1 class periods of 60 minutes each
Students observe Utah plant specimens from the Natural History Museum of Utah. The four ecosystems found in Utah are explored and many of the plants that live there identified. Plant adaptations for each ecosystem are studied. Students play a game of Survivor Utah as they learn about the uses of many of Utah's plants.
A toolbox kit from the Natural History Museum of Utah is needed for this lab. There is high demand for these kits at different times of the year. Decide on a two-week interval you think you will fit the lesson in over the year and book the kit for those weeks early in the fall.
Preparation: Make sure that the plant samples in the toolbox coincide with those in the answer key. At times, the Natural History Museum changes which plant samples are in the toolboxes. There are two sets of plant/biome keys with the lab representing at least two of the different sets of specimens that may be found in the kits.
A biome is a large geographical area characterized by the similarity in the plants and animals that live there. There is an interaction within biomes between the plants, animals, climate, soil type, and geography found there. Utah has four biomes: wetlands, forests, alpine, and deserts.
The wetland biome of Utah is found in areas where water covers the soil for most of the year. Less than 1% of Utah is a wetland and about 75% of Utah's wetlands are located near the Great Salt Lake. Some of Utah's wetlands are salt wetlands. Wetlands help filter water and serve as a reservoir for water. Plants that live in a wetland have special adaptations. Many tall grasses live in wetlands because they need very little root development. Plants have spongy leaves that float atop the water in a wetland. Some plants have air spaces, which help the plants stand up in water. Trees are generally not found in wetlands in Utah because the ground is too saturated with water to support their weight and height.
The biome with the largest area in Utah is the desert. It is found predominantly in the southern and western regions of the state. Deserts have dry rock, and sandy soil that cannot hold much water. Days are hot and nights tend to be cold. There is a scarcity of precipitation in a desert and plants and animals must be adapted to survive on very little water. Some desert plants are succulents and store water in their stems or leaves. Some desert plants have long roots that find water far below the surface. Many desert plants have spikes to prevent animals from eating their leaves, which store water. Some plants have thick, waxy, or hairy leaves that prevent dehydration.
The alpine biome of Utah is found above the tree line at about 10,000 feet. The soil in the alpine is very rocky and has little nutrients. The alpine has high winds and little precipitation in the form of rain. These conditions dry out plants and require adaptations for their survival. Plants in the alpine are usually less than 12" tall. Some of the plants have hairs, which help keep them warm. Plants also grow in clusters to increase their warmth. The alpine plants also need tough leaves to withstand the wind.
The forest biome accounts for about 25% of Utah. Generally, forest areas have all four seasons and extremes of both hot and cold temperatures. There is enough rain to support abundant plant life. The soil is nutrient rich due to the high plant and animal life in the area. Dense vegetation is found with many trees, shrubs, and low-lying plants that fill the area. Trees are both deciduous and coniferous and have bark to protect against cold winters.
1a. Observe simple objects and patterns and report their observations.
1b. Sort and sequence data according to a given criterion.
1c. Make simple predictions and inferences based upon observations.
1d. Compare things and events.
1g. Develop and use simple classification systems.
1h. Use observations to construct a reasonable explanation.
3a. Know science information specified for their grade level.
3b. Distinguish between examples and non-examples of science concepts taught.
4b. Report observation with pictures, sentences, and models.
Pre-lab discussion: Define for students a biome. Ask students if they can guess which biomes are found in Utah. Show them pictures of each biome. If you have them available, show students a live cactus, a succulent, some tall grasses, and a woody branch from a tree. Ask the students which biome they think each plant would grow best in. From this discussion, explain the information in the background information section of the lab.
Instructional procedure: Divide the plant specimens between however many groups of students you have. Try and have a mixture of plants in each biome for each group. Each group should also have one set of plant identification cards and one set of plant uses cards from the plant toolbox. * If plant uses cards are not found in the toolbox they aren't essential and the lab can be run without them.
I. Sorting plants into their biomes
II. Ethnobotany -- Ethno means the study of human culture and botany means the study of plants. The word ethnobotany describes how humans use plants.
III. Survivor Utah
Rio Tinto Hands-on Science Curriculum Team