Who Is Your Champion?

Caryn Walker, Roberta L. Ethington, and Alyssa Y. Stark
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Article , Experiment/Lab Activity , Lesson/Lesson Plan
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.



This article from NSTA's Science and Children outlines a series of lessons on structure and function, with an extension lesson that incorporates related engineering design. Students are guided to observe ants in their natural habitat, experiment with them in the classroom, and to apply their structure/function learning to design solutions to everyday problems.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Grade 4
  • Upper Elementary
Access Restrictions

Free access with user action - The right to view and/or download material without financial barriers but users are required to register or experience some other low-barrier to use.

Performance Expectations

4-LS1-1 Construct an argument that plants and animals have internal and external structures that function to support survival, growth, behavior, and reproduction.

Clarification Statement: Examples of structures could include thorns, stems, roots, colored petals, heart, stomach, lung, brain, and skin.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment is limited to macroscopic structures within plant and animal systems.

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

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
Students observe ants and identify ant structures, drawing conclusions about their functions. They then collect data to determine ants’ ability to grip different types of surfaces, and they make claims supported by evidence to connect results of investigation to observations in the schoolyard. Although only the gripping ability of their legs is investigated in this lesson sequence, the teacher might guide students to discuss other structures and their functions, or allow them to design other investigations. The students then design a model of a device that uses biomimicry to solve a problem they come up with, but they do not build working prototypes or go through the full engineering design process.

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 students make general observations and then collect experimental data about ant adhesion. They analyze their data to construct an explanation about how structures support the ants' survival and provide evidence to support their claims. Students could also be encouraged to observe or experiment to make claims about other ant structures and their functions.

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

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Students investigate the ability of ants to maintain their grip at different angles (45, 90 and 180 degrees) and on different surfaces (sandpaper, smooth plastic) and record their data. The mathematical and computational thinking could be strengthened if they were required to measure the angles with a protractor instead of estimating, averaged aggregated class data, and graphed their own and the class data. They also might do a trial at 135 degrees to maintain consistent 45 degree increments for the different trials.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

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

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Students are explicitly focused on the relationship between structure and function throughout the lesson. They apply this learning to other animals of their choice in the design phase of the sequence. The teacher might consider connecting to plant structures and their functions here, such as burrs or fruits to aid in seed dispersal or leaf types and their various functions.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
This investigation provides a good opportunity to connect structure and function to cause and effect. The structures that allow ants to dig nests in the ground or in trees result in better aerated soil, seed dispersal, decomposition of dead plant and animal material, food for other animals, and the impacts on the ecosystem as those animals seek out the ants to eat. A simple cause/effect chain could help illustrate how the environment is impacted by ants and their specialized structures.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: Students are engaged in observation, experimentation and design in service to making sense of the relationship between structure and function. Their observation of ants in their natural habitat serves as a meaningful phenomenon to inspire their thinking and data collection. They then use their creativity to design an animal-inspired solution to a genuine problem they have encountered that applies their structure/function learning. The crosscutting concept could be made more explicit if emphasis was placed on the various ant structures being parts of a subsystem or entire body system of the ant. This focus could be extended to the design phase of the lesson sequence as well if the teacher connected the students based their designs on with the system that they are a part of.

  • Instructional Supports: These lessons are based on an animal that should be very familiar to all children and that is readily observable outside as well as in the classroom. Students have an opportunity to connect to their own prior knowledge and express their ideas in the design phase of the activity. Helpful illustrations and instructional suggestions are provided, and a lesson sequence, additional resources on biomimicry, and a PowerPoint lesson are available at www.nsta.org/SC1607. The authors note that students with learning differences were highly engaged, but no differentiation strategies are provided.The authors note that students with learning differences were highly engaged, but no differentiation strategies are provided.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: The authors indicate that there is a summative assessment that goes with the larger unit that these lessons are part of, but no other assessment is provided. There is a simple rubric for the model design, and student recording of qualitative and quantitative observations provide artifacts of their thinking and claims. An organizer that provided a framework for explicitly stating the structure/function basis for their models might provide a brief summative assessment.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: Print and electronic resources on biomimicry are provided, but there is no technologically interactive component.