Preparing a Habitat for Observation

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SWBAT assist in designing and making a habitat for classroom observations.

Big Idea

Students watch and learn from real animals in their classroom!


**This lesson will take two days - the first to set up the habitat, and the second to add the organisms and record the information in our journals.**

During this lesson, we work together to determine the best way to set up a habitat for classroom observation so students can really see the needs of animals for Essential Standard 1.L.1.1. For each lesson, I post both the lesson objective from the Essential Standards and a guiding question. Click here to find out why I teach the Essential Standards for science. This is to help students to understand the purpose behind the lesson and to connect to prior knowledge. I have found it helpful because it also keeps my focus on the objectives for the day. When I first introduce the day's activities to the students, I will write at the top of the board, 'How can we set up a habitat for fire belly toads?'

By actually preparing a habitat and considering the needs of the living organisms we are going to keep in the classroom, students get a real-life experience of caring for them and meeting their needs. This lesson also provides the foundation for future lessons, particularly when students are learning about habitats, because this shows them that a habitat can be as small as a tank in a classroom and is not always an entire rainforest or a desert. Also, by allowing students to engage closely with living organisms they will be more excited and understand the purpose behind stewardship of the environment because they will want to take care of their own living critters, too!

In the past, I have housed hamsters, guinea pigs, crickets, pill bugs, hermit crabs, fiddler crabs, aquatic turtles, fish of all kinds, and fire belly toads in my classroom. The easiest of these to establish and maintain have been the hermit crabs and the toads. However, hermit crabs are not active typically in loud environments (like classrooms!), so we did not really get to see them 'do' much. The fire belly toads are active, though! They croak a lovely song when it gets quiet, they hop all over the place, and they get right up against the glass habitat so we can see them very well! They are also relatively cheap ($7 each) and take little effort to maintain (fresh water and live crickets every 2 weeks or so). I strongly suggest you read about the critters before you plan a classroom habitat!

I have also encountered schools in the past that initially told me I could not have living animals in my classroom. Usually, I have been able to negotiate this based on the standards for first grade. However, if you absolutely cannot have living organisms you can improvise by setting up the habitat in the classroom and keeping it at your own home and recording things to show the students, or asking a classroom parent if they would keep it at their home.


*Habitat supplies including tank, lid, light, gravel, plastic leaves, decorations, etc.

*Access to clean water (you may want to get a water test kit before you plan this lesson to make sure it is the right pH. I have also bought spring water in gallon jugs from the grocery store to avoid this hassle).

Do not buy the animals for this lesson! The tank needs to be established before you have critters to put in it!

Day 1 - Warm Up

3 minutes

Habitat Working ChartTo begin the discussion about habitats, I start a new working chart titled "Habitats" and divide it into three parts: Need, Want, Not sure. I have found that first graders often think animals need things that they do not actually need - like decorations in a fish tank, or even lights for the tank that are nice but not always necessary. Google is a great resource during this lesson because if you do not know whether an animals needs something, you can type it into as a question, modeling that for the students.I say,

"Habitats are a place where plants or animals live. It can be huge, like a rainforest, or tiny, like a single ant hill. Today, we are going to think about what we need to include to create a habitat that we will keep in our classroom. First, we have to think about what the living organisms will need in their habitat."

In the first lesson about the basic needs of animals, I found out what students know about the basic needs of animals but I have not yet directly taught that. This part of this lesson will begin to outline for students what the actual basic needs of animals are, so I want to make sure that we include something for each basic need in our list. I will come back to this list at the end of the lesson in order to review basic needs.


Day 1 -Activity

40 minutes

Using the anchor chart as a guide, I tell students that we are going to get a new classroom pet - fire belly toads! I show the students the picture of the toads and I say,

"Our guiding question for today is: How can we set up a habitat for fire belly toads? Open your journal and take notes with me so we do not forget anything that we need. Write the topic 'Fire belly toads' at the top of your page and write today's date. Now, who knows something about fire belly toads?"

I listen to what the students know already and ask them whether each thing is a need, a want, or if they are not sure. We add each thing to the appropriate part of the chart. When we start to wind down, I say,

"When you are getting ready to get a new pet, it is important to learn what they actually need. We are going to look at a website to make sure our list is correct and that we have everything we need".

On my Smart Board, I open this website and read through it, matching the things on it with our list and changing anything that should be changed. Then I use this website that has a shopping list, which we also use to change our anchor chart. If you do not have access to a Smart Board or the Internet, you could use a book about the animal or print off some pages from a website to share with the students. Using media sources and books to provide information to answer scientific questions supports Science and Engineering Practice 8.

