Two schools used this experiment with their students during the past
two years. Experiments were conducted by sophomore biology students at Johnson-Brock Public School in Johnson, Nebraska, and with
after-school Science Club students at Millard South High School in
Omaha, Nebraska. For their experiments, students analyzed predation types based on location (different local parks) and seasonal effects
(spring and fall). Students collaborated using Google Sheets and created pie charts and line graphs to represent predation (Figure 3). They
determined that the urban park had more bird predation while the
rural park had more invertebrate predation and that predation was
higher during fall than spring.
Teachers from both schools indicated that their students gained
valuable skills and insights into the scientific process. Participating
students learned that data are often not as clean as they see in a typical “boxed lab” and felt that the exercise improved their ability to recognize patterns. Once they analyzed their data, students developed
logical inferences to explain the patterns. Students also learned to
work collaboratively and ask deeper questions.
Several students from Millard South High School presented their
research outside of their Science Club. Three students received second
place in their category at the local science fair. Two students presented
their work to teachers, parents, and local scientists at an open-house
event. These experiences taught students about communicating science, a vital and often overlooked part of the scientific process.
Through this experiment, participating students gained a thorough
understanding of the scientific process. Imprints left on the caterpillars allowed students to observe consequences of predator–prey
interactions. Each time this experiment is run, patterns in predation
will not be identical due to natural variation, giving students a
chance to explore authentic data. In all circumstances, students will
learn about the process of designing and carrying out a scientific
study. This experiment fits into an NGSS framework and is a
hands-on and inexpensive way to teach students about science
and ecology. Teachers can easily integrate this lesson into their science classes and build upon students’ inquiry skills.
We would like to thank students at Millard South High School and
Johnson-Brock Public School for their participation. Jacqueline Wilson at the Hubbard Brook Research Foundation provided valuable
guidance for NGSS standards. Example data were provided by Jeff
Larkin and his BIOL 201 students at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Feedback from Jonathan Cohen, Lindsey Rustad, Kimberly
Wallin, and anonymous reviewers improved this lesson plan. Funding was provided to W.L. by the Edna Bailey Sussman Foundation
and to D.P. by the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry Research Seed Grant.
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Figure 3. Examples of graphs depicting overall predation on
plasticine model caterpillars of different colors.