Structure and Function

Why do grass plants have nodes and raspberry plants have thorns? Why do insects have wings and beavers have water repellent fur? The physical structure of an organism helps it to survive in its environment – to avoid predation, to gather the food and water it needs, to find a mate. We’ll compare different organisms to think about how particular physical characteristics relate to important skills and behaviors, and ultimately to survival. Throughout this yearlong study, students will explore the characteristics of organisms, look for similarities and differences among them, and learn about natural selection and the role of evolution.

NEARBY NATURE – Structure and Function

Descriptions of Topics

Spiders: Web-Weavers and Wanderers

Spiders come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but they all share some specific characteristics – two body parts, eight legs, no wings or antennae. Some weave beautiful webs to capture their prey while others wander in search of food. We’ll take a close look at the adaptations of spiders, learn about their carnivorous lives, and scout outdoors for spiders and their webs.

Tremendous Trees

Tree photo by Jamie Beaulieu

Most of us have a favorite tree, one we watch change through the seasons and grow through the years. But what makes a tree a tree? We’ll look at the different parts of a tree and how these work together to produce energy for growth, move water from root to twig, make new rings of wood. If you could interview your favorite tree, what questions would you ask it?

Grasses and Grains

Grasses can stand up in high winds, hold onto slippery slopes, and grow back after being mown or grazed. What characteristics allow grasses to be such survivors? We’ll look at lots of different types of grasses and compare the similarities and differences in this widespread family of plants. It’s surprising to discover how many different species of grass grow right in your own backyard.

Beavers and Muskrats

Beaver Swimming photo by Mary HollandWith their round, furry bodies, twinkling eyes, and dexterous front feet, these two rodents have a certain charm that endears them to us. We’ll look at the characteristics of these distantly related cousins to see how well they are adapted to live and work in a wetland habitat. A field trip to a beaver pond is essential!

Predators and Prey

Herbivores and carnivores both must eat, but the challenges these two groups of animals face in getting enough to eat are very different. Plant eaters don’t have to stalk their food, but they do need to keep from being eaten while they browse. And carnivores spend lots of time and energy looking for and capturing their prey. We’ll compare the characteristics of both of these groups and discover that it is indeed eat or be eaten out there.

Skull Sleuthing

What can we tell about an animal by looking at its teeth, the structure of its skull, the shape and size of its eyes? Skulls tell us a great deal about the habits of an animal. We’ll look at a variety of skulls to compare herbivore and carnivore adaptations, thinking about what the shape and structure tell us about the animal itself.

Birds of a Feather

Bird’s bodies come in a gazillion shapes, sizes and colors. Each bird species is adapted to survive in its own particular environment. Looking at different birds and comparing their characteristics and behaviors gives us a wonderful opportunity to see how structure and function go hand in hand in the natural world.

Calling All Owls

Imagine the challenge of finding a tiny mouse in the grass in the dark. Now imagine that if you don’t find it, you’ll be very, very hungry! As nocturnal predators, owls face some challenges in finding food and a mate. We’ll look at some of the characteristics that help owls be successful. And we’ll determine where on the food chain owls fit when we dissect a pellet to see what these nighttime hunters are eating.

Daunting Defenses

plant thornsA prickly thorn, a painful bite, a hard shell, a scary bark, plants and animals have developed many different defense strategies to protect themselves. We’ll look at a variety of these natural defenses and learn how these different structures help living things survive.

The Buzz on Bees

When you watch bees flying from flower to flower gathering nectar and honey, you can see what it means to be “busy as a bee.” Honeybees have a complex social structure that is fascinating to study. We’ll look at the anatomy of bees, study their honeycombs, and discover the different roles within the hive. And of course, we’ll enjoy a sweet snack, thanks to the hard work of the honeybee.