Duration: 30 – 60 minutes
Vocabulary: environment, habitat, observation, survey, magnifying glass
Summary: Students will compare different areas outside (i.e. mowed lawn or baseball diamond vs. forested edge or stream) to see which one is a healthier environment for plants and animals to live.
Objectives: Students will learn what makes an environment a healthy habitat for plants/animals to live, and how to recognize these areas.
Materials: magnifying glasses, plastic tweezers, plastic containers, hand trowels (optional), string tied into 1 meter diameter circles (optional)
Just like humans, plants and animals need certain things in order to survive. Most importantly, they need food, water, and shelter. Certain types of environments are better at providing these than others.
When we are deciding whether or not an environment is a healthy place for plants and animals to live, we want to look to see if that environment can provide them with food, water, and shelter.
We also want to look to see how many different kinds of animals can live in a certain environment. The more different kinds of animals we find—insects, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and plants—the healthier that environment is. In other words, the better that environment is at sustaining life. Think about it—if a habitat only had pine trees, it could only support animals that eat pine trees. If a habitat had a variety of different trees and plants, though, it could support more wildlife.
When scientists want to determine how healthy an area is, they will conduct a survey. In this survey they will look for and count all of the different types of animals and plants they find. In this activity, we will also be searching for and counting different creatures! We will specifically be comparing the results of two different areas to see which one might be a healthier environment.
Warm Up: Ask students to think of a mall parking lot, or a movie theater, or even the inside of a school. Do they ever see animals here? Do they think an animal would be happy living in that environment? Why or why not? Show students the pictures (see handouts section) and ask them to count the amount of wildlife they see in each pictures (try to include plants if they are up for it!).
Also take a few moments to explain to students how the magnifying glasses work. Also explain that anything that is collected during this activity will be released back where it was found at the end. Explain why we do this—all creatures should be able to keep living their lives happily, just like they were before we found them!
Have students work in groups of two or three. Handout one container, one set of tweezers, and one magnifying glass to each group. Instruct them to take turns sharing these tools, and explain that they are allowed to gently collect things they find loose on or in the ground, but should not pick living plants and should be very careful collecting insects.
Have students first investigate an area that does not have much life. This could be a parking lot, baseball diamond, playground, or grass area by the school. Instruct students to stay in their small area for the entire time—keep looking even if they can’t find very much! Optional: give each group a circle made of string—instruct them to put it on the ground and only search within the string. Have students search and collect for 7 to 10 minutes. Emphasize the need to be patients, observant, and share with their partner.
Have the groups come back together and share the different things they found. Then, choose a different area that might be a healthier environment—a strip of trees along the edge of school grounds, a nearby stream, forest, or wetland, etc. Have the students repeat the same activity. Come together again after 7 to 10 minutes and have them share what they found.
Have students compare what they found in the two different areas. Ask them if one area had more signs of life than the other. Ask them if they can tell which one might be a better place for animals to live. Why is it a better habitat?
Have students compare an area of their yard at home to what they saw at the school. Have them make a list of the different plants or animals they observe.
Ask the students ways that they can make the school grounds a healthier environment for animals to live in.
Have students repeat this activity during different seasons. Do the results change at all depending on the time of year?