Bundle 4: Changing Life

Tier 1: How have living things and their environments changed?

Tier 1: How have living things and their environments changed?


Students can describe how an environment and its species are related, and use their data to look for patterns and consider how a local ecosystem has changed over time.


In this Tier 1 activity, the entire class will consider a specific geographical location (near the school, preferably – but somewhere in Iowa). As a class and in small groups, they will explore, compare, and contrast the current and historic living inhabitants of the area.

Big questions:

  • What is the relationship between an animal or plant, and its environment?
  • How have living things changed over time?
  • How have their environments changed over time?
  • What patterns arise from our data?

Standards addressed:

MS-LS4-1 Analyze and interpret data for patterns in the fossil record that document the existence, diversity, extinction, and change of life forms throughout the history of life on Earth under the assumption that natural laws operate today as in the past.
MS-LS4-2 Apply scientific ideas to construct an explanation for the anatomical similarities and differences among modern organisms and between modern and fossil organisms to infer evolutionary relationships.
Science and Engineering Analyze and interpret data to determine similarities and differences in findings.
Crosscutting Concepts Patterns: Graphs, charts, and images can be used to identify patterns in data.

Tier in depth:

Field Option: Students bring a journal with them to observe a local ecosystem (e.g. park, wetland, urban forest, location at the school, etc).

  1. Each learner picks their own living organism, and describes it using observations. “What does the animal look like?” “What is it doing?” They may also describe it using inferences. “What are the animal’s predators likely to be?” “How is this season different for the animal than other seasons?” (Students will compile this data so that comparisons can be made to look for themes).

  2. Students then make a list of the environmental conditions, and consider which of those which might pose a threat to the animal’s survival (e.g. predators, weather patterns, food sources, competition, terrain, humans, etc.).

  3. Next, students and teacher go and make observations of exposed fossils. Ideally, there may be exposed fossils within traveling distance; if not, a good substitute would be handheld fossil specimens native to the surrounding area, or greater Iowa area.

  4. A brief explanation and discussion will follow, of how that rock formation and the fossils within came to be. Students conclude by working with a small group to talk about what kinds of strategies or features those living things needed to survive, and how it was different than the conditions that exist now in Iowa. Finally, the entire class documents their observations in a google form (or other group accessible document) and summarizes their experience with one or two emerging questions and/or big ideas.

Resources for understanding the development of landforms, fossils, and geology in Iowa:

Map of Landforms (click on your area to learn more about its development)

Fossils in Iowa 

Intro to Iowa Geology 

Modified (Campus option): Students make observations around their school, whether wildlife or urban. Detailed overhead maps can also be used. Students are shown a geological map of Iowa to pinpoint their location and surrounding geology and/or environment. Devonian fossils or other fossils from differing time periods are shared (see resources above), and students make comparisons similar to those described in the first option.