The local zoo has a new amphibian exhibit and needs a newsletter to help visitors understand and appreciate frogs. On their way to becoming frog experts, students investigate the universal features of habitats, observe frogs in their natural environment, and raise frogs from eggs in an artificial habitat. Students record their observations and reflections in words and pictures in a science log, and use a spreadsheet to record their data collection. They show their understanding of habitats in general and the specific features of a frog habitat in a slideshow presentation. Students create a newsletter illustrating the frog life cycle and habitat, both natural and man-made, and give specific details about the frog exhibit.
View how a variety of student-centered assessments are used in the Pond Water and Pollywogs Unit Plan. These assessments help students and teachers set goals; monitor student progress; provide feedback; assess thinking, processes, performances, and products; and reflect on learning throughout the learning cycle.
In Preparation for the Unit
To introduce the project-based learning scenario, prepare a letter, addressed to the class, describing the zoo's frog exhibit. This will appear to have been written by someone at the zoo (or you could actually have someone at the zoo write a letter on official letterhead) requesting students' help.
If collecting frogs from the wild, determine rules for collection and release of animals in the area (the state department of fish and wildlife is a good starting place). Arrange for frog eggs to be collected or delivered.
Get an aquarium (approximately 20 gallons) and materials necessary for a tadpole/frog habitat (see the Resources section for habitat requirements). Gather frog videos, books, printed materials, and electronic resources, and line up an amphibian’s expert to visit the classroom.
Introduce the Project
On the first day of the unit, “deliver” a letter from the local zoo to the class. Read and discuss the letter, and develop the scenario. Discuss frogs, and start a Know-Wonder-Learn (K-W-L) chart to record prior knowledge and questions about frogs. Chart ideas as well as thoughts on steps students can take to answer their questions. Present and discuss the Essential Question, Why do people say, “There is no place like home”? Have students discuss the question as a whole group, covering topics such as why they like their homes, what activities they do at their homes, and why homes are important. Record student responses on chart paper. Students could draw pictures of their homes and write words to represent why their homes are important to them. This could be the first entry in their frog observation journals.
In their journals, students record ideas and thoughts, using writing and drawing. Observation journal questions are used to probe understanding throughout the course of the unit, with students writing, drawing, or dictating responses. In a discussion, compare what frogs and people need to grow. Record similarities and differences on a T-chart. Introduce the term habitat as the concept that encompasses comparisons among homes, diets, air and water usage, and so forth.
Have students record what they believe to be the necessary features of a frog habitat in their journals. Share ideas and chart them on chart paper for students to refer to throughout the unit. For homework, challenge students to come up with a list of essential features of a frog habitat.
Learning about a Frog’s Habitat
At the end of the first week, visit a local pond as a class and observe a natural frog habitat. Have students gather the evidence they need to begin to address the Unit and Content Questions:
Have students photograph the site and features of the pond to refer back to when setting up the aquarium at school. (Digital images are also useful for later projects and presentations.) Using various instruments, have students measure and record water quality. The pH (alkalinity/acidity), temperature, and dissolved oxygen are three factors of water quality that can be measured. Kits for testing pH and dissolved oxygen can be found at many pet stores.
After the field trip, revisit the Content Question, What is needed for a healthy frog habitat? Ask students to respond to the question in their frog journals by illustrating and labeling the features of the frog habitat they observed. In groups, have students discuss the characteristics of the frog habitat and develop a list of criteria for their artificial frog habitat. Develop the K-W-L chart further. Using a book on amphibian husbandry, elaborate on habitat requirements that may not have been developed thus far, and have students record new information in their journals.
Instruct students to complete either or both of the following activities:
The drawings become a dynamic part of the project as students add to them throughout the course of the unit.
Help students apply their knowledge of natural habitat by working as a class to create the aquarium habitat for the frog eggs. After the new habitat is constructed, revisit the Unit Question, How does a frog’s classroom home compare to its home in the wild? Construct a Venn diagram to depict similarities and differences between the two habitats.
