2013 Life Science Curriculum

Loon Nesting Platforms

Students will be learning about ecology and ecosystems through the construction of loon nesting platforms. Students will find a good location for their platform based on characteristics of the loon habitat and the dietary needs of loons. After incorporating food chains and food webs, students will be able to make an educated decision as to where to place their platform. Students will explore predator/prey relationships during the construction of their nesting platform. Students will also have the opportunity to improve the design of their nesting platform.


Pollutants in the Pond

Most students in Minnesota live in communities with ponds and/or lakes located near their homes.  Many students spend time at a lake cabin in the summer.   Building on this connection, we will pose a problem about a local golf course that has been using too much fertilizer causing the lake ecosystem to become unhealthy and out of balance and unhealthy.  Throughout the unit, students will attain background knowledge about a pond/lake food web and the interdependence of these organisms, the damage that phosphorus in fertilizer can cause on an aquatic ecosystem, and the history of a local body of water.   Students will record observations at a nearby pond/lake, collect and examine water samples and identify organisms found in the area.  During the unit, students will analyze data, learn about random sampling, and construct line graphs.   Students will ultimately design a barrier or other means of stopping or slowing fertilizer from running off into a model pond/lake.


Plants and Space

Students will be split in groups to run controlled experiments to determine how soil mass or water volume impacts plant growth over the course of the 4 weeks of growing. Students will pick an amount of soil or an amount of water that they will use for the duration of the experiment.  They will collect data on plant growth over the course of 4 weeks and compare their results to others and to the control plants to see which amount of each soil and water are most effective for successful plant growth. 

Eco House

Students will be working in teams of 4-5 children design and construct a house no larger than 864 square feet (24'x36') at a scale of 1/2 inch = 1 foot, which means the model houses will have a maximum foot print of 216 square inches (12"x18"). They will only be constructing the exteriors -walls, roof, windows & doors - and insulating.  Time does not allow us to address interior design or furnishings. The house that retains the most heat possible using the fewest materials as measured by weight will win the design challenge. The project is meant as vehicle for students to examine the science around climate change.


Puddling Butterflies

The United States is a large expanse of land containing many types of ecosystems that support interactions between diverse collections of organisms.  Unfortunately, with our settling of this land, habitat destruction has endangered the lives of many organisms including many types of butterflies.  As stated by The Butterfly Conservation Institute, “Land alteration and fragmentation, chemicals (such as pesticides), and non-native species are leading contributors to the decline of butterfly populations in North America” (http://butterflyrecovery.org/education/, 2013).  This unit focuses on the butterfly species Karner blue, which is listed federally as an endangered species due to human land use altering their specialized habitat of sandy barrens and savannas where wild blue lupine grows from Maine to northern Iowa.  Some butterflies, including blues, get needed minerals by drinking at mud puddles.  The engineer design of this unit challenges fifth grade students to design mud puddles that evaporate slower than natural puddles for the DNR and USFWS to maintain in listed managed areas for the Karner blue butterfly.  In this unit, students make connections between ecosystem interactions, organism adaptations, and energy transfer in food chains to the need of humans to positively impact the natural environment.  This unit is using information related to Karner blues in Minnesota; however, suggestions are made throughout the unit on how to adapt the unit for other states.