When we get to things like a filter for the water that I personally have tried and found are not necessary with my set up, I tell the students that I have had fire belly toads and that I feel like we can try the tank without it at first and we can add it later if we decide we really need it.

Once our list is completed, I say,

"Now we are going to assemble our habitat. I am going to choose 2 helpers at a time using my name sticks. If I do not call you name today, do not worry - there will be lots of time this year to help care for our pets!"

Students add rocksI work with the students in a place that everyone can see the set up and what we are doing and we assemble the tank and add water. Since I have had fire belly toads for a while, I already have a bit of experience and know how to do this quickly.




Students arrange tankAs the students work, I talk to them about how the things we are adding, like rocks and water, are going to satisfy the needs of the toads. I also mention that we have to watch to see when the water level drop and we have to add more.





Students add water

Finally, we are ready to add the water!

Day 1 -Wrap Up

10 minutes

After the tank is complete and ready for critters, I finish out the lesson by telling students that we will add the toads tomorrow and that the toads will also need to eat every week, so we will need to get crickets for them. I have a "cricket keeper" that houses crickets for a while until you feed them to the toads. It also provides a second habitat that you can set up with the students. I give the students a sign-up letter to ask their families to either send in $1 for crickets or if they can go and buy crickets at some point in the year. Then I say,

"So that your families know what our pets will look like, I would like you to draw a quick picture of one on the letter. Take about 5 minutes and draw a picture in the empty square, and then put your letter in your homework folder. Tomorrow we will start our lesson by recording what we did today and drawing a labeled diagram of our toad's habitat!"

By having the students draw on the letter it will make them more excited to show it to their parents and we may get a better turn out for cricket donations! I ask for donations for two reasons. First, although crickets are fairly cheap ($2-3 for two dozen), over the year it adds up quickly. Second, it is an experience for students (and sometimes their families!) to go and buy crickets since most of them never have before. The students also get an opportunity to visit the pet store and see other animals and habitats that they can then tell us about.


FYI: Crickets are cheaper at bait stores so if you have one close by, mention that in your letter!

Day 2 - Finishing the lesson

35 minutes

To finish the lesson about preparing the habitat, on the second day I bring in the fire belly toads and add them to the habitat. Of course, each student will want lots of time to see them! Making observations and recording information supports Science and Engineering Practice Standard 4. Since my students are in groups of 5 at their desks, I send one group of students at a time to make observations of the toads in their new habitat. I set a timer for 5 minutes and when it rings we switch groups.

While the groups are rotating and recording observations in their journals, I review with the rest of the class how important it is to record detailed diagrams in our journals. I say,

Student Example 1"Do you remember when we learned how to draw and label a diagram in our science journals? Flip back in your journal and find the diagram of your body. When you see what that looks like, on a new page put the date and the topic "Fire Belly Toad Habitat" at the top".

When everyone is ready, I tell the students that scientists record their work so that they can revisit it later and remember how they did things the first time. I say,

"We are now biologists! Biologists are people who study living organisms. In our journals, we need to record the work we did yesterday getting the habitat prepared. To do this, first we need to think about what information to include. What do you think we need to include?"


Student Example 2As the conversation begins, I have in mind that we need a list of materials, a diagram of how the tank ended up, and to mention somewhere that we used the websites as resources. To engage students in scientific discourse that is meaningful to them as well as meeting the standards, I prepare to guide their conversation towards those three things. I am mindful of that as we talk about what we did and why we chose to do it that way.


Day 2- Wrap Up

10 minutes

After we have recorded the materials, labeled a diagram, and written the websites I used in the lesson (at least mentioning them as "Care Sheets" if not writing the actual websites), I ask students to sit knee-to-knee with someone sitting near them. I give each pair a post-it note. Then, I say,

Post it Note Check in "We have learned a lot already about the needs of animals and plants and about habitats. With your partner, write 2 new things you have learned on the post-it notes and be ready to share with the class".

After a minute or two, I ask for students who would like to share what they have learned. After they tell me, I take their post-it note. Then, after everyone who wants to share has had a turn and I have all of the post-it notes, I return to the anchor chart titled "Habitats" that we did during the Warm Up. I say,

"Let's look back at this list. Animals have 5 basic needs. Plants have 4 basic needs. Let's write these in our journals so that we can remember them. What are the 5 basic needs of animals? That's right - air, water, space, shelter and food. What are the 6 basic needs of plants? All of the same things as animals, and they also need light."

Then, to get students excited about the next lesson, I say,

"Tomorrow we are going to learn about the 6 classes of animals! I wonder how many different types of animals you already thinking about it so you can share with the class tomorrow!"