Earthwatch Endangered Ecosystems Home Scholastic Explorers







Teaching the Lesson Grades 4–5

This lesson can be taught in 5–7 days but each section can be taught in 1–3 class periods.

Lesson Introduction:
Students in this age group will focus on one animal and its unique environment and balance needed to maintain their ecosystem. Students will practice their reading comprehension, note taking, presentation, and writing skills.

For more lesson plan ideas for these grades see: MEG TO SEND ADDITIONAL LESSON PLANS

Your Mission (1 Day)
Encourage students to share what they may already know about endangered ecosystems. Also suggest that they talk about  wildcats, caterpillars, and otters, the animals involved in the projects.

Ask them to explain what they want to find out by participating in this project. Have students read the Your Mission sections. Afterward, lead a class discussion by asking questions such as:

  • Why do they think an organization like Earthwatch is important?
  • Why is it a good idea to have ordinary people participate in these kinds of explorations?

After the discussion, have students locate the field sites on a map or globe.

Go over the different components of the project with students. Explain that they will

  • read about research at the field sites;
  • read field reports from team members at the site;
  • conduct their own research on ecosystems in their lives;
  • explore and build an interactive food web;
  • create a caterpillar that suits its environment.

Suggest that a good strategy to keep track of all the new information they will learn is to organize it in a chart. Hand students copies of the KWL Chart (PDF) and encourage them to fill out the sheet as they explore the activity.

Split the class into two groups: Wildcats and Caterpillars. Explain to students that they will be exploring the specific endangered ecosystem to their appointed animal. Tell students that they need to gather and organize information so they can share what they have learned with the rest of the groups.

Group 1: Wildcats

Wildcats Field Reports and Interview Transcript (2 Days)
Have students read the online field reports and interview transcript from the Chamela field site. Have them keep in mind what they want to find out while they learn about the explorer mission.

To launch a class discussion about the readings, ask questions such as the following:

  • Describe the physical attributes, climate, and geology of the Chamela, Mexico, region.
  • How do scientists like Carlos López González study the carnivores of the Mexican dry forest?
  • What is the difference between a wild-cat track and a coyote or fox track?
  • What have scientists learned by tracking the animals of the Chamela region by radio?
  • Why are the wildcats important to the ecosystem?
  • Explain how the boa constrictor fits into the food web of the tropical dry forest.
  • What is the process that the explorers go through when they catch an animal?
  • Why is it important for species populations to be kept in balance?
  • What would happen to the food web if the big cats disappeared?

Allow students time to add new information or questions to their KWL charts. Afterwards, talk about the collaborative nature of the field mission. Explain that team members work together to collect data about the forest's carnivores. Tell students that they can collaborate with each other by sharing questions and ideas. Encourage them to add any new ideas or questions that appeal to them to their graphic organizers.

Show What You Know: Build a Food Web (1 day)
Have students interact with the Food Web activity so that they will gain an understanding of the eating habits of dry tropical forest animals. Encourage them to explore what each animal eats and what eats each animal.

As the students interact with the Food Web, have them use the facts they've gathered to complete the KWL Chart. Afterward, have students draw conclusions about the effects of changes on the food web. To get students thinking about these changes, ask questions like the following:

  • What would happen to the ecosystem if there were no predators that ate insects?
  • Which prey serves as food to the most predators?
Group 2: Caterpillars

Caterpillar Field Reports (2 Days)
Have students read the online Caterpillar Field Report pages. Remind them that later in the project they will build their own caterpillar that is suited to its particular environment. Have them keep in mind what they want to find out while they learn about the explorer mission.

To launch a class discussion about the readings, ask questions such as the following:

  • Describe the physical attributes, climate, and animals of the La Selva Biological Reserve, in Costa Rica.
  • Why do tropical rainforests have such a diverse collection of plants and animals?
  • Define biodiversity and explain why it is so important.
  • How do caterpillars affect the tropical rainforest?
  • What are ways that caterpillars defend themselves from predators?
  • What are the life cycle stages of the caterpillar?
  • Describe the parts of the caterpillar.
  • What are some behavior characteristics of the caterpillar?
  • Describe what takes place in the caterpillar "zoo."
  • What is the canopy layer of the rainforest like?
  • What did scientists learn about caterpillars from the data they collected?
  • Why is it essential for conservationists to know as much as they can about rainforest ecosystems?

Allow students time to return to their graphic organizers and add new information or questions. Afterwards, talk about the collaborative nature of the field mission. Explain that team members work together to collect data about the rainforest's caterpillars. Tell students that they can collaborate with each other by sharing questions and ideas. Encourage them to add any new ideas or questions that appeal to them to their graphic organizers.

Show What You Know: Build Your Own Caterpillar (1 day)

Schedule computer time to allow each student to go to the Build Your Own Caterpillar activity. Have them use the online technology to build a caterpillar that suits a particular environment. Suggest that students keep in mind the needs of the caterpillar:

  • to find food;
  • to defend itself from predators;
  • to build a cocoon where it will metamorphose into a moth or butterfly.

After students have created caterpillars encourage them to print out and share their designs. Have them explain why their design is suited to its environment.

Project Wrap-Up (2-3 days)
Each group should take one day to create an oral presentation for the other group to learn about their animal and their endangered ecosystem. Students can create a PowerPoint presentation or print all the material and present their findings on poster board. Encourage students to illustrate what they learned with images as well as graphs and charts.  Give each group at least half a period to a period to make their presentation. Encourage the listening group to listen actively by writing down any questions they may have. See assessment and evaluation.

