May 212015
 

forest from trees

What controls the structure of forests and the leaves within that forest?  Individual leaves have very different shapes and even colors, but together they make up the forest canopy that traps light and water. This lesson aims to help students understand how the form of leaves and trees follows from the function of how plants use light and water. At the beginning of the class, instructors will lead a discussion on what trees need to grow. Students then will work individually on certain leaf types to understand how their shape influences their function; – this may involve collecting leaves, but also cutting out the shape of leaves or tracing the outline that the leaf shadow makes. Finally, students will see how the ways plants supply water to leaves interact with the capacity to capture light to influence leaf size.

At the conclusion of the lesson, students will be able to:

  • Name factors affect plant growth
  • Understand plants need energy, water and nutrient to survive
  • Explain how leaf size and tree height are shaped by sunlight and soil water
  • Describe the general relationship between leaf size and plant (or tree) height
  • Describe different strategies plants use to adapt to certain environments

Length of Lesson

  • 1 hour (if collecting leaves is not included)
  • 2 hours (include collecting leaves)

Grade Levels

Elementary (grade level 3-5)

Resources:

Lesson Plan created by GK-12 Fellows Di Liang and Brendan O’Neill, 2015

Putting Down Roots: The Evolution of Plants from Water to Land

Putting Down Roots: The Evolution of Plants from Water to Land

Plants play a major role in the lives of other living things, especially humans.  But it’s worth taking a look at how plants as we know them came to be, and where they came from. What adaptations allowed the first plants to survive on land?  How are the crops that make their way to our dinner tables different from their aquatic ancestors?  In this lesson students will learn about the different adaptations that led to mosses, ferns, gymnosperms, and angiosperms.  They will also have the opportunity to work hands-on with plant/algae samples to identify some of these adaptations and see where the samples fit along the evolutionary timeline. At the conclusion of the lesson, students will be able to: Identify the four main groups of terrestrial plants and list their evolutionary order Describe the key adaptations that distinguish terrestrial plant [...]

The Chi-square goodness of fit test: Application for testing genetic inheritance hypotheses

The Chi-square goodness of fit test: Application for testing genetic inheritance hypotheses

The Chi-square goodness of fit test can be used to test whether observed data are different from expected values based on a hypothesis.  This test and lesson is a good introduction to statistical analysis of biological data for high school students.  They will test their hypotheses with data and make scientifically rigorous conclusions. At the conclusion of the lesson, students will be able to: Formulate a hypothesis to test. Calculate expected values to test based on their hypothesis. Calculate the Chi-square value using a Chi-square table. Find the probability range for their Chi-square value and decide to support or reject their hypothesis based on the probability range. Resources: Lesson plan Powerpoint Chi-square student packet Chi-square teacher packet Lesson Plan created by GK-12 Fellow Bonnie McGill, 2014

Coevolving with Crossbills: A Tale of Two Pinecones

Coevolving with Crossbills: A Tale of Two Pinecones

Interactions between species can lead to coevolution. Even the interactions we observe in our own back yards, be they predator-prey interactions, species competition, or mutualism, can lead to two species reciprocally affecting each other’s evolution. In this lesson, students will learn about species interactions that lead to evolutionary arms races, using coevolution between crossbills, lodgepole pines, and red squirrels as an example. The lesson includes an activity to illustrate coevolution in action and a graphing activity. At the conclusion of the lesson, students will be able to: Define coevolution Identify and explain the types of species interactions that lead to coevolution Produce frequency distribution graphs that display coevolution between two species over time Resources: Lesson plan Powerpoint Graphing activity worksheet  Graphing/data recording spreadsheet (.xlsx) Spreadsheet instructions  Lesson Plan created by GK-12 Fellows Brendan O’Neill, Susan Magnoli, and Andy Booms, 2014

Not in my stream! The Asian carp invaders

Not in my stream! The Asian carp invaders

In this lesson, students will learn about watersheds, freshwater food webs, and invasive species through a power point presentation, a matching/coloring activity and a board game.  First, we will introduce students to the concepts of watersheds, food webs and invasive species.  Then we will introduce the Asian Carp, an invasive species that could become a threat to the Great Lakes watershed by traveling up the Mississippi River.  Students will fold, match, and color a worksheet that shows an aquatic food web with and without Asian Carp.  We will discuss what differences they find and how those differences could have ecological and social effects beyond the scope of the worksheet.  Next we will discuss with the students how plants and animals are not static, that is, they can change their strategies to adapt to changes in their environment.  To illustrate this [...]

