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Archived Information

Science and Technology/Engineering
Curriculum Framework - Spring 2001

What It Looks Like in the Classroom

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Additional Ideas for Developing Investigations and Learning Experiences and Suggested Extensions to Learning in Technology/Engineering are in Appendix III.

Organisms in Their Environment

Adapted from a submission by Ellie Horowitz, Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife

Life Science, Grades 3-5 (This activity can be adapted for other grade levels.)

Every year, third-grade teacher Ms. Trestin does a unit on living things called "Life in the Soil." On a trip to a wooded area or in the schoolyard, students look for living and nonliving things. Students often discover plants and animals, including insects, bugs, and other creatures living in and around leaf litter, rotting logs, or even behind plastic or wood in paved areas. These microhabitats and their residents can be a source of many questions and investigations. Ms. Trestin asks the students to identify, classify, catalog, and place in a food web the living organisms that they find. As students observe these creatures, the teacher asks them, "What does it look like, and what is it doing?" The students can develop field guides to the creatures of the microhabitats.

Then Ms. Trestin extends this unit by examining life in fresh water. Students visit a pond or stream, wade into the shallow water, and slide a dip net along the bottom. The creatures they catch are placed carefully in small containers and observed with a hand lens. The students compare the similarities and differences among the creatures found in each habitat.

As an extension to the study of plants and animals, students at any grade level can participate in Biodiversity Days, which offers the community an opportunity to see how many species they can find in their area. Students, teachers, and community members can investigate their schoolyard or recreation area, or join a townwide effort. Students make lists of the common plants and animals, and then look closely to find ones that are different. Students can bring field guides or lists provided for the Biodiversity Days event. A group of students may want to compile a list of everything they find, or they may want to focus on a single group like birds, reptiles, amphibians, or animals that live in or around vernal pools. The class members may want to combine their lists into a master list and pass it on as a reference for future observations. All of the information collected can be combined to create a school or townwide electronic field guide using digital cameras, a scanner, and computer software. Through the biodiversity event, this data can be submitted and included in a statewide database. For general information about biodiversity, visit Biodiversity Initiative page.

Assessment Strategies

  • Clearly state your expectations for the students' work. Outline the expectations for how the field guide data should be organized and recorded. It is helpful to have a sample of the level of work expected, such as a high quality field guide developed by previous students.
  • Develop a rubric that assesses how accurately the student identifies, classifies, catalogs, and places the organisms in a food web.
  • As a culminating activity, invite parents and friends to school and ask students to present their findings. The teacher may wish to ask a community member to help evaluate the students' presentations.

Science Learning Standards

1. Classify plants and animals according to the physical characteristics that they share.
3. Recognize that plants and animals go through predictable life cycles that include birth, growth, development, reproduction, and death.

Last Updated: May 1, 2001
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