STEM Lesson Planning

Alissa Lange - Laura Robertson - Jamie Price and Annie Craven

Life science is the study of livings things, their processes and life cycles, and their needs. Life science focuses on, “…patterns, processes, and relationships of living organisms. Life is self-contained, self-sustaining, self-replicating, and evolving, operating according to laws of the physical world, as well as genetic programming” (p. 139, NGSS). There are four core ideas within life science that span the K-12 grade range, appearing in different grades at different levels. These are:

  • Structures and processes in organisms
  • Ecology
  • Heredity
  • Evolution

Explore each of these further to learn more about what they mean, to what extent they are emphasized in a given grade range in your state, and how the concepts build on one another across the grades. In this chapter, we will give you an example of a set of learning experiences with life science at the core, as the anchoring standard. In this example, areas across math, engineering and technology, social studies, and literacy are covered.


Kindergarten- 2nd grade, How Birds Protect Themselves

Life science & Earth and Space Science

Author-  Adapted from the Unit Plan created by Alyssa Hare, 2020


Life science K.LS1.1: Use observations to describe patterns of what plants and animals (including humans) need to survive.

Earth Science K.ESS3.1: Use a model to represent the relationship between the basic needs (shelter, food, water) of different plant and animals (including humans) and the places they live.

Engineering K.2.ETS1.1. Ask questions, make observations, and gather information about a situation people want to change to define a simple problem that can be solved through the development of a new or improved object or tool.

Engage. Early in the experience will be the Engage phase. Students will play the Camouflage Game (adapted from multiple sources). As a group, the students will play the camouflage game in which the teacher hides objects around the room and students must find them. Some will be easier to find because they are different colors than the background. The images and objects that are hidden will be different materials that birds might use to build a nest, along with others that birds might be less likely to use, such as bright string. Students will then discuss their experiences and talk about why some objects were harder to find than others. During free play time, students will explore a sensory table with feathers, twine, small and large twigs, eggshells, and other materials. Students will observe the materials and choose one to draw and/or write about in their science journals.

Explore. Students will participate in an activity in which they will test different shaped containers and containers made of different materials to see which one is best to hold an egg when there is a lot of movement. The teacher will use motor or fan so that the same amount of movement happens to each condition. Students will see that the eggs roll out of the mostly flat containers, it is hard to get the eggs out of the containers that are too deep, and there should be some padding in the container to keep the eggs from breaking. Students may also notice that containers with flimsy sides do not old the eggs well, and even containers that are the right size and shape cannot be too heavy. Students will document their findings in their science journals.

On another day, students will explore the different materials from Day 1 and a variety of eggs that will be used in the bird’s nest. They will have the opportunity to their different attributes, weights, and lengths.

Explain. For this day we will read the book, Robyn Boid: Architect (Author, year) to explain specifically how birds build their nests. Students will discuss how camouflage works and how some animals camouflage their homes to keep them safe. Students will also discuss other characteristics of nests that make them suitable for a home that can keep birds alive.

Elaborate. This will actually cover all of day 9 and then part of day 10. That is because our final activity will be 2 parts. In Part 1 students will design their own bird’s nest, and in part 2, the students will actually construct their own bird’s nest using the materials they explored earlier in the week and data they retrieved from a math lesson. During this elaborate phase, students are asked to, “Construct a bird’s nest using your data from the math activity and your new learned knowledge of how birds build their nest to protect their eggs and themselves.”

Evaluate. At the end of the unit, students will reflect, in their science journal, on their experience designing and constructing their birds’ nest. The teacher will assess students’ learning via a presentation of the final nest creation and an explanation of why they think it will work to hold a bird’s egg. Students will discuss the shape and size of the nest, and the reasons they made the size that they did. Students will also describe the colors they used and will be required to support the reasons for their creations with evidence based on what they learned about birds’ needs. Students will assess their own learning and the learning of their peers as part of this phase by pairing up and answering questions about their creations and the creations of their peers.


This activity can start with explorations of habitats and shelters of animals in general, before focusing in on birds. The set of experiences could be even more open-ended if students are the ones who identify the animal shelter that they would like to research and then try to construct.

Another extension is to incorporate animal cams, like the Eagle Cams at ETSU. There are a number of these resources that are free and allow for “virtual field trips.

5th grade Exploring Animals and Patterns

Life Science, Earth and Space Science and Math

Author- Adapted from the Interactive Notebook by Mackenzie Garcia, 2019


Life Science

Earth and Space Science



Life science 5.LS.1 Compare and contrast animal responses that are instinctual versus those that are gathered through the senses, processed, and stored as memories to guide their actions.

Math 5.OA.B.3a Identify relationships between corresponding terms in two numerical patterns. For example, observe that the terms in one sequence are twice the corresponding terms in the other sequence.


Engage. This unit will begin by engaging students with a video about animal behaviors. The teacher will show a video of interesting animal behaviors, some of the behaviors being silly or particularly unusual (such as a chicken playing the piano). Teachers will guide the conversation and ask students questions about different animal behaviors they have noticed in their own experiences. They will also discuss which kinds of animals they would like to observe to see their behaviors, which will generate students’ interest in the project and set parameters of focus for the unit.

Explore. Students will choose an animal from a list given to them by the teacher and then fill out an animal behavior log while watching videos and researching that animal. They will make predictions about how they think the animals will behave. The log will ask students to describe how the animals sleep, eat, drink, play, explore, and interact with other animals. Students will reflect on the animal’s behavior and describe what surprised them about what they saw. They will also write about the environment the animal is in and how that might affect the animal’s behavior. This activity allows them to experience the key concept in this unit and establish relationships around animal behavior.

Explain. After logging animal behavior, the class will come together and discuss what they learned through videos and research. They will watch another video, this one being about a dog riding a skateboard. This will begin their conversation about learned and inherited behaviors.

On another day, the teacher will go through an article with the class about animal behavior. This will help students see what the learned and inherited behaviors are and what causes them to develop. Students will answer questions about this article in their interactive notebook. This phase of the unit will connect students’ prior knowledge of animal behaviors with new discoveries made about learned and inherited behaviors.

Elaborate. Students will work with peers through an inherited and learned behavior lab. This will allow them to see more examples of traits animals and people are born with and behaviors that are learned. They will examine behaviors seen in animals, people, and themselves. Students will discuss findings with a partner and record their thoughts and findings in their interactive science notebooks. Teachers will discuss the findings in with the students and ask them to explain the different behaviors they saw in the lab; this allows students to explain their thinking and use formal behavior vocabulary.

Evaluate. Teachers will ask students to fill out a CER (Claims, Evidence, Reasoning) in their interactive notebooks. This will ask students to identify what affects animal behavior, what they saw to support this in their behavior lab, and how what they saw supports their idea of what affects behavior. Students should be able to identify that the animals’ environment plays the biggest part in affecting the animals’ behavior. Students will evaluate their learning through reflection and teachers will assess learning by looking at the CER and the findings that students have recorded throughout their unit in their science interactive notebooks.

Ideas for Other Explorations

Seed dispersal. How do seeds get to where they need to grow?

Animal cams and virtual field trips to the Zoo. How can early and elementary school students use animal cams, and how can these support explorations of animals that are hard to see in our local communities (or during a pandemic!)?

Animal footprints. What do they look like? What about the structure or form tells you something about their behaviors?


Lange, Alissa A.; Robertson, Laura; Price, Jamie; and Craven, Amie. 2021. Teaching Early and Elementary STEM. Johnson City: East Tennessee State University.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License



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Elementary Science Methods Copyright © 2023 by Alissa Lange - Laura Robertson - Jamie Price and Annie Craven is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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