- Big Ideas
- Essential Questions
- Content Outcomes Addressed
- Standards Addressed
- Background Information
- Pre- and Post-Assessment
- Investigation: Square of Life — Plants
- How can we observe, record, classify, and identify plants in our our outdoor environment?
- How are plants in different habitats the same, and how are they different?
- How does the abundance of different species of plants in one habitat compare to the abundance in other habitats?
- How do plants and animals interact with each other?
Content Outcomes Addressed
Students will be able to
- read a map of the schoolyard.
- observe, draw, and describe the plants in their schoolyard environment.
- notice interactions between plants and animals.
- classify and identify the plants based on their physical characteristics.
- correlate the plants with specific types of environments (“squares of life”).
- note abundance or lack of abundance of species of plants in their “squares of life.”
- compare and contrast plant characteristics in varying areas in the schoolyard.
- Disciplinary Core Ideas: ESS3.A (K-2), LS1.C (3-5), LS2.A (K-2) (3-5), LS3.B (3), LS4.D (K-2) (3-5)
- Science and Engineering Practices: 1-8
- Crosscutting Concepts: 1, 2, 3, 4
- Reading: RI.3.1, RI.3.2, RI.3.3, RI.3.7, RI.4.7, RI.5.7, RI.5.9
- Writing: W.3.2, W.3.7, W.3.8, W.4.2, W.4.7, W.4.8, W.5.7, W.5.8
- Speaking and Listening: SL.3.4
- Mathematical Practice: MP.2, MP.5
- Measurement & Data: 3.MD.B.4
National Geography Standards:1, 2, 4, 8
There are numerous plants and species of plants on Earth, but all plants use sunlight to grow and reproduce. Plants share many properties, but they also differ from each other in certain ways. We can learn to identify plants around us by carefully observing their properties and noting their similarities and differences.
Plants are essential for all life on Earth. Humans depend on plants. Everything we eat comes directly or indirectly from plants. Many of our medications today come from plants. Plants give off oxygen and help clean the air for us to breathe. Other animals, too, depend on plants for food, shelter, and protection.
- properties: a special quality of something
- species: a group of plants that are more like each other than they are like any other group of plants
- reproduce: to produce new plants of the same kind
Pre- and Post-Assessment
What do we already know? Students predict, draw, and/or write their ideas about these questions:
- How can we learn about the plants in our schoolyard?
- What can we learn from studying the plants outside in our schoolyard?
At the end of the unit, check again for understanding.
Investigation: Square of Life — Plants
- areas around the schoolyard (playground, garden, compost pile, woods, field, parking lot, etc.)
- lined, blank, and graph paper, pencils and colored pencils
- “Squares of Life” study plots already measured, staked, and mapped (from Unit 1, Lesson 1)
- accompanying observation worksheets (see Resources for this Lesson)
- blank cards (for plant cards)
- plant books, field guides, and computers for Internet research
Before you begin the lesson, make sure that the plots (“Squares of Life”) that were used for animal observations are still measured off, staked, and useable. Check that the maps the students created are available.
- How can we investigate the plants that live around us?
- What different areas of the schoolyard did we look at to investigate animals?
- If we go back to our “Squares of Life,” what plants do we predict we will find?
- What properties of the plants can we look at to give us information?
- Do you think we will find evidence of interaction between the plants and animals?
1. Review the maps that the students made for their animal investigations.
2. Explain that they will revisit their “Square of Life” (from Unit 1, Lesson 1) to investigate the plants that live there.
3. Go over the observation worksheet (Worksheet 1: Schoolyard Plant Observations) that the students will take outside with them.
4. With worksheets, pencils, colored pencils, and clipboards, students revisit the plots that they looked at for their animal investigation.
5. They observe and record what they see and hear in their Square of Life, focusing on groups of plants there.
6. After this outdoor observational session and subsequent ones (see #8 below), students return to the classroom and communicate observations through class discussion. Possible Questions for Discussion: (Choose which ones are appropriate for your class and for the observations made for each session.)
- What did you notice?
- What nonliving things did we notice in our Squares of Life? What living things did we notice?
- How can we identify the plants that we saw?
- What plants did you see?
- Did you see any animals interacting with the plants?
- Was there evidence that any animals had been interacting with the plants?
- What plant was the most common?
- How many different species of plants did you see?
- Did your Square of Life have many or a few kinds of plants (high or low biodiversity)?
- Do you think that you saw all of the plants that live in your Square of Life? Why or why not?
- Were some plants easier to see than others? If so, what caused them to be easier to be seen?
- How do you think your observations would be different if you observed in a different season?
- How do you think your observations would be different if you observed in a different Square of Life?
- What did you find most interesting about your experience this time in your Square of Life?
- What questions do you have?
7. Organize results of the students’ observations by making class charts. This might include lists of the plants seen, evidence of animals having interacted with the plants, numbers of species of plants in different plots as well as similarities and differences between the plants.
8. Take students outside for subsequent visits to their plots. For each visit, students are asked to become increasingly detailed about their observations. (Worksheet 2: More Plant Observations, and Worksheet 3: Plant Survey.) Use these observation sheets in a way that will work for you and your class. Follow up the fieldwork with a class discussion, using questions (#6 above) as a guide.
9. Create plant cards using a template (see Worksheet 4). Students choose one plant that they had observed carefully in their plot and study it some more by going back to their Square of Life and observing and by reading books, field guides, and internet articles. In addition to drawing a picture of the plant, here are some topics for them to research:
- Common Name
- Location in the country
- Description of flowers (eg. color), leaves (eg. opposite or alternating), stems (eg. smooth or hairy)
- Size (height)
10. Collect these cards, for they will be used later on in the unit.
- Conduct the “Square of Life — Plants” exercise again, with students investigating plots different from the ones that they have already investigated. Compare and contrast results.
- Conduct the “Square of Life — Plants” exercise at home in a manner similar to the school investigation. Report findings to class.
- Have the students ask a grandparent (or parent if grandparent is not available) how s/he uses plants for medicine, eating, or any other purpose. In addition, the students may ask their grandparents if there are any traditions in their family that incorporate using plants. Students take notes and report back to the class.
- Students create a class or individual dried plant collection. Carefully and sparingly, they collect samples of leaves, grass, seeds, and flowers from the school grounds. They place the specimens between two pieces of absorbent paper, such as newspaper or flat cardboard, and put heavy objects, such as books, on top. A heavy phone book will work just as well. Students place the specimens between two pages of the phone book, skip a few pages (to equal ⅛ inch), and place some more specimens between another set of two pages. They continue in this manner until their plants are all in the book. Next they put a heavy object, such as a brick, on top of the phone book. They leave it untouched for two to three weeks. When they open up the book, they will have a great collection of schoolyard plant samples! Next, they take out the specimens and, using transparent tape, affix them into a notebook. Students can organize their book and label each specimen with its name and collection site and date. Now they have a botanical field guide of the schoolyard!
- Play the What Plant Am I? game. Tape a picture of a plant (that could be found in your schoolyard) onto the back of each student in the class. The students walk around the room asking “yes/no” questions to each other in an attempt to identify the plants that are represented on their backs. Classmates may only answer “yes” or “no.” If the question is not a “yes/no” question, the classmate may respond, “Cannot compute.” Students move around to many of the others in the class until they guess the identity of their plant. Some questions that would be helpful for the students to ask are related to its physical properties (such as size, coloration, number of leaves on one plant), size of the group that it is in, evidence that an animal has interacted with it.