Why do species cooperate? A card-based simulation of the ant-acacia mutualism

Why do species cooperate? A card-based simulation of the ant-acacia mutualism

All species interact with other species in their community. Some types of interactions are antagonistic, where one species benefits at the expense of another- such as predators and prey, or parasites and their hosts. However, interactions between species may also be mutualistic, where both species benefit from interactions with one another. Examples of mutualisms abound in nature, such as pollination, cleaner fish, and gut bacteria. Interacting species are constantly co-evolving. Predators may become faster to overcome their prey, while the prey get better at dodging attacks. Likewise, in cooperative interactions, each species is under selection to obtain the most benefit from the interaction at the lowest cost. Since cheating may have immediate benefits to an organism, it is difficult to understand how mutualisms evolve and remain stable through time. This lesson explores the circumstances that favor the evolution of cooperation, [...]

Connecting Landscapes in a Changing World

Connecting Landscapes in a Changing World

Changes to landscapes as a result of human activities often result in habitat fragmentation.  Habitat fragmentation not only results in smaller habitat patches and greater distance between those patches, but can also affect movement of organisms between the remaining fragments. Decreasing the ability of organisms to move between patches can have negative effects on the population, as well as potentially threatening the long-term persistence of a given species.  Designing reserves and connecting existing habitat patches are a couple ways to mitigate the negative effects of habitat fragmentation. One means that is used to connect habitat fragments is the establishment of landscape corridors.  Landscape corridors are areas of land between habitat fragments that are used to promote the movement of organisms between patches. Corridors can take on a number of shapes and forms, which depend on the movement requirements of the [...]

Decomposition: The Ultimate Disappearing Act!

Decomposition: The Ultimate Disappearing Act!

Decomposition is a complex process happening all around us.  The goal is to identify where decomposition is happening (in the fridge in the forest), examine important factors – biological, chemical and physical, and used an inquiry-based approach for students to set up their own experiments At the conclusion of the lesson, students will be able to: Understand the concepts involved in decomposition – physical, chemical and biological. Connect these concepts with their everyday experiences and knowledge and relate them to models of food webs and carbon cycling. Use concepts to construct a decomposition experiment that unites the above concepts. Resources: Lesson plan Powerpoint Worksheet Excel template (and example) for graphing Activity guide  Lesson plan created by fellow Brendan O’Neill and partner-teachers Jodie Lugar-McManus and Jennifer Boyle, 2014

Does Size Matter? Investigating the Physical Properties of Soil and their Effects on Plants

Does Size Matter? Investigating the Physical Properties of Soil and their Effects on Plants

Soil properties can often dictate the types of plants that can live in a particular habitat. The composition of soil affects everything from the amount of water available, to the types of nutrients and minerals present, to a plant’s root structure and growth. This lesson will focus its investigation on the particle sizes of various soil types. During this lesson, participants will look at sand, silt, and clay particles under a microscope and use this information to estimate the proportion of these components within various soil samples they have collected. They will also test the permeability of their soil and relate this to its makeup and particle size. Finally, plant adaptations to live in various soil types will be discussed, and a case study will incorporate data interpretation from a plant species that is adapted to live on a unique [...]

When mountains disappear where do they go? Inorganic carbon cycling in your belly and our ecosystems

When mountains disappear where do they go? Inorganic carbon cycling in your belly and our ecosystems

In this lesson, students will learn about the “other” carbon, that is, inorganic carbon and how it is important for understanding how mountains erode over millennia, how farmers utilize it to maintain soil health, and its role in the carbon cycle. This lesson will introduce students to the scale at which ecosystem ecology works. A small lab activity demonstrates the chemical reaction at the heart of this lesson (involving TUMS, hence “inorganic carbon cycling in your belly”). The lesson involves working with a scientific journal article and data from it. The journal article illustrates how scientists quantify how humans affect the ecosystem, more specifically, how the inorganic carbon in the river water tells a story about how humans use the land. Together, we walk through a series of graphs from the paper to arrive at conclusions by synthesizing information from [...]

