Habitat Detectives: Investigating the Site and Collecting Data

Earth Partnership for Schools•University of Wisconsin–Madison Arboretum
Type Category
Instructional Materials
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.



The short 5 minute video highlights animals that live in the tiny country of Costa Rica. The video has almost no speaking, but features the animals in their environment. Some of the animals are familiar and others will not be. The rainforest is one of the most biodiverse areas on the planet, and this short video underscores this idea.


Intended Audience

Educator and learner
Educational Level
  • Upper Elementary
Access Restrictions

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

Performance Expectations

2-LS4-1 Make observations of plants and animals to compare the diversity of life in different habitats.

Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on the diversity of living things in each of a variety of different habitats.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include specific animal and plant names in specific habitats.

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

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
This wonderful lesson has students looking for plants and animals -- and signs of plants and animals in a woods and recording the observations on a picture of a tree. The lesson allows for students to use their inventory to consider what food resources are available in the habitat for animals.

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 students would need to do a similar inventory in another habitat and then compare the inventories side by side in order to meet the Performance Expectation.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

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

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
The students would need to visit a habitat that has water and land to meet the full Disciplinary Core Idea.

Crosscutting Concepts

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

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
The students use the diagram of a tree to think about what resources the animals would depend on to survive. With guidance, students see that not only do animals take up different spaces in the habitat, but they have different resource needs. This addressed the Crosscutting concept because they see the parts of the habitat, and they also draw explicit connections between their relationships.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: Without being written with the NGSS in mind, this lesson couldn’t be more aligned to the NGSS. Motivated by a meaningful phenomenon, it addressed the core idea, the practice and the Crosscutting concept, and leads toward deeper understanding of the Performance expectation. Tips: Do this lesson twice, one in an area of rich biodiversity and another in an area without rich biodiversity (i.e., the school yard field), and try to figure out why there is such a difference. Ask, “Is there something about one environment that leads to having more biodiversity?” Have students do this lesson during different times of the year to figure out if the animals change over the seasons and if the resources also change. Try to figure out if every animal needs something in the environment to survive and how the components depend on one another.

  • Instructional Supports: The lesson accompanied by the suggested tips engages students in an authentic and meaningful event that reflects the practices of science as experienced in the real world. The teacher is following the lead of the students, who are discovering, and so there is no need for differentiation. The teacher can clarify ideas as they come up in context and therefore meaning is supported by the authentic context.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: The teacher will monitor progress by questioning, discussion, and the diagram that the students make, showing the signs of animal and plants that they encountered. The teacher can also ask students about the comparison of two habitats if suggestions are followed, and have the students free write and draw in their science notebooks about the differences between the two habitats in terms of biodiversity.  If the teacher uses the suggested tips she or he would be able to monitor student progress as he/she asks the students about the interdependent systems in the two habitats.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: - none -