UEN Security Office
Technical Services Support Center (TSSC)
Eccles Broadcast Center
101 Wasatch Drive
Salt Lake City, UT 84112
(801) 585-6105 (fax)
Students will identify plant characteristics from different environments and be able to communicate that information in different ways.
For each student:
This activity should be used after introducing the concept of structure and function of a dichotomous key. Students will have practiced on common and simple items such as candy, shoes, etc. They should then begin to generalize that information by identifying plant characteristics from different environments, and be able to communicate that information in different ways.
The word dichotomy means division into two. A dichotomous key reduces the task of identifying something into a series of questions that are based on physical features. Each set of questions offers opposing answers from which to choose. As students make choices and eliminate others, they will eventually discover the name of the mystery item.
Throughout this lesson, students will make observations and record them in a science journal. They will also spend time in cooperative learning groups in a variety of ways to ask questions and discuss the information they learn.
The plants used in your investigations should include (but not be limited to) the ones on the Science wordlist for Standard 5:
|cottonwood||Utah juniper||*Sego lily||*Bristle cone pine|
|quaking aspen||pinyon pine||*Douglas fir|
|sagebrush||prickly pear||Gambles oak (oak brush)|
|*common but not in 4th grade core curriculum list|
1. Use Science Process and Thinking Skills
2. Manifest Scientific Attitudes and Interests
Invitation to Learn
Before starting the lesson, put on something unique you don’t usually wear such as a funny hat, odd glasses, or something outrageous on your head like a pan. Start talking to the students about something not specifically on the topic, acting like nothing is different. When students react to you with giggles or comments, innocently ask, “What?” “Is something the matter?” When they identify what is different, they might say, “You’ve got that pan on your head!” “Oh, so this thing is different? What is another name for thing (attribute, characteristic)? If they can’t think of any, have them look it up in the thesaurus/dictionary. “You’re right! When something is different, we notice it and need to identify it so we can communicate our discovery with others. This pan makes me different, just like characteristics make many “things” different...Like Utah plants!”
Look at the shape of the leaves—round, oval, long, etc.
Look at the number of leaves on a stem.
Look at the stem (Is it woody?).
Look at the color.
Does it have needles?
What are the differences between the leaves?
What do the leaves have in common?
Do any leaves have edges that look like teeth on a saw blade?
Do any leaves have hair-like structures?
What do the leaves feel like?
Can you trace the veins on the leaves? What do they feel like?
If there are needle-like leaves, are the needles in clusters?
What color are the leaves?
Compare the leaves—size, shape, structure.
Nesbit, C., Hargrove, T., Harrelson, L., (Winter, 2004). Implementing Science Notebooks in the Primary Grades. Science Activities, 40(4), 2.
This article details the process teachers can use to teach how to use science notebooks. It highlights the benefits associated with using notebooks, and provides connections to National Science Standards.
“Data from science notebooks provide the teacher with a true record of each student’s thinking and level of understanding over the course of the investigation. This information can prove to be extremely insightful as teachers begin to understand how each student thinks, where their strengths and weaknesses lie, and why they make the mistakes they make. This information should be used to improve classroom practice, correct misconceptions, and guide the students toward developing a deeper understanding of content. The science notebook can be used as a tool to measure students’ understanding of a variety of areas including, but not limited to, science, mathematics, and writing.”
Shlomo, S. (1999). The Handbook of Cooperative Learning Methods. Westport, Connecticut, Praeger Publishers, 226.
This text defines and discusses cooperative learning and outlines a variety of ways to use this strategy in different curriculum areas.
“While students conduct their inquiry individually, in pairs, and in small groups, they gather a great deal of information from a variety of sources. Interpretation of their combined findings is a process of negotiation between each student’s personal knowledge and the new knowledge acquired, and between each student and the ideas and information contributed by other members of the group. This promotes ability to organize, confirm, and consolidate their findings and thus to make sense of them.”
Adams, D., & Hamm, M. (1998). Literacy in Science, Technology, and the Language Arts: An Interdisciplinary Inquiry. Westport, Conneticut: Bergin & Garvey. p. 129.
This text deals with science and mathematics inquiry processes as tools that enable students to gather and discover data for themselves through the process of scientific inquiry.
“Most science educators today agree that science can best be viewed as a continuous process of trying to discover order in nature and looking for consistent patterns of the universe through systematic study. It guides the inquirer to a variety of sources, revealing previously undetected patterns. These undiscovered openings can become sources of new questions that can deepen and enhance inquiry. Science is a way of thinking and asking questions.”