- Big Ideas
- Essential Questions
- Content outcomes Addressed
- Standards Addressed
- Background Information
- Pre- and Post-Assessment
- Investigation: Square of Life — Animals
Print this Page
Resources for This Lesson
Worksheet 1 - Schoolyard Map
Worksheet 2 - Square of Life Observations 1
Worksheet 3 - More Square of Life Observations
Worksheet 4 - Schoolyard Animal Survey
Worksheet 5 - Animal Evidence Survey
Worksheet 6 - Animal Card Template
We can learn about the natural world around us through careful observation, classification, and identification of the animals in our local environment, and when the animals are not visible, the evidence that they have been there.
Animals and plants interact with each other.
Some environments have an abundance of species of animals, and some do not.
How can we observe, record, classify, and identify animals in our outdoor environment?
How are animals in different habitats the same and how are they different?
How does the abundance of different species of animals compare to the abundance in other habitats?
How do animals and plants interact with each other?
Content outcomes Addressed
Students will be able to
- create and read a map of the schoolyard.
- observe, draw, and describe the animals in their schoolyard environment.
- classify and identify the animals based on their physical characteristics, behaviors, and evidence that they have left behind.
- correlate the animals with specific types of environments (“squares of life”).
- note abundance or lack of abundance of species of animals in their “squares of life.”
- compare and contrast the animals’ characteristics and behaviors in varying areas in the schoolyard.
- Disciplinary Core Ideas: ESS3.A (K-2), LS1.C (K-3), 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
Biodiversity is the variety of life. It can be studied on many levels. At the highest level, you can look at all the different species on the entire Earth. On a much smaller scale, you can study biodiversity within a pond ecosystem or a neighborhood park. Identifying and understanding the relationships between all the life on Earth are some of the greatest challenges in science.
Most people recognize biodiversity by species. A species is a group of living organisms that can interbreed. Examples of species include blue whales, white-tailed deer, white pine trees, sunflowers, and microscopic bacteria that you cannot even see with your eye. Biodiversity includes the full range of species that live in an area.
This lesson begins to set the stage for understanding species biodiversity, or the variety of plants and animals in a particular habitat.
- environment: the whole complex of factors (such as soil, climate, and living things) that influence the form and the ability to survive of a plant or animal or ecological community
- biodiversity: biological variety in an environment as indicated by numbers of different species of plants and animals
- ecosystem: a system made up of an ecological community of living things interacting with their environment, especially under natural conditions
- species: a class of things of the same kind and with the same name
- organism: an individual living thing that carries on the activities of life by means of organs which have separate functions but are dependent on each other; a living person, plant, or animal
- habitat: the place where an animal or plant normally lives
Pre- and Post-Assessment
What do we already know? Students predict, draw, and/or write their ideas about these questions:
- What’s Alive? Have a discussion with students about what they believe distinguishes a living from a nonliving thing. Repeat this conversation after the unit.
- How can we learn about the animals in our schoolyard?
- What can we learn from studying the animals in our schoolyard?
Children’s responses to these pre-assessment questions will reveal common misconceptions and indicate the growth of concept development. At the end of the unit, check again for understanding to see what has been learned.
Investigation: Square of Life — Animals
- areas around the schoolyard (playground, garden, compost pile, woods, field, parking lot, etc.)
- lined, blank, and graph paper, pencils and colored pencils
- rope or string
- meter sticks or tape measures
- wooden stakes with ribbon attached
- accompanying observation worksheets
- blank index cards
- animal books, field guides, and computers for Internet research
Before you begin the lesson, look around your schoolyard for different habitats to investigate. You might find a soccer or baseball field, blacktop area, garden, playground, woods, fields, or compost pile. Rope off different squares of 16.4 feet x 16.4 feet (5 m x 5 m), one or two squares in each type of environment. Or, you might wait and guide the children in marking off the squares themselves.
- What living and nonliving things are there in our outdoor environment?
- How do we know something is living or nonliving?
