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Lesson Plans
Change or Adaptation:
How Do Plants and Animals Survive Extreme Environments?
OverviewProcedure for teachersStudent Resources and Materials

Prep for Teachers

Obtain a class set of 3" X 5" index cards. Print the word "change" on half and the word "adapt" on the other half.

Prepare all materials and set up for the laboratory practical. Because this is quite involved, there is a Laboratory Practical Set-up Guide in Student Materials for the teacher to use. It lists the items for each of the 15 stations, what should be paired, and whether those items represent a change or adaptation. The practical exam can be set up on a series of long tables or 15 individual student desks.

Bookmark all the Web sites used in the lesson. (Plug-ins) Cue the videotapes to the appropriate starting points.

When using media, provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, a specific task to complete and/or information to identify during or after viewing of video segments, Web sites, or other multimedia elements.

Introductory Activities
Step 1:

As students enter the classroom, give each one an index card with either "change" or "adaptation" printed on it. Ask students to separate themselves into two groups based on the card they received -- the "changers" and the "adapters." Then break up the students up into working triads with all working groups being formed solely of "changers" or "adapters."

Step 2:

Assign each triad to write a definition of what "change" or "adaptation" means to their group. After they develop a definition, instruct each group to create a graphic representation of an instance of change or adaptation. Using basic art supplies provided, each group will produce a picture of what either term means to the group. This activity will be timed for about ten minutes. At the end of the time, have each group share their definitions of "change" and "adaptation" and post their pictures.

After each group has presented their definition, provide students will the following working definitions of the terms:

Change is the act of altering, transforming, or substituting one action or behavior for another.

Adaptation is the act of adjusting to environmental conditions over a period of time.

Step 3:

Insert the videotape of American Deserts: Episode 2 into the VCR. CUE the tape by FAST FORWARDING the tape until you see the camera pull back to reveal a single cactus plant and the narrator says, "Beginning a two-hundred-year life in the protected shade of this hollow verde, the saguaro plant can grow up to fifty feet." Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking them to a) identify the ways cactus plants adapt to the desert environment and b) determine the ways that cactus plants assist birds and other desert animals.

PLAY tape until you see the rotten remains of a large cactus lying on the forest floor and there is no sound. STOP.

CHECK for student comprehension. Ask the class to identify ways the cactus adapts. (Cacti adapt to the desert environment by storing water during the rainy season to be used later. Their roots grow deeply so they can access ground water more readily.) Then ask how the cactus plants assist other wildlife. (Cacti provide nesting places for a variety of birds. It also is a source of food and water supply for many smaller animals. As the plant rots and decomposes, it nourishes the soil and provides a home and shelter for reptiles and insects. Additionally, some varieties break off when they are touched, creating new plants wherever they may fall on the desert floor.)


Learning Activities

Step 1:

Assign each student to research one of the following types of cactus: barrel, cholla, desert, or saguaro.

Pass out the Cactus Inquiry Diary (see Student Materials). This guide lists the Web sites students will visit to find the information they need to complete a cactus inquiry. Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking them to visit the assigned Web sites and research the cactus they were assigned. They should find all the answers on the Cactus Inquiry Diary.

Step 2:

After students have sufficient time to complete their research, pair each student with someone who researched a different cactus. Instruct students to interview each other (pair share) about the research they conducted. Students should also take notes during the interview. After ten minutes, ask students to "introduce" the class to the cactus their partner researched. After listening to the descriptions of several types of cacti, the class will have a solid foundation of knowledge about the many types of cacti.

Ask the class questions about their cactus's adaptations and environmental changes. The questions will lead students to make inferences about change and adaptation for a discussion. Questions should include:

  • If cacti bear fruit or produce blooms, what is their role in the ecosystem?
  • Do you think cacti would thrive if their environment changed?
  • How would cacti respond if the water table rose rapidly or if the average temperature was reduced by 30 degrees?
Step 3:

Ask students to write a letter to a student in a younger grade explaining what an adaptation is and how cacti have adapted to a harsh environment. Then ask students to detail an experience from their own lives in which they had to adapt to a new environment or set of circumstances (i.e., peer pressure, gangs, drugs, first day at a new school, first date, etc.).

Step 4: Laboratory Practical

The laboratory practical is designed to help students better differentiate between a change and an adaptation. Set up the practical on long tables or at 15 student desks as outlined on the Laboratory Practical Set-up Guide (see Student Materials). Assign students to pairs and provide each student with a Lab Practical Answer Sheet (see Student Materials). Students will move quickly through the 15 stations in pairs. At each station, students will determine if the items provided represent an adaptation or a change and record their answer on the answer sheet.

After all students have visited the 15 stations and have recorded their answers, lead a class discussion of each station, providing the correct answer and rationale. For example, "Station #1 has a bunch of grapes and a bowl of raisins. What does this represent?" (Change.) Why is it change?" (The grape and the raisin are basically still the same -- the form has just changed.) Continue in this manner through each of the stations. Extend the discussion of adaptations and changes by asking students to come up with examples of change and adaptation in their own lives. How do people change and adapt? What are the possible consequences when people DO NOT change or adapt to new circumstances?

Introduce the next lesson segment by saying, "Let's take a look at another example of change and adaptation in nature. As we literally move up the food chain, we can discover how several species of penguins have adapted to their environment."

Step 5:

Cue the video of Passport to Antarctica: Episode #4: "At Home on the Ice," to where you see a man with ice on his beard and a fur hat with flaps, a woman dressed in multi-layered clothing, and a penguin walking in the snow, and the narrator says, "But on this continent our species is a Johnny and Jane come lately. The true experts on ice are the penguins who make their home in the southern oceans and on the continent shores and nearby islands." Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking them to identify how Adélie penguins take care of their young.

