Authors: Beth Bisson1, Medea Steinman2, and Esperanza Stancioff1,2
1Maine Sea Grant
2University of Maine Cooperative Extension
Grade level: 4-12
Themes: Phenology, animal and plant life cycles and life history
Activity type: Field observation and drawing
Setting: Classroom or outdoors
Instead of the traditional circle-shaped life cycle drawings that you see in many books, this activity shows you a way to have your group/class use their species observations to draw a life cycle for one or more of Signs of the Seasons (SOS) species. For this exercise, the drawing is stretched out in a line and matched to the dates on a calendar year. (If you aren’t able to observe all phenophases, you can estimate, based on guidebook information).
Students use SOS phenology observation protocols and data sheets to monitor plants or animals on their school grounds or in a local park. They use their recorded data to develop a timeline of species’ phenophases. Students learn field observation and data collection skills. They learn to look for patterns and relationships in and among species. They are encouraged to hypothesize and infer meaning from their observations and they have the opportunity to share what they learn by giving presentations at school.
A1 Unifying Themes – Systems
3-5. Students explain interactions between parts that make up whole man-made and natural things.
6-8. Students describe and apply principles of systems in man-made things, natural things, and processes.
9-Diploma. Students apply an understanding of systems to explain and analyze man-made and natural phenomena.
A3 Unifying Themes – Constancy and Change
3-5 a. Recognize patterns of change including steady, repetitive, irregular, or apparently unpredictable change.
6-8. Students describe how patterns of change vary in physical, biological, and technological systems.
B1 Skills and Traits of Scientific Inquiry
3-5 a. Pose investigable questions and seek answers from reliable sources of scientific information and from their own investigations.
6-8. Students plan, conduct, analyze data from, and communicate results of investigations, including simple experiments.
C1 The Scientific and Technological Enterprise – Understandings of Inquiry
3-5 a. Describe how scientists answer questions by developing explanations based on observations, evidence, and knowledge of the natural world.
9-diploma. Students describe key aspects of scientific investigations: that they are guided by scientific principles and knowledge, that they are performed to test ideas, and that they are communicated and defended publicly.
E2 The Living Environment – Ecosystems
3-5. Students describe ways organisms depend upon, interact within, and change the living and non-living environment as well as ways the environment affects organisms.
6-8. Students examine how the characteristics of the physical, non-living (abiotic) environment, the types and behaviors of living (biotic) organisms, and the flow of matter and energy affect organisms and the ecosystem of which they are part.
Expectations and Misconceptions: It’s important to mention to students that variability is normal in the natural world. If they do not see changes when they expect to, or among all individuals of the same species, they should be cautioned against leaping to conclusions. Encourage them to think carefully about what they have observed and consider as many explanations as possible.
Note: see Resources section below for links to these items on the Web
And, depending on what species will be monitored:
(See the Resources section below for links to SOS/NPN websites and materials)
Reflection: Ask participants to reflect on their field experience, the data collection system, and the preparation of the timeline. Reflect on what worked well and what they could do differently next time. Ask them to talk about any ways their expectations about the life cycle timing were or were not met. Can they speculate about possible reasons or causes?
Formative assessment: Collect the students’ science notebooks or journals to see how well they recorded their observations and understood the process and the data they collected. Do they seem more comfortable with the process of making observations and collecting data in the field? Save examples of student work for reference the next time you try this activity.
Compare your life-cycle calendar to a historical phenology calendar (such as those Thoreau created), to see if you notice any differences. [Note: SOS staff has copies of historical phenology calendars created by Henry David Thoreau and Aldo Leopold that they will be glad to share with you.]
Also, consider what the calendar says about the species’ needs and requirements. By doing this for more than one species, students can see how they overlap in their development. Talk about pairs of species that might be dependent on one another (monarch and milkweed, for example). Speculate on what might happen if the timing of one species’ phenophases shifted to earlier or later. How could that affect the other species? Discuss as a group possible changes in the environment that could cause (or may have already caused) that timing to shift.
Signs of the Seasons (http://umaine.edu/signs-of-the-seasons/)
USA National Phenology Network (http://www.usanpn.org)
Getting set up with Signs of the Seasons:
SOS Field Guide (http://umaine.edu/signs-of-the-seasons/resources-for-observers/)
SOS Indicator Species (http://umaine.edu/signs-of-the-seasons/indicator-species/)
USA-NPN Nature’s Notebook (https://www.usanpn.org/user?destination=MyNPN)
To get started, follow instructions in the Field Guide for selecting a site and choosing species and individual plants to observe. Then register an account with Nature’s Notebook. Once you do that and enter your site(s) and species list, you’ll be able to access the Data Sheets for downloading and printing. These can be used outdoors when recording your observations.
For assistance contact:
Esperanza Stancioff, Climate Change Educator
University of Maine Cooperative Extension/Maine Sea Grant
207.832.0343; 1.800.244.2104 (in Maine); firstname.lastname@example.org
Beth Bisson, Assistant Director for Outreach and Education
Maine Sea Grant College Program
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