: Meredith Thomsen and Brian Kraatz
In this lesson, students learn how scientists preserve plants for museum collections, and do the first steps of making their own plant collection.
Plant collection II
Authors: Meredith Thomsen and Brian Kraatz
In this lesson, students mount their first pressed plant specimens, cover some basic plant morphology, and get a homework assignment to practice their plant collecting and observational skills at home.

Biodiversity: Ecology and Evolution

Bird beak buffet
Author: Andrew Rush
This lesson introduces students to how birds obtain and digest food. The first part explores the structure of the digestive system. The second part of the lesson focuses on different types of bills and how they function in collecting different types of food. This is done by examining specimens or pictures showing variation in bill shapes, and through a simulation game in which students, using everyday objects that model different bird bills, try to gather different types of food.
A virtual voyage of the HMS Beagle
Author: Jenny McGuire
This lesson allows students to virtually follow along the route that Darwin took on the HMS Beagle and make similar observations. This guided activity will allow them to reach similar conclusions as those made by Darwin himself.
Thinking about life in geological time scales
Author: Joseph Spagna
This lesson takes "kinematic" approach to teaching geologic time by having the individual students make, and change, hypotheses about when the important events in the history of life have taken place. Students will create a large (classroom-sized) timeline showing the history of life on Earth for the last 5 billion years. By the end of the lesson they will be able to identify the events that are relevant to their taxonomic projects (the origins and important developments in their groups’ study taxa).
Natural selection in protected and unprotected populations
Author: Crissy Huffard
In this lesson, students will learn how two elephant seal populations fare during successive generations. One population is protected from mortality by human interference, while the other is not. The unprotected population loses valuable variation when a few key individuals are killed.
Graphing the elephant seal population data
Author: Joe Spagna
Students graph the data that they generated in the elephant seal exercise using proper format and labeling. They will learn to interpret the graphs they created and make conclusions and predictions based on that graph.
An introduction to Biodiversity in the Schoolyard
Author: Joel K. Abraham
This lesson is an introduction to the Biodiversity in the Schoolyard unit. It is designed to engage students in the planning process of the sampling/collection. Students will be encouraged to begin recognizing local diversity patterns and to think about the influence of habitat structure on local diversity.
Collecting plant and invertebrate samples
Measuring biodiversity
Authors: Crissy Huffard and Matt Wedel
Students learn a few key concepts associated with measuring biodiversity — here measured as species richness — by sampling a "population" of beans.
California biodiversity
Author: Alison Purcell
In this lesson students will be introduced to the extraordinary biodiversity of California. By reviewing several maps of California exhibiting features such as precipitation, topography, and vegetation students will look for patterns that might be the source of or influence biodiversity in different regions.
Limpet shell exercise
Author: Crissy Huffard, adapted from Matt Wedel's bone exercise
Students come up with hypotheses about limpet shell types based on what we discuss about intertidal environments. We use ratios to compare shell types, and test the hypotheses.
A tree of life activity
Author: Nicole VanderSal
This lesson first introduces a large diagram of the Tree of Life that will be a reference for the evolutionary relationships of California organisms for the rest of the year. Then there is a class-participation activity using traits of organisms on the tree to determine the identity of a mystery organism.
Sampling and comparing biodiversity
Author: Nicole VanderSal
This lesson compares the density and distribution differences of four species of spiders in two hypothetical habitats. Students "sample" two habitats and then do calculations such as average density and relative distributions to compare the data from their two habitats.
Bioregions of California
Authors: GK-12 2006-2007 folks
In this lesson, students gain an understanding of the biodiversity of California. Students also learn how California's diverse environment is separated into different areas known as "bioregions."
Dirt life
Authors/Adaptors: Owen Solberg and Scott Fay
After an interest-generating discussion about "dirt" and microbes, students select and collect soil samples from a variety of locations (schoolyard, home, etc.). They make a dilution in sterile water, plate it on a nutrient agar Petri dish, and then observe it 1-7 days later.
Authors: Jennifer Hernandez and Matt Fujita
In this lesson, students identify insect (and plant) specimens using the online resource BioKeys. They record the data that they collect in their notebooks.
Food web
Author: Jennifer Hernandez
Students will learn use an interactive web-based food web game to gain familiarity with trophic levels and interactions.
Authors: Al Janulaw and Judy Scotchmoor
This lesson demonstrates variation within a population, which is central to evolution. In this activity the bird "beaks" are all the same, except for size. The proportion of big-, medium-, and small-beaked birds changes in response to the available types of food.