Birds Cooperating to Find Food and Raise Offspring

PBS Learning Media
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Animation/Movie , Article , Phenomenon
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 resource from PBS Learning Media includes a downloadable 4-minute video and a research article summary from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. It supports students’ three-dimensional learning about the phenomenon of cooperation within different species of birds to find food and to raise offspring in the East African savanna. Both the video and the research summary provide evidence to support a cause and effect relationship between bird group behavior and survival in a challenging environment. Discussion questions, a student handout, and teaching tips are provided. The full text of the original research article is available at:

Intended Audience

Educator and learner
Educational Level
  • High School
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

HS-LS2-8 Evaluate the evidence for the role of group behavior on individual and species’ chances to survive and reproduce.

Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on: (1) distinguishing between group and individual behavior, (2) identifying evidence supporting the outcomes of group behavior, and (3) developing logical and reasonable arguments based on evidence. Examples of group behaviors could include flocking, schooling, herding, and cooperative behaviors such as hunting, migrating, and swarming.

Assessment Boundary: none

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

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
This resource has great potential for three-dimensional student learning if all of the suggested components - the video, the student handout, discussion questions, and appropriate teacher’s tips - are implemented. To make this activity three-dimensional, teachers should ask students to find the supporting evidence for the authors’ claims and to evaluate whether or not the evidence is a cause or a correlation. Teachers should also ask students questions that elicit evidence of three-dimensional learning, such as “Can you provide evidence to support the authors’ conclusions that rainfall is a factor in the group behavior seen in East African savanna starlings?”

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource was not designed to build towards this science and engineering practice, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
The resource clearly presents the evidence that supports the claim of the author’s research paper. To more effectively engage in argumentation, teachers may want to have their students use a claim-evidence-reasoning (CER) approach. NSTA curates CER resources here: Before the students view the video or read the research summary (or the actual research paper), teachers may want to use prompts like: “What is the claim made by the authors of the research paper?” “What evidence is shared in the video and/or the research paper to support the authors’ claim?” “Do you agree with the authors’ claim? Why or why not?” Students should be encouraged to provide evidence to support their argument. Following the students’ analysis of the video and research paper, using a “think, pair, share” learning routine will help students to articulate their thinking, reveal student understanding, and expose possible misconceptions.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Teachers may want to prompt students to pay particular attention to the relatedness of the birds that make up cooperative breeding colonies in the East African savanna. The social structure of the Superb Starling is one strong example of bird breeding cooperation among close relatives so teachers may want to highlight this species to students. Ask probing questions about how this cooperative structure can increase the chances of survival for these bird species. For example, “In the Superb Starling species, which individuals benefit from this cooperative social breeding structure? What evidence supports your answer?”

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
To effectively implement this crosscutting concept in the classroom, teachers should ask students to articulate why the different evidence they have identified to support the authors’ claim are causes and not correlations. Using either the research summary or the full text of the research article, students can highlight where the authors make explicit the cause and effect relationship of the evidence to the claim. Using either the original research article (available here) or the provided student version of the original article, a discussion about how the authors gathered evidence to support their claim may help students identify ways that scientists figure out what causes the phenomena they are investigating.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: This resource provides a way for students to engage in three-dimensional learning as they make sense of the phenomenon of cooperative bird breeding colonies in the East African savanna. By viewing the video and reading the research article summary (or original paper found at students can evaluate the evidence that supports the authors’ claim of a cause and effect relationship between the birds’ social structure and survival of their species. Teachers will need to facilitate ways, such as using a claim-evidence-reasoning (CER) approach, to elicit evidence of students making sense of this phenomenon. In addition, using the original research paper will provide additional empirical evidence as students evaluate cause and effect relationships.

  • Instructional Supports: This resource is based on an authentic, scientifically accurate research article which students may read in addition to the provided video and research article summary. Discussion questions and suggested teaching tips for implementing this resource into a broader instructional plan help support instruction on this performance expectation. Differentiated instruction is not strongly supported; however, the three modes of learning about the authors’ research may be used to scaffold instruction. The teaching tips section does include one extension idea.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Implementing the discussion questions and using the suggested ideas in the resource’s teachers tips section will be helpful towards eliciting direct observable evidence of students’ three-dimensional learning. However, formative assessment tools, scoring guidance, and unbiased tasks/items are not provided.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: - none -