- How can we investigate the animals that live around us?
- What different areas of the schoolyard can we look at?
- What animals do we predict we will find?
- How can we tell if an animal has been there even if we can’t see it?
- How can we identify animals that we see or hear as well as animals that have been there but that we can’t see?
1. Take a walk in the schoolyard, looking for a variety of areas that can be studied. Notice different environments, such as the woods, garden, compost pile, parking lot, playground, soccer or baseball field, basketball court, etc.
2. Make a map of the schoolyard at the next session. (Worksheet 1: Schoolyard Map). Students take outside with them a map that has been begun inside, perhaps with the school building already drawn in. As they walk around the schoolyard, they draw in the special areas that they had identified on the previous walk.
3. Back in the classroom, students choose an area of the schoolyard to study. Divide them into groups, with each group responsible for a specific area to study. They highlight that area on their maps.
4. Go outside again and have the students measure and stake out their study squares, or “Squares of Life,” within their designated areas. These squares could be 16.4 feet x 16.4 feet (5 m x 5 m). With meter sticks, tape measures, or pre-measured strings, students measure their squares, creating perimeters with string and posting a stake at each corner.
5. To prepare the students for observing in their Square of Life, ask them:
- What do you think we might see and hear in your Square of Life?
- How will we remember what we’ve seen and heard?
- What details do we need to include on our observation sheets?
Hand out observation worksheet (Worksheet 2: Square of Life Observation 1) for the first time observing, which incorporates many of the ideas just discussed. Go over this worksheet and subsequent ones before going outside each time so that students know what to do when they get out into the field.
6. Students take outdoors clipboards, observation worksheets, pencils (and/or colored pencils) and go to their designated plots. They observe and record what they see and hear in their Square of Life, focusing on the animals there and any evidence that they may find of animals having been there.
7. After this outdoor observational session and subsequent ones (see #9 below), students return to the classroom and share their observations.
8. 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 animals that we saw or heard?
- What animals did we see or hear?
- What were the animals doing?
- How did they interact with their environment?
- How did they interact with each other?
- What evidence of animals did you see?
- How can we identify the animals whose evidence we saw?
- What animal (including evidence of) was the most common?
- How many different species of animals did you see or see evidence of?
- Did your Square of Life have many or a few kinds of animals (high or low biodiversity)?
- Do you think that you saw all of the animals that live in your Square of Life? Why or why not?
- Were some animals 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 in your Square of Life?
- What questions do you have?
9. Organize results of the students’ observations by making class charts. This might include lists of the animals seen or heard, evidence of animals seen, numbers of species of animals in different plots as well as similarities and differences among the animals.
10. Take students outside for subsequent visits to their plots. For each visit, students will be asked to become increasingly detailed about their observations. (Worksheet 3: More Square of Life Observations, Worksheet 4: Schoolyard Animal Survey, and Worksheet 5: Animal Evidence Survey.) Use these observation worksheets in a way that will work for you and your class. Follow up the fieldwork with a class discussion, using questions (#8 above) as a guide.
11. Create animal cards using a template (see Worksheet 6: Animal Card Template). Students choose one animal that they have observed carefully (actually seen, heard, or seen evidence of) 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 animal, here are some topics for them to research:
- Common Name
- Friends and Foes
- Conservation Status
- Size and Weight
12. Collect these cards, as they will be used later in the unit.
1. Conduct the “Square of Life — Animals” exercise again with students investigating plots different from the ones that they have already investigated. Compare and contrast results.
2. Conduct the “Square of Life — Animals” exercise at home in a manner similar to the school investigation. Report findings to class.
3. Play the What Animal Am I? game.
Tape a picture of an animal (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 animals 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 animals’ identities.
Some questions that would be helpful for the students to ask are related to what the mystery animal eats, where it lives, its physical properties (such as size, coloration, number of feet, etc.), how it moves, what eats it.
4. Investigate animal tracks and the stories they tell, then create original track stories.
5. Create a schoolyard field guide of animals.