Grades 5-6, Unit 3

Climate Change in My Backyard Activity Descriptions

Unit 3: Earth system responses to natural and human-induced changes

In Unit 3, students learn about how living things and ecosystems respond to and are impacted by changing climates. Students learn about how plant life cycle events can be used to understand climate and how they have been used in the past. They participate in Budburst, a national citizen science project and study how changing climates impact the timing of plant life cycle events. Students also explore the interactions between plants and pollinators and how those interactions can be impacted by climate.

Activity 3.1: Migration, Adaptation, and Changing Climates
In thisactivity students will discuss the various ways that living things deal with changing climates including adaptation and migration. Later, students will reflect back on these ways and determine which adaptations could benefit a plant that is exposed to a changing climate.

Activity 3.2: Seasons of a Plant
Students are introduced to the concept of phenology, the timing of periodic life-cycle events. Students begin by distinguishing between environmental and biological events in an ecosystem (first snow vs. first flower). They place their events on a calendar and then brainstorm what might happen if these biological events didn't happen one year. Students then go outdoors and individually or in small groups make observations of actual phenological events.

Activity 3.3: Preparing for Budburst
This activity serves as an introduction to phenology and Budburst, and will prepare students to start collecting data. In this activity students learn how to use the Budburst website, begin to collect and record data on plant phenology, and add that data to the Budburst database (data collection will be ongoing throughout the rest of the curriculum).

NOTE: Budburst data collection can begin at any point in the curriculum. Before you begin data collection, implement Activity 3.3: Preparing for Budburst and continue making observations as often as possible so students are able to observe each phenological event.

  1. Introducing Budburst: Students explore and become familiar with the Budburst website through a scavenger hunt. The class, groups, or individual students choose what plants they will collect data on, create a Budburst site, and decide on a data collection protocol and schedule, in preparation for the growing season.
  2. Mystery Plant Identification: Students make observations of plants unfamiliar to them, create a field guide for their plants, and practice identifying other plants by using their classmates' field guides. This activity will exercise students' observation and scientific communication skills and provide students with practice identifying plants in preparation for the other activities. This is an outdoor activity, but can also be done inside on collected or purchased flowers/plants.
  3. BudBbrst Data Collection: Students collect data on their chosen plant species throughout the growing seasonand enter it into the Budburst website over a period of weeks or months. Students can write the data on the Budburst data collection sheets Plant ID sheets and phenophase guides are available on the Budburst website.

Activity 3.4: Meet the Naturalists
Students will learn the story behind more than 150 years of plant phenology data collected in Concord, Massachusetts, and how phenology has been used historically, including examining historic records where available. In some cases, the data is still useful today. Students will explore ways historic data sets can be used for modern purposes.

Activity 3.5: Plant Phenology Data Analysis

  1. Graphing Historical Data: Students will graph historical plant phenology data and draw conclusions about how climate and climate change affect plant phenology.
  2. Budburst and NASA Green-up Data: Students then compare the historical data and their Budburst data, to NASA Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) visualization and graphs. Students will discuss how Budburst can contribute to our understanding of plants’ responses to climate change.

Activity 3.6: Ecological Mismatches
Students begin the class with an activity that illustrates the connections between plants, animals and abiotic factors in an ecosystem. They then read an article that illustrates an ecological mismatch between migratory birds and their food sources caused by changing climates. They answer question about the reading and have a class discussion about the potential impacts of ecological mismatches on natural ecosystems and on agricultural food production.