After both presentations are complete, have a class discussion. Encourage them to compare and contrast the two endangered ecosystems and talk about how they can be involved in the ecosystems around them. If any student still has unanswered questions from their KWL chart, see if any other student has an answer. Students will have the opportunity to ask their questions of scientist Dr. Alexine Keuroghlian from the Pantanal and Endangered Ecosystems during a live interview on April 29th, 11 a.m.–12 p.m. ET.

Extend the lesson: Brazilian River Otters
If you have time to study another ecosystem, have the class as a whole study the Brazilian river otters.

River Otter Field Reports and Bulletin Board (2 Days)
Have students read the online field reports keeping in mind what they want to find out while they learn about the explorer mission.

To launch a class discussion about the readings, ask questions such as the following:

  • Describe the physical attributes, climate, and geology of the Pantanal region.
  • How do the students help the scientists study the river otters?
  • Why is the environment important for the river otter?
  • What have scientists learned so far about human influences on the ecosystem? How does this affect the river otters?
  • Why are the river otters important to the ecosystem?
  • Why is it important for species populations to be kept in balance?
  • What would happen to the food web if the river otters disappeared?

Allow students time to add new information or questions to their graphic organizers. Students will have the opportunity to ask their own questions of scientist Dr. Alexine Keuroghlian from the Pantanal and Endangered Ecosystems during a live interview on April 29th, 11 a.m.-12 p.m. ET.

Be an Explorer (5 days)
Encourage students to talk about what they've learned about ecosystems. How did the Earthwatch Explorers conduct their scientific inquiries? How did they keep track of their data? Tell them that they will investigate a local ecosystem. Ask them to explain what they want to find out by participating in this fieldwork.

Have students read the Be an Explorer section. Before beginning their fieldwork they should think about what they want to know about that particular ecosystem. Have them research as much information as they can before they go out to their study site.

Remind them to collect all the necessary materials for their field observations. Students should also take precise notes and pictures of their observations. Point out that they need to take special care of any samples they collect.

Allow students time to visit their study sites a few times during the week.

When student observations have been made, have them sort and analyze their data. What do they notice about their samples and observations? Do they know how their insect and plant samples fit into the local food web? Did they find patterns in the animal tracks in their track traps?

Have students brainstorm ideas about where they can conduct additional research on their observations and samples. Where will they go to find answers to questions about their data and samples?

If students have collected live samples of insects, be sure that they return them to where they were first captured.

Allow students time to share their discoveries. Encourage them to explain their observation and collection techniques. Ask questions such as: What did they learn about collecting data in the field? What was the most interesting observation they made? What was the most puzzling question they had? How did they go about finding more information about their data?

Cross Curricular Extensions

Art
Invite students to create animal "trading cards," with illustrations of an animal found in the tropical dry forest on one side and facts on the back. They can use the Interactive Food Web as one way to research facts. Tell students NOT to label the front of the cards, so that classmates can use the cards to quiz each other. One student shows the front of the card to a partner and reads the clues on the back, while the other student guesses what the animal is.

To get a better sense of the biodiversity in an ecosystem, create a classroom mural of a tropical forest or wetland. Include all the animals, both predator and prey, as well as the vegetation. Have students imagine the sounds and smells in the forest or wetland.

Have students design posters that support efforts to save endangered ecosystems around the world. Students may also wish to include images or facts of the dangers facing these ecosystems — or things people can do to help. Posters can be illustrated with drawings or with pictures cutout from nature magazines. Remind students to label all illustrations and cut outs and to title their posters.

Language Arts
Divide the class into small groups and have each group write a brief play set in the tropical forest or wetland. Animals featured in the Interactive Food Web, different caterpillars, or an otter family can be the characters. Think about which animals are prey and predator, and how they might react to each other. Have each group perform their play for the class.

Have students write a diary entry from the point of view of the Earthwatch scientist or one of the volunteers. What did they do and see that day? What were some of the sights, sounds, and smells they encountered tracking the  wildcats in the forest? Were they scared, excited, frustrated, proud?

Math
As the class is researching different  wildcats, record the size of each cat on a chart. Have students use graph paper to draw their  wildcat, using the scale 1 inch = 1 foot. Display students' drawings on the chalkboard. Which is the largest  wildcat found in the tropical dry forest? How much bigger is it than the smallest  wildcat? How do the  wildcats compare with other carnivores like the coyote and raccoon?

As students research the different animals in endangered ecosystems, have them set up a chart of numbers of animals through the years. Have these numbers increased or decreased? How are these numbers related?

Social Studies
As students are researching the endangered ecosystems, encourage them to record the different reasons some animals are endangered or threatened. Discuss the role that humans play in terms of habitat destruction and fur trade. Are we the biggest threat to the environment? What could we do to preserve the tropical forests and other endangered ecosystems?

Assign students to one of two roles: a farmer who burns forest to clear land for farming, and a scientist working to save the biodiversity in the tropical dry forest. Then have them take turns debating the issues. After the debate, discuss how the goals and views of these two people differ. How could they work together so they could meet both their needs?

Encourage students to research endangered animals in their own state or region. Contact a local wildlife organization to learn more and find out how you can help protect area animals and habitats. You may want to invite a wildlife expert to visit the class.

Science
Suggest that students keep their own science journals during the project, tracking what they've learned, things they'd like to research, questions, predictions for the future, and personal feelings about efforts to save endangered animals. Encourage them to clip newspaper and journal articles they find about  wildcats and other endangered species and include them in the journals. They could also use the space to draw their own pictures and impressions of the expedition.

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