Do Insects Prefer Local or Foreign Foods?

Michigan State University
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.



Do Insects Prefer Local Or Foreign Foods? is a lesson plan that provides a sequence of learning activities to help students understand what might determine if an exotic species will become invasive.  This lesson is divided into four parts.  In the first part, students are introduced to the phenomenon of invasive plant species and asked the scientific questions, "How does insect herbivore damage compare for native, non-invasive exotic, an invasive plant species?" and "Are species that have become invasive in Michigan not eaten by herbivore?".  Students find the hypothesis in "Research Background" and make three predictions for the amount of herbivory on the three plant types.  In the second part, students are provided the data from this investigation, answer questions about the variables, and except for Student Version A, generate a bar graph.  The last part of the lesson is the interpretation of the data.  The lesson plan uses four main questions to guide students through a claims-evidence-reasoning response.  The fourth and final activity provides students an opportunity to experience science as an ongoing process by exploring whether this study fully answered the research questions and what new questions could be investigated.  There are three different versions of this lesson provided so that the teacher may differentiate instruction.  Background research, a general rubric, possible student responses, and supportive "Teacher Notes" are provided.  An extension activity is also provided that is appropriate for high school students as well as additional teacher resources related to this Data Nugget that allow students to collect their own data.  

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Grade 8
  • Grade 7
  • Grade 6
  • Middle School
Access Restrictions

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

Performance Expectations

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 first part of the lesson provides the opportunity for students to continue the development of their skills in experimental design while learning about invasive plant species and insect herbivory. Students read the "Research Background" to learn about these animals in their native ecosystem, find the hypothesis, and make predictions about the original research questions. Included in "Research Background" is the methodology of the researcher, and an example of how the scientist collected herbivory data with. Students complete the example by carrying out three mathematical calculations related to how the scientist collected the data, and find her hypothesis in the background reading. While simply presented, no questions are provided to facilitate and guide student understanding of the background reading. To enhance the effectiveness of this exercise, the teacher should create questions, especially for the methodology portion of the reading, which would allow students to continue the development of their experimental design skills by deconstructing the investigation.

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
There were three groups of plants in this study, "native", "exotic", and "invasive". Students must complete one calculation of the proportion of leaf area eaten by herbivores so that they may understand how the investigator arrived at her results. The average proportion of leaf areas eaten by insect herbivores is compared by the student to make a claim based on the evidence that helps answer the original research questions. This is the part of the lesson sequence in which differentiation is provided by the developer of the collection. In Version A of the activity, the graph is provided, in Version B, the axes are provided, and in Version C, only the grid is provided. The teacher should lead a discussion to help the students realize what the different size bars in the bar graph represent in terms of relative amounts of plant consumption. An extension activity using statistics is provided as well but is best suited for high school students.

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

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
The "Interpret the Data" and "Your Next Step" activities provides the opportunities for students to develop their understanding of interactions between insect herbivores and plants in ecosystems and possibly apply this knowledge to help control invasions already underway and prevent new ones in the future. Teachers should create a graphic organizer to help students connect the data back to the effects of herbivory on plant performance. Sentence frames and sentence starters as a scaffolding tool will benefit all students as well.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

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

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
The final activity allows students to explore the complexity of ecosystems, their components and the range of possible answers to the original experimental question. The teacher can continue to focus on biotic factors in keeping with the original research question. Teachers can guide students through a brainstorming activity before choosing one new question related to the original research question to investigate. A suggested activity would be the generation of a mind map based on other possible biotic factors in an ecosystem that could have an impact on the plant's survivability.

Crosscutting Concepts

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

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
The investigation of the impact of invasive plant species allows students to realize not only the effect of invasive species in ecosystems, but the impact of globalization. The teacher should introduce examples of ecosystems, that have been impacted by exotic plant species. For example, in Southern California, a plant native to the Mediterranean area, Arundo donax (Giant Reed), has overtaken riparian habitats. This has displaced native species and created conditions conducive to inferno-like wildfires, which are destructive to the habitat and poses increased risks to humans. Students should also learn how these organisms were originally introduced so that they may realize that however innocuous, exotic species are potentially the cause of great harm to the ecosystem.

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

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Invasive plant species are a continuing problem with real and severe consequences. This investigation seeks answers to the question of how an exotic species could become invasive by comparing the amounts of insect herbivory between the different types of plants. Experimental results could have immediate applications to help control current invasions and possibly prevent new ones in the future. For example, a candidate insect herbivore could be selected for biological control. Although the secondary research questions asked specifically about Michigan, this topic can easily be applied to most, if not all, student locales.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: This activity provides students with the opportunity to practice three-dimensional learning as they explore the phenomena of invasive plant species and herbivory using the science and engineering practices of constructing explanations and mathematical and computational thinking while studying herbivory in three different classifications of plants. Students compare the amount of herbivory between native, exotic, and invasive plant species.

  • Instructional Supports: This relevant and authentic resource engages students in meaningful observations of ecosystems within their own local area. However, as invasive plant species is a national phenomenon, albeit some areas less than others, students can apply their learning to their own locale. Teachers should use graphic organizers, sentence frames, and sentence starters to scaffold student learning. The collection developer does provide three different versions of the student hand-out which focuses on graduated support for the graphing exercise. Questions are provided to guide students through the interpretation of the data but no specific targeting of English Language Learners or other subgroups is included.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: This investigation does elicit direct, observable evidence of three-dimensional learning as students engage in observing the phenomenon of invasive plant species. No formative assessment is provided. A generic rubric for "Data Nuggets" is available but the link on this lesson does not function. The teacher would have to download it from another "Data Nuggets" lesson (e.g. "A Tale of Two Scorpions"). A statistics extension activity is provided but is best suited for high school students.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: There are no technological interactive components in the lesson.