Plant Life Cycles: Mosses and Ferns

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Students will be able to explain basic facts about fern life cycles and their past and present roles in the ecosystem.

Big Idea

All plants do not reproduce from seeds.

Engage: What is Moss?

10 minutes

The first plant we discuss is moss.  Depending on where you live in the country, your students may not have evens seen moss.  Many of my students haven't!  This short PowToon introduces the idea of mosses as a simple plant:


Engage: What Are Ferns?

10 minutes

Next I show students this brief visual presentation on the  Fern Life Cycle.  I stop and ask them questions as they look at the photographs.   (See example below).


The focus of this segment is to have students recognize and be able to explain, in a simple way, that ferns are a special kind of plant that does not grow from a seed.  It grows and changes, reproduces, and eventually dies.  

Ferns are familiar to most students, even though they may not yet know that! The greatest familiarity is, of course, with flowering plants.  The fact that ferns and moss fall outside this category, but are still plants, can pique students' interest.   Exposing students to this content helps them internalize the idea that the world of living things is vast and complex, yet they can see examples of this wonderful diversity in their everyday lives.  It is difficult for me to find moss to show my students and impossible to find ferns in the vicinity of our playground, but that is because I live in Tucson.  It's my hope that for most teachers this will be accessible, and that is why I developed the next section, which is a simple, hands-on observation activity.


Fern Field Trip or Moss Meandering

40 minutes

In this part of the lesson, I take students for a walk around our playground where they are asked to find different species of moss or, if possible, ferns.  (It is my hope that this will be easier in most parts of the country than it is in Tucson, Arizona.  We do not have ferns in the desert except in our riparian areas but in the rainy season it is sometimes possible to find moss.)  We stop and they take a few notes using the blank field guide page below.  They also make a specific drawing.  I find that students are exceptionally skilled at making specific drawings if they are provided with step-by-step guidance initially.  Just like any other drawing instruction, I ask them to draw exactly what they see, piece by piece.  We discuss which part of the life cycle the plant is in, with an emphasis on it being a new or young plant, a plant in its reproductive stage (if by some chance spores are visible, for example) or what appears to be an "adult" or dying plant.