Structure and Function

Structure Function

Equipped for Survival

The Earth is inhabited by a great variety of living organisms in a seemingly endless array of shapes and forms. From single-celled bacteria to giant sequoia trees, millipedes to moose, living things have different structures and behaviors that allow them to meet their basic needs.  A hummingbird’s long thin bill lets it reach the nectar deep inside a trumpet flower. A grass plant grows from the base of its stems rather than at the tips so it can withstand grazing or fire without harm. Looking for the connections between structure and function is an important concept in biology and can be as exciting as unraveling a mystery.

Each kind of bird or spider, tree or fern, has a particular lifestyle and habitat. Organisms differ in ways that help them to survive – to avoid predation, to gather Continue reading Structure and Function

Structure and Function – Table of Contents

Structure and Function – Vocabulary for Children

abdomen  The back end of a spider or insect, the body section behind the thorax (or cephalothorax in spiders).

adaptation  An inherited feature of a plant or animal’s body, or the way it behaves, that helps it to survive.

antenna  A pair of long, thin structures on the heads of insects and some other animals, that are important as feelers and for the sense of smell.

armor  A tough, protective covering for defense against predators. Continue reading Structure and Function – Vocabulary for Children

Spiders: Web-Builders and Wanderers – Background

Hanging under eaves, tucked in the cracks on tree bark, hidden in tall grass, spiders and webs can be found nearly everywhere you look in late summer. Not all spiders spin webs, however. Some actively hunt for prey, scurrying over dirt in the garden or ambushing pollinators visiting flowers. Whether wanderers or web weavers, spiders abound in nearly every habitat on Earth, with estimates of one million individuals living in each acre of grassy field. There are about 2,500 spider species in North America, all different and each well adapted to its role as a small but effective predator.

Spiders are arthropods, which means that they have jointed legs and hard exoskeletons, as insects do. Continue reading Spiders: Web-Builders and Wanderers – Background

Spiders: Web-Builders and Wanderers – Activities

FOCUS: Spiders come in a variety of shapes, colors, and sizes, but they all share some specific characteristics: two body parts, a hard exoskeleton, eight legs. They all make silk, too, though not all weave webs. Here we take a close look at web spinners and wandering spiders, examine their anatomy, and consider their special adaptations. We’ll learn about their lives as small predators and scout outdoors for spiders and webs.

Objective: To begin to explore and ask questions about spiders.

A day or two ahead of time, gather a variety of spiders and put them in jars with perforated lids, only one spider per jar, and include a moist cotton ball and bit of vegetation in each jar. Give each small group of children a spider in a jar to examine, and ask what they notice and wonder about it. 

Materials: live spiders in clear jars with perforated lids with moist cotton ball and bit of vegetation, only one spider per jar; magnifying lenses.

Objective: To observe closely and compare a variety of different live spiders.

Using the spiders in jars from the Introduction, encourage children to use their magnifiers to look closely at the different parts of a spider. Can they distinguish Continue reading Spiders: Web-Builders and Wanderers – Activities

Spiders: Web-Builders and Wanderers – Puppet Show

Spider Olympics

Characters: Woody Woodchuck, Jumping Spider, Winifred Wolf Spider, Crab Spider, Olivia Orb-weaver

Props: goldenrod flower

Jumping Spider  One, two, three…(jumps) One, two, three…(jumps again) Better!

Woody Woodchuck  Hello there, spider! What’s with all the jumping?

Jumping Spider  Hi, Woody Woodchuck. Today’s the day of the Spider Olympics. Bet you’ve never seen so many eight-legged athletes in one place! Continue reading Spiders: Web-Builders and Wanderers – Puppet Show

Spiders: Web-builders and Wanderers – Standards


The activities in this unit help children understand the basic concepts in the Disciplinary Core Ideas listed here. You can use the following list as a guide for lesson planning. These Disciplinary Core Ideas are taken from Grade Band Endpoints in A Framework for K-12 Science Education. Additionally, our activities give children opportunities to engage in many of the Science and Engineering Practices and reflect on the Crosscutting Concepts as identified in the Next Generation Science Standards. Continue reading Spiders: Web-builders and Wanderers – Standards

Tremendous Trees – Background

Towering above us, branches reaching to the sky, trees are a familiar feature of the landscape, whether a forested hillside, a busy city park, or our own backyard. In the summer, trees form a green canopy shading and cooling the ground below. In winter, they stand silently braced against the cold and snow. With some 100,000 different species worldwide, trees come in a variety of shapes and sizes and thrive in a wide range of habitats. But what makes a tree a tree?

By definition, trees are large, woody, perennial plants. From underground roots to leafy branches, each part plays an important role in the survival of the tree. Continue reading Tremendous Trees – Background