Our Desert Backyard - Student Page

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Through this activity you will become familiar with the desert or other environment in your backyard. You will learn techniques to observe, measure and record data about your environment. You will also plan and take field trips to study the organisms near your home and school.

Student Outcomes

While doing this activity, you should learn how to:

  • Describe daily, weekly, and seasonal changes in organisms and environments.
  • Observe, record, analyze, interpret and communicate data.
  • Describe the desert environment outside the classroom.
  • Recognize plants, animals and insects in their environment.
  • Recognize how environmental factors cause change in organisms.
  • Appreciate the unusual survival techniques/adaptations of desert plants and animals.

Resources Needed

  • Thermometers
  • Observation journals
  • Pencils
  • Pens
  • Crayons
  • Magnifying glasses (optional)
  • Camera (optional)

Implementation Overview

Before beginning this activity, you will need to have experience with the following instruments and vocabulary:

If you have not had experience with thermometers, pick a partner take temperature readings in various settings. Investigate Fahrenheit and Celsius scales and conversions.
Beaufort Wind Scale
We can look for indicators in our environment that tell how fast the wind is blowing. These indicators are organized into the Beaufort Wind Scale:
Wind Effect Classification Wind Speed
 Smoke rise Calm 0 mph
Smoke drifts Light air 1 - 3 mph
Leaves rustle, flags stir Light breeze 4 - 7 mph
 Leaves and twigs move Gentle breeze 8 - 12 mph
Branches move, flags flap Moderate breeze 13 - 18 mph
Small trees sway, flags ripple Fresh breeze 19 - 24 mph
Large branches move, flags beat Strong breeze 25 - 31 mph
Whole trees move, flags extend Stronge breeze 32 - 38 mph
Twigs break, walking is difficult Fresh gale 39 - 46 mph
Signs, antennae blow down Strong gale 47 - 54 mph
Trees uprooted, damage to buildings Storm 55 - 73 mph
Countryside devastated Tornado or Hurricane 75 + mph
Read a cloud chart or use the following online sources to investigate the three main cloud types, cumulus, cirrus, and stratus.

Selection of Environment

Select a desert area near the school for field trips since you will be visiting frequently. It should be convenient and familiar. Avoid a park or zoo or area maintained by landscapers because you will want to observe organisms in their natural habitat. The area you select should have a wide array of plants and animals. Select an area approximately 83' x 83'. Plan field trips in the Fall or Spring when change is most obvious.


Over the next several weeks you will be collecting, recording and measuring data in your desert backyard and looking for changes and relationships (interdependence) in organisms.

Divide into groups of three or four and discuss the following questions; then come up with some of your own:

  1. What plants and animals would you expect to see in this environment?
  2. What weather might you observe?
  3. What changes in our environment have you observed over the last few weeks? (seeds changing to plants, leaves changing color, etc)
  4. What may have caused the changes to happen?
  5. What do you wonder about the organisms in the environment we will be visiting? (I wonder when an ant sleeps. I wonder which insects don't harm people? I wonder which plants are edible?)

After the discussion, each group needs to make a field trip plan. For example see: My Field Trip.

Next class session, review field trip plans and explain how to record data in Observation Chart. Compile field trip plan and observation charts into a Journal.

Observe, sketch and record data while on your class field trip. Share discoveries upon return to classroom, note that discussions will be most valuable the same day or day after trip. You may want to refer to the Digital Desert Library database to help students identify the plants and animals they sketched.

Return to the same site between 3-7 times within the next 2-3 weeks. You may want to make observations and record data at the same time of day in the same place for each field trip.

After you have taken the last trip, compare your findings from the first trip with those from the last one on the Change Data Observation Sheet. Prepare presentations on your findings. (Also see Methods and Ideas.)


Teacher observation, class discussion, student presentation of findings, student journals, and rubric.

Extension Activities