Desert Gems of Biodiversity

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The SWBAT construct a reason to back up data.

Big Idea

"Gems of Biodiversity" is a great visual tool to help children grasp the idea of biodiversity of the desert. It can also be used to help the children understand relationships and as a springboard for an exercise in reasoning.

Teacher Notes

Teacher Notes:

Are you ready to take your children's understanding of biodiversity to the next level?  You can do just that with an activity called "Gems of Biodiversity."  This activity will be done at the end of each of the individual habitats studied--rain forest, desert, coral reef and woodlands.  After the children have gathered information about each habitat, the class will make comparisons about the animal life found there using a visual model.  This repeating activity is called "Gems of Biodiversity."  It unifies the concepts taught plus it creates a common ground for comparison among the habitats.  Please make sure to check it out since it is well worth the effort and can be used year after year.  Sound interesting?  Check out the above link for information on how to set it up.  Life at the next level is pretty sweet!

Activity Description:

The children will compare and contrast the biodiversity of life in the desert (see above note) using a visual model.  The model will be a jar filled with colored gems.  The jar will represent animal species in the desert. It will be filled with colored gems denoting 5 animal groups (amphibians, birds, mammal, reptiles and fish) according to the amount of animal species in the desert.  Each gem will represent 100 different species of animals. So if there is 1,000 types of amphibians in the desert, 10 yellow gems would be put into the jar.  The desert habitat jar will be filled with the appropriate amount of gems before the activity starts.  Then the children study the jar and think about what each gem represents.  Then they will make comparisons of the animal classifications. Then the gems will be taken out and the class will count the gems denoting the number of animals species living there.   We discuss the results and fill in a sentence frame to explain why there is the largest number of bird species that live there.


NGSS/Common Core Connections:

 The students will be making observations of plants and animals to compare the diversity of life within the desert.  They will be exploring all different kinds of living things--both plants and animals.  The children will also be practicing the concept of using a model to depict five classifications of animals.  In addition, the children will be counting by 100's when they count the number of species of a given habitat.  They will be constructing possible explanations of why some so many plants and animals live in the desert.



see note and link above

Desert Let's Back It Up! -- 1 per student

Biodiversity Habitat Essential Questions--pulled up on Smartboard or made into a poster 


10 minutes

First we are going to review and discuss the animals and plants that live in the desert.  For this, I have the children pull out their chart from a previous lesson (see Desert Note Taking Chart).

Before we take a look at our desert biodiversity gems, let's take a few minutes to review what you have learned about the desert.  Open your notebooks so we can look at your information that you have gathered.  Who can share what they have learned?

Here's a collection of thoughts that my class came up with:

    • Its all dry and it doesn’t usually rain a lot and all of the predators come out at night instead during the day so many of the animals are sleeping and they can get their prey pretty easily. 
    • It doesn’t rain a lot.
    • It is very cold during the night and the morning and in the evening.  It gets very hot during the day.
    • When it rains the cacti soak up the water.
    • The cacti keep water inside and they are really waxy on the outside to keep lots of water inside of it.
    • When it rains the cacti soak up water and the javelinas eat part of the cactus.
    • Animals like tortoises make little homes under the rocks and sand and it is just colder under the sand instead of being in the hot sand since it is so hot.
    • There are not that many plants in the desert (incorrect thinking).


This comment inspired me to explain more about the desert.

I do have to tell you that before I went to an actual desert I always thought of deserts of being full of sand like the Sahara Desert.  That is the way I pictured it, lots of sand and no plants until I visited the Chihuahuan Desert in New Mexico.  When I actually went there I was amazed by how many plants they had.  The plants are not big and lush and beautiful like what we have around here rather they are scrubby and short because they are adapted to that dry climate.  There are cacti, but even more than cacti I saw scrubby little plants all over.  It was not how I had pictured it all of my years.  It was very interesting and changed my way of thinking about how a desert looks.  It was hot, about 105 degrees but dry, not sticky like it is here in the summer. Around here we have something called humidity in the air which makes you sweat and feel uncomfortable in the heat of the summer. When you are in the desert it feels different. It is hot and dry, but it doesn’t feel as hot as it is. I think it feels at least 10 degrees cooler.