Running the Gauntlet: Finding the Least-Cost Path

Running the Gauntlet: Finding the Least-Cost Path

Animals move across the landscape for many reasons – such as migration, dispersal, or simply to find enough food. These movements often force animals to move through less-than-ideal habitat where they’re more exposed to predators or dangers associated with human activity (think of a deer moving out of a forest to cross a highway). Because not all habitats making up a landscape are the same, there are often more- and less-costly paths an animal can take as it moves from one point to another.  In this lesson students will explore the costs of moving across a complex landscape.  The students’ goal is to find the least-cost (i.e. safest) path for a particular animal given knowledge of that animal’s habitat needs and preferences and the dangers associated with different habitats. At the conclusion of the lesson, students will be able to: [...]

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly: Species Interactions

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly: Species Interactions

Interactions are a way of life. All organisms interact with many other organisms on a daily basis. Some of these interactions are positive, benefitting all organisms involved. Some of these interactions are negative, which may cause harm. Plants, animals and all other living things interact, and these many interactions are readily observable in our own backyards. In this activity we will explore these interactions and predict how they will help or harm species when their environment changes (biotic or abiotic changes). At the conclusion of the lesson, students will be able to: Identify interactions between different species (observation) Name and describe the different types of species interactions Recognize that species may develop more than one relationship Predict the impact of environmental changes (biotic or abiotic) on the relationship or individual organism Resources: Lesson plan Powerpoint Game worksheet Elementary graphing activity [...]

Bringing Biology to Urban Design: All Aboard the Poop Train!

Bringing Biology to Urban Design: All Aboard the Poop Train!

There has been a significant shift in human populations toward urban areas, which in conjunction with the growing global population has increased the demand for resources like food and energy. In order to satisfy these demands, we must find ways to produce food and energy more sustainably and increase our energy efficiency. Some of the ways we try to accomplish these goals involve taking inspiration from biological systems. This two-part lesson will outline many of the ways that we have applied what we know about nature to make urban systems more sustainable, build in ways that reduce energy demand or increase efficiency, and manage our waste more effectively. At the conclusion of the lesson, students will be able to: Explain why there is an increasing demand for resources in urban areas Explain biologically-inspired strategies for providing food sustainably Explain how [...]

The Pig Bang Theory: Implications of Ignoring Evolution

The Pig Bang Theory: Implications of Ignoring Evolution

What do pest-resistant corn, antibiotic resistance and pig farm explosions have in common? Sometimes nature fights back against our attempts at environmental engineering, and we must change tactics accordingly.  Humans spend huge amounts of money and time to improve crops or domestic animals, and increasingly, we are finding that evolution can creatively side-step our intended goals. For instance, pest-resistant crops have resulted in new breeds of insects that are immune to our poisons. Modern farmers must find ways to prevent not only damage to their current crops, but evolution in pest populations that will eat their future fields. This lesson will focus on how evolution can hamper our efforts, and have explosive consequences. Students will learn how evolution happens in pest populations and have an opportunity to think critically about a current problem in agriculture using claims, evidence, and reasoning. [...]

Building Bliss for Butterflies

Building Bliss for Butterflies

Human impacts on the environment are progressively altering ecosystems across the world. In this lesson we explore the dramatic effects of these human impacts on a well-known example, Monarch butterflies, and introduce realistic steps students can take to help address this problem. In the first part of this lesson students will play a game where they will learn the hazards facing Monarch butterflies on their annual migration from Mexico to the Midwest. In the middle of the lesson students will learn how to build a butterfly garden at their schools that will provide critical breeding resources to Monarchs as well as attract and support other butterfly species. We provide resources where you can find milkweed seeds to plant in your own garden. At the end of the lesson we provide a Butterfly Garden Bingo exercise to help students explore other [...]

Big Roots for Big Problems: Exploring the Ecosystem Services of Roots

Big Roots for Big Problems: Exploring the Ecosystem Services of Roots

Student will explore the idea of what ecosystem services are, focusing on the importance of plant’s root systems. A brief introduction to ecosystem services will be followed by an interactive demonstration illustrating a basic ecosystem service. Then students will have an opportunity to construct their own root systems and test out their designs to see how they fare in a heavy rain event. Finally, after conducting a month long experiment with different watering regimes, students will determine whether certain plants are more equipped to deal with drought and what makes them better. This is a highly interactive lesson that requires some preparation prior to implementation. Objectives At the conclusion of the lesson, students will be able to: Understand how healthy ecosystems provide valuable services Distinguish between four different categories of ecosystem services Understand the specific role of roots in providing [...]