Teaching With Tarantulas

Contributor
Ron Wagler, PhD
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Types
Lesson/Lesson Plan
Note
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.

Reviews

Description

Teaching With Tarantulas is a lesson plan that provides a sequence of learning activities to help students understand the roles of predators in the health of ecosystems and the importance of preserving Earth's ecosystems.  The lesson plan is divided into three main activities.  The first activity serves as an icebreaker in which students construct a model of a tarantula, based on observations of a classroom pet tarantula.  Student questions are provided to guide development of the concept of arachnid characteristics and evolutionary history.  The second activity engages the students in exploring the classroom tarantula's ecosystem, culminating in an illustrated short story and food-web poster.  Student questions are provided to facilitate the development of the concepts.  The third and final activity engages students in exploring real-world examples of tarantulas that are threatened with extinction.  A set of student questions is also provided to guide students through the exploration and understanding of the concepts.

Intended Audience

Educator
Educational Level
  • Grade 8
  • Grade 7
  • Grade 6
  • Middle School
Language
English
Access Restrictions

Available for purchase - The right to view, keep, and/or download material upon payment of a one-time fee.

Performance Expectations

MS-LS4-2 Apply scientific ideas to construct an explanation for the anatomical similarities and differences among modern organisms and between modern and fossil organisms to infer evolutionary relationships.

Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on explanations of the evolutionary relationships among organisms in terms of similarity or differences of the gross appearance of anatomical structures.

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
A classroom pet tarantula provides the spark to engage students in learning about this Performance Expectation. The first activity, "Tarantula models-an icebreaker activity" guides students towards understanding the anatomy of tarantulas, their relatives, and their common ancestry. While the construction of the tarantula model is asking students to describe rather than explain, it serves to reduce student apprehension. It's the extension part of the lesson that provides students the opportunity to build understanding towards this Performance Expectation. Students research different types of arachnids and compare their anatomical similarities and differences. This process is repeated for fossil images of those very same arachnids. This activity culminates with a discussion of the evolutionary concept of common ancestry. Three sets of questions are provided to facilitate student learning and provide feedback to the teacher, ending with a writing assignment in which the student is to describe the common anatomical characteristics all arachnids possess.

MS-LS2-5 Evaluate competing design solutions for maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Clarification Statement: Examples of ecosystem services could include water purification, nutrient recycling, and prevention of soil erosion. Examples of design solution constraints could include scientific, economic, and social considerations.

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
The third activity, "A real-world ecosystem extension", provides the opportunity for students to develop their understanding of the causes and consequences of extinction to ecosystems and by extension, humans, by investigating real-world examples of tarantulas that are threatened with extinction. Students are introduced to the International Union of Conservation (IUCN) website, conduct online research on different species of Poecilotheria (arboreal tarantulas of India and Sri Lanka). Several questions are provided to facilitate and guide student understanding.

MS-LS2-2 Construct an explanation that predicts patterns of interactions among organisms across multiple ecosystems.

Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on predicting consistent patterns of interactions in different ecosystems in terms of the relationships among and between organisms and abiotic components of ecosystems. Examples of types of interactions could include competitive, predatory, and mutually beneficial.

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
The second activity, "Ecosystem Integration", provides the opportunity for students to develop their understanding of relationships of abiotic and biotic factors in ecosystems while learning about tarantulas and their essential role as predators to the health of global ecosystems. Students conduct online research about the ecosystem of an assigned species of tarantula (preferably a classroom pet tarantula). Students share simple, short illustrated stories they have written based on their tarantula in its ecosystem, and the consequences of extinction or overpopulation. Students will explain the ecological role of their tarantula and how the spider species benefits humans. Several questions are provided to facilitate and guide student learning. To enhance the effectiveness of this activity, the teacher should include a real phenomenon in nature, ideally involving spiders, and have students explain why this is happening based on evidence that is presented.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
The third and final activity provides an opportunity for students to engage in argumentation. After students complete their online research on the International Union for Conservation of Nature website and answer the facilitating questions that are provided, students write a paragraph stating what conservation action should be taken to ensure their assigned Poecilotheria tarantula does not go extinct. In addition, groups will present 5-10 minute multimedia presentations highlighting their findings for the class. Lastly, there is a class discussion evaluating whether the various conservation actions will be enough to protect this genus.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Activity Two is designed to provide students the opportunity to develop their understanding of the beneficial interactions that occur in ecosystems by learning about the ecosystem of their classroom tarantula and imagining what would happen to that ecosystem if the tarantulas went extinct or overpopulated. Student products are short illustrated stories food web posters. If a pet tarantula is not present in the classroom, the teacher can choose one or more local species and their respective ecosystems for students to explore. The teacher could also coordinate students sharing the short stories with elementary school children.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this crosscutting concept.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Activity Three reveals to students patterns of human impact that occur when human activities affect endemic species by comparing the geographic ranges of the various Poecilotheria species, the human activities occurring in those ranges, and how they have affected the tarantulas.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this crosscutting concept.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
The investigation of species information on the International Union for Conservation of Nature website allows students to see the geographic range, threats, habitats, etc. of these arachnids and the impact of humans on their respective ecosystems.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: The coherent sequence of activities in this lesson allow students to develop proficiency in understanding interdependent relationships in ecosystems and the importance of maintaining biodiversity by weaving together the three dimensions of the Next Generation Science Standards provided as the crosscutting concepts, the disciplinary core ideas and the practice are all addressed. Observations of a classroom pet tarantula is the springboard for garnering student interest in this topic, although it is not required to participate in these activities due to high student interest in venomous animals, e.g. Poecilotheria sp.. This could also be turned into an opportunity for learning about native tarantulas, especially if there is no classroom pet, which tend to be imported Chilean rose-haired tarantulas.

  • Instructional Supports: Three sets of student questions are provided, one for each activity. However, the teacher will have to carefully organize student groups and develop appropriate reading and writing alternatives for students who are English language learners, have special needs or read well below grade level. A suggested extension for students with high interest or who have already met the performance expectation is provided in the lesson conclusion.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Teachers can use the student questions, tarantula models, short stories, food web posters, and multimedia presentations to monitor student progress. A generic rubric is provided for the short stories, presentations, and food web posters along with the tarantula care sheet.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: This lesson is not technology based but does engage students with technology by the use of the website for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in addition to other websites for research purposes.