The Prairie






If you come early to the prairie on a morning when there is a slight breeze blowing, you may be surprised to hear the grasses as they move gently in the wind. If you make a sudden noise, you may be startled to see birds upon birds flying up and out of the prairie. You have disturbed their refuge. And if you come in the fall, you will find all the birds feasting on the seeds of the golden flowers towering so high on their prairie plants that you can see nothing beyond them. Do come and sit for a while to listen to nature.

adaptation: according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary it is the adjustment to environmental conditions such as:
a: adjustment of a sense organ to the intensity or quality of stimulation
b: modification of an organism or its parts that makes it more fit for existence under the conditions of its environment : an inherited physical or behavioral trait that serves a specific function and improves an organism’s fitness or survival

Here in our Living Classroom Learning Lab there are many examples of how a plant cannot only survive but can adjust to its environmental conditions. There are the pollinators who pollinate certain plants due to their form; the plants and creatures in the pond with their unusual physical adaptations; the vegetables that will grow above or below the soil, etc. But, there are no better examples of adaptation that can be so readily seen and felt as the plants that make up our prairie! In the prairie, the children will be able to feel sandpapered and knifed-toothed leaves, calculate the total length of a grass from its tippy top to the end of its roots, and understand the solution many of the plants have for capturing water. There is even a prairie plant that could be a GPS!

In the prairie, the children will need to deepen their observation skills by interacting with many of the incredible prairie plants that reside here. Somehow, these prairie plants made adaptations that enabled them to survive the frigid winters and the sweltering summers of very little rain. There are two questions that need to be answered about these plants: What adaptations did prairie plants have to make in order to survive the harsh environment of the prairie ecosystem? How did the plants know what to do? In answering these questions, the children should also begin to wonder themselves as to how did this all come to be. Now, they will begin to understand the complexity of nature. Hopefully, they will want to know and understand more!

In the Prairie, we study Adaptation, Biodiversity, and Sustainability…

The children will:

• learn the history of the prairie by incorporating the story of the Dust Bowl.
• understand the interconnectedness between the animals and plants of the prairie ecosystem through the poem The Prairie that Nature Built a poem by Marybeth Lorbiecki.
• observe nature working in six prairie plants:
Rattlesnake Master
Prairie Dock
Cup Plant
Compass Plant
Big Blue Stem
• analyze the adaptations each plant has made to survive:
deep roots looking for water
leaves forming cups to contain the rain water
leaves that feel like sand paper or are serrated to ward off predators.
• predict why the prairie plants had to make adaptations and how these adaptations helped the plant adapt to its environment.
• create a “Landscaping Tag”, to be given to community nurseries detailing the characteristics of the prairie plant and showing its qualifications to be a landscape plant, its adaptations and sustainability.
• answer cause and effect questions:
The settlers saw the fertile soil in the prairie and they plowed the land. What were the effects, both good and bad?

Why did many settlers decide to come to the prairie?
Because the prairie is dry and windy, what happened after the prairie was plowed?
Think of several reasons why the buffalo almost became extinct. How did that impact the rest of the prairie ecosystem?
• complete “Notes from the Prairie Journal” and list five reasons why prairies are being rebuilt in our country.
• complete a graph showing the height of the prairie plants from the Spring to the Fall
• investigate the main pollinator of the prairie grasses — the wind
• construct an argument that plants have internal, and external structures that function to support survival, growth, behavior, and reproduction…from the Next Generation Science Standards