A common misconception that children have is that deserts consists almost entirely of sand, like most photos and cartoons depict.  This comment above addresses this point.  It is vital for understanding the desert and its life that the children understand what a desert is actually like. See my reflection for more on this topic.


20 minutes

We continue our discussion.  

What are the 5 animal classifications we have been working with in this unit?

The kids tell me reptiles, amphibians, fish, birds and mammals.  I write the classifications on the board for them to reference.

From our earlier discussion, it sounds like you have learned a lot about the desert.  So thinking about what you know about deserts, you will be working to predict which animal species you would find the most of and why you think that way.  You are going to be working with Clock Buddies today to answer the question.

I write the question on the board so they can refer to it.  I have them move to their 2:00 partner for this discussion.  Once they get settled, I review the discussion topic.

So, with your partner, I want you to share your knowledge of the desert.   Think about what the climate is like and about what kinds of animals survive well there. This will help you form an opinion for the next part.  Then I want you to think about what animal classification you would find the most of in the desert.  You need to be able to back up your reasoning. Then tell your partner what you think there would be the most of.  I am going to give you 5 minutes to discuss it.  

As the students are discussing their ideas with their partner, I walk around to check on their progress.  I notice that some children are not quite getting the idea of connecting their knowledge of the desert and which animals would survive better.  So I find one group that has come up with a good description of what a desert is like so I use them as an example for others to help guide their thinking.

When I was listening over here I heard this group say the desert is really cold at night and really super hot during the day. Then they were saying there is lots of sand and scrubby plants and cacti.  

Using that knowledge, you need to think about what type of creatures would survive well in this type of environment.  Would fish survive well?  What are your thoughts?

I want to have the children start using the idea of basing their answers on what they already know.  The children explain their thoughts.

Right, there is not any water for fish to survive well.  So look at the species that are left.  We have amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. What else would not survive very well in the desert? Notice how I am eliminating some of the answers.  This helps me to be able to figure out the answer since I just got rid of choices that could not be the answer.

A student answers, "Amphibians because they need water."

Why do they need water?  What do you already know about amphibians?

I am trying to bring their thinking back to the lesson where we learned that amphibians live on land and water.  Another student answers that amphibians are animals that live part of their life in water and part on land.  Amphibians would not have any water for survival. 

You are absolutely right.  It is very tough for amphibians to survive, so there will not be many species.  So we have birds, reptiles or mammals left.  What do you think would survive well in the desert climate? 

Getting the children to narrow down their choice using logical reasoning is a strategy to guide them make these conclusions.

Talk about this with your partner.  Make sure to back up your answer with a good reason.  

I give them about 5 minutes to discuss with their partner.  Having them discuss their ideas first with a partner helps get the ideas out, which will greatly helps the children who don't typically like to share their ideas since they have "practiced" it with a friendly partner first.  It also helps bring the topic of discussion to the forefront of their mind.

Then I have the children come up to the front floor area.  I have a jar filled with gems representing the animal species of the desert.  Click here to find out more about using these gems as a model.  This time I already have the gems in the jar since I would like them to be able to look at the jar and make some inferences. We review which color gem represents which animal classification.  This will help them when we take a look at the biodiversity jar.  I hold up the desert jar.

This jar represents the desert habitat.  What is there the most of?  The class shouts, "Birds!"  How did you know there are the most bird species than any other classification? Do you see any amphibians?  Does it make sense that there are not many amphibian species? (see video clip)

So we are down to three categories, which is exactly what we predicted.  What is there the most of? How many people think birds? Reptiles? Mammals? Let's check out our thinking.  We can check out our thinking by doing what? Counting them! Remember that each gem stands for what? (100 species)

I quickly dump the gems on the table and ask for two helpers to sort the gems by color.  We start with the mammals.  I start them off counting and then let them take over (see counting by 100s video clip).