PLAY the tape until the narrator says, "Recently Carol's project has been taking blood samples just like human doctors during an annual check-up," and you see the doctors drawing blood from a penguin. STOP tape.

CHECK for student comprehension by asking for examples on the care of penguins' young. (The father penguin gathers appropriate stones to make the perfect nest for the baby penguin to be hatched, while the mother lays the egg. After the egg is laid, both parents alternate 3-5 day shifts caring for the egg until it hatches.)

FAST FORWARD to the segment of the tape where a caption reads, "Physical Adaptation." The narrator says, "On the other side of the continent, out on the sea ice off Cape Roids and its large Adélie colony, biologist Jerry Kooning and his team have created a most unusual research laboratory dedicated to studying emperor penguins." Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking students to describe why the emperor penguins' white belly and black back are important for their survival. PLAY tape. When Jerry Kooning says, "Looking down on them, they disappear pretty fast," STOP tape.

CHECK for student understanding by asking how the penguins' coloring helps them. (The white front allows the penguin to hide itself in the snow, while its black back obscures it from view when it jumps into the water. It is hidden in the depths.)

FAST FORWARD tape until you see a group of emperor penguins standing in the snow and the narrator says, "Emperors have evolved a way of life that allows them to remain on the continent right through the long winters." Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking them how the emperor penguins take care of their young. What is unusual about their relationship? PLAY tape. When you see a lone penguin walking in the snow, STOP tape.

CHECK for student comprehension. Ask students about the emperor penguins' care of the young. (Emperor penguin males are solely responsible for the care of their eggs after the females have laid them. These birds build no nests, but they keep the eggs in a pouch near their feet. They never leave the continent of Antarctica.)

Culminating Activitie

Step 1:

Bookmark the Web sites to be used for the completion of the Penguin Fact Quest that are listed on the worksheet (see Student Materials). Web sites can be bookmarked, or if you prefer, you can provide the Penguin Fact Quest as a Word document with the Web site URLs hyperlinked so students can click on the links to visit the necessary sites. Distribute the Penguin Fact Quest to each student. Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking them to discover new information about penguins and Antarctica by visiting the identified Web sites and researching the answers to the questions on the Penguin Fact Quest. Provide students with enough time to nearly complete the quest. When they have finished, instruct them to pair back up with their partners from the Cactus Inquiry Diary to debrief, compare, and discuss the data collected on the Penguin Fact Quest.

Step 2:

To help students process the lesson and draw parallels, lead the class in a discussion of change and adaptation as connected to plants and animals. Ask students the following questions to generate that discussion:

What role does the environment play in adaptation?

(Due to the extreme weather conditions in Antarctica, the environment has shaped penguin behavior. For example, emperor penguin males eat vast quantities before females lay their eggs. They do this because the male penguin hatches the egg while the female swims away and disappears for several weeks prior to the hatching of her chick. In the desert, large cactus plants develop intricate root systems that collect and store moisture for a period of almost a year.)

How do penguins keep warm?

(Penguins employ a number of strategies to keep warm. They huddle closely together in large groups. They have blubber to keep them warm, and their feathers are densely packed to prevent heat loss and absorption of moisture.)

Why is a penguin's coloring important to its survival?

(A penguin's color is unique in two ways. It allows it to blend in with its external environment while shielding it from predators in the water.)

How do the root systems of cactus plants assist in their survival?

(Cactus plants by design are uniquely equipped to retain moisture. They develop root systems that draw surface moisture. Other cacti develop long, deep root systems that draw water from underground systems. The plants are also designed to retain this moisture for long periods of time.)

What role can a cactus play in the survival of other life forms in its environment?

(A Cactus can act as a host for many species of desert birds. It is a source of nourishment for insects, birds, and animals that eat the flesh of the plant. Additionally, when a cactus dies and deteriorates, it serves as food and shelters other animals and smaller organisms.)

What are the predators of cacti? Of penguins?

(Leopard seals, walrus, and whales eat penguins. Any of the animals that use a cactus for food or shelter could potentially kill it.)

How do penguins escape their predators?

(Penguins can run and slide on land. In the water they can swim up to 40 miles per hour.)

How do cacti defend themselves?

(Some cacti use odor to ward off birds and animals. Their needles are their basic system of defense. They are very sharp and keep some animals from landing or feeding on them.)

Step 3:

After discussing the changes and adaptations in cacti and penguins, students will prepare a compare-and-contrast essay of five hundred words. The students will use data collected from the previous activities to inform their readers about the similarities and differences between plants and animals living under extreme conditions. Successful essays will describe the ecosystems in which the plant and penguin live, predators, reproduction, defense systems, nourishment, and other salient features that show adaptive structures or behaviors.

Cross-Curricular Activities

LITERATURE
Have students examine adaptation and change as a theme in a play or short story.

ECONOMICS
Students can analyze how markets need to adapt and change when raw materials are exhausted locally.

Students can research how failed businesses did not change or adapt to their markets or consumers.

HISTORY
Teachers can have students research and report on how the Spanish, English, and Portuguese use imperialism to change their economies.

GUIDANCE
Students can interview local community professionals and record their strategies for change and adaptation.


Community Conections

  • Schedule a trip to local zoos so the students can discuss with the animals' keepers changes in the animals' behaviors that help them survive in captivity.


  • Take students to a nursing home to discuss and interview the residents to discover how their lives have changed and the adaptations they had to make as senior citizens living communally.


  • Create a community garden in a vacant space or at the school. Students can document the change with pictures and journals.