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Tallgrass Prairie Center

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Friend For All Seasons

Adapted from Keepers of the Earth

* Educators please refer to New to Nature for information on becoming comfortable teaching through the outdoors

Overall Activity

A specific plant outdoors will be observed throughout the seasons of the school year. Some type of recording of the seasonal changes should take place along with the responses to those changes. Showcase the experience through some form of presentation or story to the class, library, or whole school. Refer to Procedure for detailed instructions.

Grade Range and Relevant Iowa Standards: K - 5th

  • K-LS1-1. Use observations to describe patterns of what plants and animals (including humans) need to survive.
  • 1-LS3-1. Make observations to construct an evidence-based account that young plants and animals are like, but not exactly like, their parents.
  • 2-LS2-1. Plan and conduct an investigation to determine if plants need sunlight and water to grow.
  • 3-LS1-1. Develop models to describe that organisms have unique and diverse life cycles but all have in common birth, growth, reproduction, and death.
  • 4-LS1-1. Construct an argument that plants and animals have internal and external structures that function to support survival, growth, behavior, and reproduction.
  • 5-LS1-1. Support an argument that plants get the materials they need for growth chiefly from air and water.

Goals/Objectives:

  • Develop understanding of Earth’s seasonal changes and how plants respond to those changes (for older students analyze or model)
  • Understanding of the various changes such as temperature and humidity, precipitation, the amount of light (day length)
  • Understanding of the life cycle of dormancy, growth, and life of a plant
  • Appreciation of Earth’s life systems (specifically plants) by spending time outdoors with them and learning about them

Materials:

  • Consider any or all of the following and what’s best for your students: 
    • Thermometers, hand lenses/magnifying glasses, paper/pencils, cameras, modeling clay, crayons/colored pencils, wind speed gauge, rain gauge, cloud or weather chart, staplers, seasonal clothes

Procedure:

  1. Depending on the size of your class, your students will choose a plant outdoors and adopt it as their class ‘Friend For All Seasons.’ This may require grouping students to allow for methods of recording changes
  2. Your students should visit this plant’s location at least twice during each season to record their observations through drawings, camera photos, descriptions, poems, story prompts, etc. Students could make clay models or collages of their outdoor observations back in the classroom.
  3. For every visit, students could bring something for their plant as long as it doesn’t disrupt the life cycle of growth such as a little soil, pebble, or leaf
  4. Encourage students to use more than merely their sight to describe the plant and its changes. Does it have a unique shape but also smell or texture? Does it move a specific way with breeze? Be specific!
  5. Have older students record precise measurements regarding the seasonal changes like temperature, wind speed, rainfall, cloud cover, and day length. Do this not only on days you visit but for weeks and perhaps months before you decide to visit to discover patterns and sequence to the life cycle. A basic weather app can help with many of these observations.
  6. Regarding winter precipitation and snow cover: try measuring relative temperatures above and below the cover as well as the surfaces of the soil and even perhaps several inches deep.
  7. Give students flexibility to create some form of compilation of their observations and experiences with their plant. Consider a booklet, a final report or fictional story, a physical model showing the seasonal changes, an interactive timeline of photos/video clips, or some other play or presentation

Extensions:

  • Refer to Iowa’s Nature Series for resources on plants, soils, & forests
  • If in groups, consider rotating in a manner that is appropriate for your students where they can learn and teach one another about their ‘Friend For All Seasons.’ Student’s initial ‘friend’ will be theirs for the duration of the school year with additional scaffolding to learn about their classmates ‘friends’
  • Create presentations of this project to present to the age or grade level below to highlight as something to look forward to for the rising youth

Prairie Connections (some information sourced from Iowa’s Nature Series):

  • Many prairie plants bloom and are abundant in Iowa throughout the summer season when students may not be in school and aren’t visible in the colder/winter months as they become dormant. However, this presents a good opportunity to take your classes outdoors and complete some plant ID at the beginning and/or end of the school year. What changed? What stayed the same? What species were observed? Can you create some plant markers or labeling system on school grounds? Or maps? Perhaps focus on trees, shrubs, or grasses during the winter and have multiple ‘Friends.’
  • Consider being an advocate for Good Neighbor Iowa and helping your school convert turf to prairie! The additional resources on this linked page include an info brochure on converting turf to prairie, the benefits of prairie, as well as establishing and maintaining the prairie restoration.
  • Is your school close to a local prairie? Reference the Iowa Prairie Network to find out! 
  • The prairies of Iowa are characterized by the rich diversity and not by one species or group. These plants (producers) are the base of the food web and provide shelter and food for many animals. What observations can be noticed in this vein on your school grounds?