100, 200, 300,......1,800.  We have 1,800 mammal species.  Remember it doesn't mean there are just 1,800 mammals, but 1,800 different kinds of mammal species.

Let's count the amphibians--100, 200, ......500.

Let's count the reptiles--100, 200,......2,000.

Next we will count the bird species. 100, 200, ........2,900.

So what did we find the most of? Birds!

  This is great practice for the math standard of counting by 100's, especially since it repeats over and over for each of the animal groups.  The kids have fun counting and don't even realize that this is part of the math standard.

Explanation/ Construct Possible Reasons

20 minutes

I noticed when we were forming hypotheses when doing a scientific study (What's All the Buzz about Being a Scientist) that many of the children had some difficulty backing up their hypotheses with reasonable thinking.  We have practiced this skill two other times, in the lesson Rain Forest Gems of Biodiversity and Coral Reef Gems of Biodiversity.  I feel the more practice they have with this skill, the better.  

I really want to continue to practice to help support their reasoning behind the predictions that they make. So for the next activity, the children will be constructing possible reasons why they think a particular classification of animals or a particular species was the most prevalent and why.  This will help them begin to form arguments based on information that they have gathered.  

So we stop and talk about the forms of life that are abundant.  We work together to try to form reasons why those particular types of animals are found in abundance.  This helps them start to form arguments by backing their thoughts up with possible reasons.

I give a recording sheet called  Desert Let's Back It Up! to EACH student even though they are working with a partner.  I still want them both to get the experience of going through the process of filling it out and thinking of how to form a possible argument to back up their thinking. Click here to see why I use sentence frames to help the students form a viable argument.

What classification of animal did we find out that there are the most of in the desert?  If you don't remember, look at the gems in our jar.  What color do you see the most of?  What does that color represent?  

They answer that the desert has the most bird species.

I want you to practice forming possible explanations to back up information that we have gathered--that there are more species of bird than any other species. You will be working with a partner to try to think of a possible reason why this is true. This is called backing up your results.  

On the worksheet, it first asks you to explain what you know about the desert.  Think about what type of environment and weather it has and write it on the lines.  Then thinking about what you wrote, then you need to predict which animal species you would find the most of and write down why you think that way. 

The recording sheet, "Let's Back It Up!" contains sentence frames.  Sentence frames help the children to describe and clarify what they are thinking.  They help give children a bit of structure needed to accomplish a writing task.  The idea of backing up data by using arguments is a complex task, so sentence frames help the children form their ideas within parameters.  Another reason I have found this useful is that it makes it easier for students to compare their ideas and thoughts when we discuss it later. It also keeps the students' thinking on the right track.  Below is an explanation of why and how I use this sheet to help them form an argument.

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5 minutes

I have the students stay at their desk for the next few minutes, since we will be switching into partner groups and they need to look at their Buddy Clocks.

Once again, you have done a great job!  You have worked on backing up your data, or information with reasons.  I would like you to be able to share your ideas with other people.  So we are going to switch partners and work with our 12:00 Clock Buddies.  Please be respectful as others share their ideas. Remember to take your Let's Back It Up! papers with you.

The children move to their new partner groups. I put them into these small groups so everyone has a chance to share and we can do it relatively quickly.

I walk around and listen to their ideas.  When they are sharing I am looking to see that they have filled out their sentence frames completely and that there reason is viable, even if it is not correct.  After they are done sharing, we focus our attention back on our essential questions for the unit.

Now let's put on your thinking caps.  Let's see if we are getting closer to answering our Habitat Essential Questions for our habitat unit.

I pull up the questions on the Smartboard.  We discuss our ideas.  I definitely think their answers are getting more on track to our final conclusion.

Then we create a double-spread entry in our science journals.  We glue the "Back It Up" paper to the right side of the notebook (see notebook sample).