Patterns in Nature

Looking for Similarities and Differences

Patterns exist everywhere in nature. Early on we learn to recognize them, and they help us make sense of the world. It starts simply – noticing that night follows day, plants have leaves, animals move, and winter snows change to spring rains.

This recognition of repeating events and reoccurring structures and shapes naturally leads to our organizing and grouping things together and inspires us to look more closely. We recognize that insects are animals with six legs, the seeds of evergreen trees are contained in cones, and birds build nests every spring. Careful observation of similarities and differences within groups helps us further classify both living and non-living things. Snowflakes are all six-sided crystals, yet they can be sorted into categories by growth pattern and specific design. Insects, like butterflies, beetles, and grasshoppers, can be separated into easily recognizable orders based on their shared traits. And, while all leaves share a similar function, they can be differentiated by shape and venation patterns.

With experience, sorting becomes more detailed, and we learn to recognize the key features used in scientific classification systems that help us identify and name the physical phenomena and the life around us. This important framework groups living things, objects, or processes in categories so it’s easier to compare and look for relationships among them.

Often our discoveries prompt questions about how and why different patterns occur. We observe that body shape relates to track pattern, varying weather conditions affect the type of snowflake formed, and animals with the best disguise have a better chance of survival.  Recognizing patterns, from simple to complex, helps us to understand, appreciate and make sense of the natural world.

This year we’ll take a look at the many patterns found in nature. We’ll practice sorting and classifying as well as describing and recording why objects or organisms belong in a certain group. By looking for similarities and differences within these groups, we’ll identify patterns that can help us understand how things are related.

We’ll learn what makes an insect an insect in All Sorts of Insects, and through outdoor observations of common insects we’ll learn to recognize patterns that help us classify them into groups.

In Leaves: Nature’s Suncatchers, we’ll compare and contrast leaves in a variety of shapes and sizes while noting they all share a common function: making food for plants.

We’ll note differences in size, shape, and arrangement of leaves and cones in Conifer Clues: Cones, Needles, and Spirals and use key characteristics to identify the evergreen trees that make up our forest.

A snowflake’s story is one of constant change, from its trip through the sky to its resting place in the snow bank. In Snowflakes we’ll learn how varying temperature and humidity affects their shape, size, and design, making each six-sided snow crystal unique. We’ll view and sort snow crystals, compare winter weather patterns and their resulting precipitation, and make our own one-of-a-kind snowflake models, both indoors and out.

We’ll focus on the clues that animals leave behind in Track Detectives and learn to read pattern, print, and sign to tell a story of animal activity. We’ll imitate track patterns, note how different body shapes affect movement, interpret stories in the snow, and create our own stories on paper

We’ll further investigate the relationship between form and function in Feathering the Nest. For although they all contain and conceal the eggs, each nest reflects its maker and is characteristic of each species. We’ll build our own distinctive model nests and learn to identify real nests using dichotomous keys and flow charts.

All around us animals are hidden in plain sight. Some are concealed by camouflage, while others warn off predators with bright colors. In Animal Disguise and Surprise, through hands-on activities and model building, we’ll see how these adaptations contribute to an animal’s survival, determining who lives to pass on its traits to the next generation.

In spring we’ll study Frogs and Toads as they serenade us with their chorus of voices. We’ll learn to distinguish who’s who in the pond by studying different patterns of development, observing field marks, and listening closely to the sound patterns of the songs coming from the pond.

In Fiddleheads to Ferns we’ll sort ferns by leaf design, create leaf prints, and see how patterns help us recognize and classify our common ferns.

Patterns in nature occur at all different scales, from the spots on ladybugs to the changing phases of the moon. Studying such patterns and their variations enriches our understanding and appreciation of the natural world.

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Next Generation Science Standards and Common Core State Standards

The units and activities in CYCLES support the three Dimensions of the Next Generation Science Standards. Together, the lessons in this concept give children opportunities to engage in the Science and Engineering Practices (Dimension I) and to reflect on the Cross-cutting Concepts (Dimension II) as identified in the Next Generation Science Standards.

The monthly topics also address Disciplinary Core Ideas (Dimension III) in Physical Sciences (PS1: Matter and Its Interactions), Life Sciences (LS1: From Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes, LS2: Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics, LS3: Heredity: Inheritance and Variation of Traits, LS4: Biological Evolution: Unity and Diversity) and Earth and Space Sciences (ESS2: Earth’s Systems). The specific Disciplinary Core Ideas that each lesson addresses are outlined in detail on the “Teacher Resources” page and the “Unit Summary” that accompany each unit.

In addition, each lesson supports aspects of both the English Language Arts and Math Common Core State Standards, including Reading for Informational Texts, Speaking and Listening, and Writing, as well as Counting, Operations, Measurement and Data.

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