Simply Butterflies!

Daniel C. Dobey and Heidi S. Springer Science & Children - NSTA Press
Type Category
Instructional Materials
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 gives suggestions for building a simple walk-in classroom butterfly observatory and using the observatory to hatch out Painted Lady butterflies as part of a four-week unit on life cycle stages.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Upper Elementary
Access Restrictions

Available by subscription - The right to view and/or download material, often for a set period of time, by way of a financial agreement between rights holders and authorized users.

Performance Expectations

3-LS1-1 Develop models to describe that organisms have unique and diverse life cycles but all have in common birth, growth, reproduction, and death.

Clarification Statement: Changes organisms go through during their life form a pattern.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment of plant life cycles is limited to those of flowering plants. Assessment does not include details of human reproduction.

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

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
The Performance Expectation requires that students develop multiple models of a life cycle in order to study diversity in the life cycle. This unit would be an excellent way to introduce the concept at the start the year, and then the teacher could follow-up the project with another life cycle project with a different animal, such as ladybugs or brine shrimp.

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
By watching the native butterflies that the students find in the garden form a chrysalis when they are first captured, it will give the students a reference point to make a prediction when the Painted Lady butterflies reproduce. For schools that do not have access to a schoolyard or garden to observe native butterflies, check with your local science center or botanical garden to see how local butterfly species might be obtained for observation.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource was not designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
This unit only addresses butterflies, so an additional plant activity would need to be added to address that portion of the Disciplinary Core Idea. While students are not exploring other animals with this particular activity, the teacher might lead a discussion comparing and contrasting the butterfly's life cycle with other animal’s life cycles, as well as plant life cycles. This would help to address the complete standard.

Crosscutting Concepts

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

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
By watching the native butterflies make a chrysalis and become a butterfly, the student will have background knowledge of a pattern in the life cycle process prior to raising the Painted Lady butterflies.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: This unit allows students to closely observe and record the pattern in the life cycle of a butterfly, but it is only one model and so therefore cannot provide students with diverse models.

  • Instructional Supports: This unit engages students in first-hand experience of the butterfly life cycle by providing students the opportunity to record and predict the life cycle of the Painted Lady butterflies. There are no suggestions for differentiation for English language learners, struggling students, or advanced learners. To accommodate these students, the teacher could find reading material about butterflies in the native language or proper reading level for the student. ELL students or struggling readers might enjoy illustrating changes in the life cycle on flash cards or memory games, and then using them with each other, or they could use the cards to teach younger students the concept.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: The unit assesses student learning through writing and illustrations in student journals, answers to focus questions throughout the unit, and one-on-one discussions with the teacher. Some ideas for focus questions are "Do you see any changes in the organism since last time that we looked?" "Why do you think that happened?" "Does it give us any clues to what might happen next?"

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: Butterfly-related websites are suggested to the teacher to learn about the butterflies, but technology is otherwise not utilized in this investigation.