Data Gathering and Organization
Help students address and answer the Content Question, What is the life cycle of a frog? Students experience the developmental process firsthand, from egg to frog. Have students use the frog life cycle spreadsheet (xls) to record observations every few days. Students can use the spreadsheet either by printing it and writing their observations in the spreadsheet cells, or by entering data into the spreadsheet directly on the computer. The first entry occurs when eggs are first placed in the aquarium. The first page of the spreadsheet is used to record data from their observations of the eggs. As the frog develops, have the students use the next four pages of the spreadsheet—tadpole, tadpole with legs, froglet, and adult frog—to record their observations. Guide students as they draw their observations of frog development, record dates of entry, and write, if possible, about the changes they see. Water quality (pH, temperature, and dissolved oxygen) should be tested and recorded daily, and modified as needed.
Periodically, have students demonstrate their understanding by having them answer questions in their journals (see the observation journal questions).
Student Multimedia Presentation
Have students create a class slideshow on habitats in general and a frog habitat in particular to share with the another class at school. Tell students the presentation must answer the following questions:
Also tell the class that the presentation must include the following components as supporting evidence for the questions:
Have students collaborate in small heterogeneous groups, and assign one of the preceding components of the presentation to each group. Then, assign a role to each member of the group, with roles rotating among members. The timekeeper, the typist, the supply gatherer, and the supporter are sample roles that can be used. Pass out the presentation self-assessment and review requirements. Model using the assessment with students, so they are aware of expectations, and then check for understanding. Have students develop a rough draft of group work on a storyboard planning sheet prior to creating the slideshow. Use a template to structure the presentation. Slide details, sequence, transitions, and timing can be determined by class consensus as slides are organized into a class show.
Research Activities—Frog Life Cycle
Using the Curriculum-Framing Questions to focus learning, have students gather more information about the frog life cycle. Make sure students continue writing questions that arise in their journals. These are used as the basis for class discussion. As students study, tell them to record interesting information in their journals.
Introduce the frog life cycle in a puzzle format. Using the life cycle diagram, create enough puzzle packs for pairs of students to share. To make the puzzles, cut the diagrams apart, and separate pictures from labels. To re-create the puzzles, have students put the diagrams in order, and match the diagrams to the correct labels. After completing the puzzles, encourage students to read the captions aloud to one another.
Students can document the frog life cycle on a large poster as they watch their frogs develop. Throughout this research period, enlist adult helpers or upper-grade buddies to assist students with reading, writing, and computer use.
Have students summarize the unit content and apply it to create a newsletter for zoo visitors. Working in groups, have each group develop one component of the newsletter. When rough drafts are complete, arrange for students to meet with another group, so students can get feedback and suggestions for improvement. When revisions are complete, have students submit their contributions. Enlist the help of an adult to assemble the newsletter. Make sure the newsletter includes the following components:
Revisiting the Essential Question and Wrapping Up
Have students look back at the K-W-L chart created at the beginning of the unit. Discuss the questions they posed, and then begin to fill out the LEARN section with student ideas. Point out how exciting it is that they have learned so much information about habitats and frogs! Pose the Essential Question, Why do people say, “There is no place like home”? again to students. Have students share their ideas in small groups and then discuss with the whole class, reminding them to use examples from their frog study.
Instruct students to make one last entry in their frog observation journal about what they learned about habitat and frogs. Consider choosing one of the following final prompts:
Adding pictures of students participating in the frog study would be a great addition to their journals.
Use the science content scoring guide to assess student work, participation, and understanding of science-related content.
English Language Learner (ELL)
Lisa-helen Shapiro participated in the Intel® Teach Program, which resulted in this idea for a classroom project. A team of teachers expanded the plan into the examples you see here.
Background: From the Classroom in Maryland, United States
This unit is aligned to Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards.