Using School of Ants Citizen Science to Meet Common Core and Next Generation Teaching Standards in the Classroom
School of Ants (SOA) is one of many urban wildlife citizen science projects hosted through the Your Wildlife project. Your Wildlife and School of Ants focuses on biodiversity and citizen-scientist driven inquiry in urban areas around schools and homes. Dr. Andrea Lucky is the director of the SOA project out of the University of Florida’s Entomology Lab and the Nematology Lab at NC State. The idea behind the project is for citizen scientists to collect samples of ants from paved and green spaces around their homes and schools. They then send in the samples to the lab in Florida for identification. This data is used to generate a North American map of ant biodiversity and distribution.
SOA used to provide kits for ant collection but now they ask project participants to provide the supplies. As you can see from the list below these are limited to zip-lock bags, cookies, and index cards with some postal shipping. You can find step by step project instructions for the kits and collection in their free online PDF. Due to limited resources schools may participate by submitting one sample from each address or school location (no more than one). However you may submit multiple samples from different addresses (from the same person or class). Sampling takes exactly one hour. NOTE: as a caution be sure to have a minimal understanding of the biting and stinging ant varieties around your school. Do not collect ants that might cause harm to students.
Materials You’ll Need:
- Computer with internet and printer
- Instruction page for collecting ants
- 8 white 3”x5” index cards
- 2 Pecan Sandies Cookies (contains nuts, but must be used for standard protocol)
- 8 small zip-lock bags (1 qt.)
- 1 large zip-lock bag (1 gal.)
- 1 envelope for mailing ants by US post, and postage
- Magnifying glasses (optional)
- Dr. Elanor’s Book of Common Ants PDF (free online through iTunes, optional)
Why This Citizen Science Project is a Strong Candidate for the Classroom:
- Ants are ubiquitous and the project can be done anywhere in the US around schools or homes.
- Ants can be observed three seasons of the year in most locations.
- There are minimal supplies required to participate in this project.
- This project is a one-time activity, lasting one hour, so the time required is minimal.
- The project can be a springboard for lessons focusing on arthropods and invertebrates around the school.
The SOA website offers links and resources for ant identification and pictures, but the content is geared more towards ant researchers and scientists. They have a “coming soon” section for teachers, which is promising. Their free PDF ant key called “Who Ate My Cookie” is also handy. I am including some resources that I’ve found useful when teaching about ants:
- Start with Dr. Elanor’s Book of Common Ants, a free PDF with ant background and guide. Appropriate reading for 4th-12th grade. (suggested by the SOA team)
- Arizona State University, “Ask a Biologist” web page has links for “Ant Math,” an “Ant Zoom” picture gallery, life cycle page, ant factoids, and even MP3 interviews with ant biologists.
- ASU also provides “Ant Farm, Ask a Biologist Activity for the Classroom and Home.” Which has background materials, lessons, experiments, data analysis and a “how-to” for building an ant farm and collecting ants. This includes worksheets on the ant’s life cycle and anatomy.
- Smithsonian Natural History Museum Ant Lab Web Page.
- Smithsonian story book about ants, free PDF.
- A one hour video called “ANTS-Nature’s Secrete Power” on Youtube. It’s a bit long for an entire class, but can be used in clips or assigned as homework.
- Free ant ID PDF guide from Bayer Environmental Science. (Designed for pest control, but still good for ID purposes)
- Ant identification guide PDF free online, FMC Professional Solutions (Pest Control, but book is good)
- DK Readers: Ant Antics. Lock. [2nd-4th] ($.01)
- Are You an Ant? Allen and Humphries [K-5th] ($1)
- The Fascinating World of Ants. Julivert et. Al. [2nd-5th] ($.01)
- Ant Cities. Foreshman [2nd-5th] ($2)
- Inside an Ant Colony (Rookie Read-About Science). Fowler. [K-2nd] ($.01)
- Ants: Fun Facts and Cool Pictures. Insect Photos & Insect Facts for Kids. Mayrose. [3rd-6th] ($.01)
- Those Amazing Ants. Demuth and Schindler. [K-3rd] ($.01)
- Journey to the Ants: A Story of Scientific Exploration. Holldobloer and Wilson. [Adult reading and reference] ($.50)
Online Safety for Children
This project requires an adult to create an online account to upload data. You will need to provide your address and location but students do not need to enter an account and student personal information is not required.
Common Core and Next Gen. Standards Met:
Next. Gen. Science: K-LS1-1 Use observations to describe patterns of what plants and animals need to survive. K-ESS3-1 Use a model to represent the relationship between the needs of different plants and animals and the places they live.
Teachers may introduce the needs of ants through one of free books or suggested reading in the list above (under Teaching Materials). They may also have students participate in SOA and make observations of live ants as to their behavior and needs. Students may make a drawing of the different environments where they find ants and describe the food, water, shelter, and space available to the ants.
K-ESS3-3 Communicate solutions that will reduce the impact of humans on the land, water, air and/or other living things in the local environment.
Students should study ants around their local school yard and make observations about human influences that impact the ant colony. They may then provide suggestions for reducing this impact as a class discussion.
Literacy: RI.K.1 With prompting and support, ask and answer questions about key details in a text. W.K.1 Use a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to compose opinion pieces in which they tell the reader the topic or name of a book they are writing about.
Teachers may introduce the needs of ants through one of free books or suggested reading in the list above (under Teaching Materials). They may also have students participate in SOA and make observations of live ants as to their behavior and needs. Students may make a drawing or write an opinion piece about their observations and the text they have examined.
W.K.7 Participate in a shared research and writing project.
By participating on SOA students can share their research, collection techniques, observation, and thoughts on the life cycle of ants through writing and drawing.
Math: MP.2 Reason abstractly and quantitatively. MP.4 Model with Mathematics.
Teachers may have students set up their SOA experiment, and while they are waiting for their 1 hour sampling period they may use magnifying glasses to observe ant behavior. Information may then be shared collectively and the teacher may generate a simple graph. Teachers may also have students conduct a basic survey of ant mound locations and then graph findings into simple categories such as sidewalk, bare dirt area, grass, sand, playground, etc. This activity may also be incorporated into a simple mapping lesson for geography.
Next Gen. Science: 1-LS3-1 Make observations to construct an evidence-based account that young plants and animals are like, but not exactly like, their parents.
At the beginning of the SOA project teachers may introduce the life cycle of ants through one of the free books or suggested reading in the list above (under Teaching Materials). Students may color in the sheets provided or make their own diagrams. Teachers may also use the plans listed above (or order a kit) for creating an ant farm for observation so that students may observe the adults and young.
Literacy: RI.1.1 Ask and answer key details in a text. RI.1.2 Identify the main topic and retell key details of a text. W.1.7 Participate in shared research and writing projects.
At the beginning of the SOA project teachers may introduce the needs and life cycle of ants. Teachers may use one of free books or suggested readings in the list above (under Teaching Materials). Students may also use these texts to answer key details about ants and answer/retell key details of the text.
Math: Math: MP.2 Reason abstractly and quantitatively. MP.5 Use appropriate tools strategically.
Teachers may have students set up their SOA experiment, and while they are waiting for their 1 hour sampling period they may use magnifying glasses to observe ant behavior. Information may then be shared collectively and the teacher may generate a simple graph. Teachers may also have students conduct a basic survey of ant mound locations, and then graph findings into simple categories such as sidewalk, bare dirt area, grass, sand, playground, etc. This activity may also be incorporated into a simple mapping lesson for geography.
Next. Gen. Science: 2-LS4-1 Make observations of plants and animals to compare the diversity of life in different habitats.
By participating in SOA students will be making observations about the biodiversity of ants found in each location. Teachers may assign identification activities using Dr. Elanore’s free guide. Teachers may also have students draw or list all of the living organisms in the area as a part of biodiversity. Alternately students may draw a simple food web and label the producers and consumers.
Literacy: W.2.6 Recall information from experience or gather information from provided sources to answer a question. SL.2.5 Create audio recordings of stories or poems; add drawings or other visual displays to stories or recounts of experiences.
For the SOA project students should use the resources listed above in the Teaching Materials section (Dr. Elanor’s free ID PDF is a great start). They may then participate in the SOA project and collect data about the specific species of ant they collected, the habitats they were found in, and other observations. This may then be shared, along with their research, through stories, poems, drawings, or visual displays.
Math: 2.MD.D.10 Draw a picture graph and a bar graph to represent a data set with up to four categories.
Teachers may have students set up their SOA experiment, and while they are waiting for their 1 hour sampling period they may use magnifying glasses to observe the number of ants they find behaving in one four categories; guarding, foraging, defending, and grooming. Students may then create a picture or bar graph of their findings. Teachers may also have students conduct a basic survey of ant mound locations and then graph findings into simple categories such as bare dirt, grass, pavement, or sand. This activity may also be incorporated into a simple mapping lesson for geography.
Next. Gen. Science: 3-LS4-3 Construct an argument with evidence that in a particular habitat some organisms can survive well, some survive less well, and some cannot survive at all.
Using SOA as a platform, teachers may have students place their sampling containers in the two different types of habitats and observe which habitat has the highest species diversity or numeric response to the bait. If you’re going to count ants you may wish to use a simple grid on the index card to help with counting or estimating. The students may also be divided into groups to conduct a survey of the biodiversity of each study location (where bait was laid out) and then compare which habitat (grass or pavement) had the most biodiversity. Results may be graphed and discussed with the entire class. It may useful to ask students to compare whether vertebrate or invertebrate biodiversity was highest in each location as a discussion point as well.
3-LS4-4 Make a claim about the merit of a solution to a problem caused when the environment changes and the types of plants and animals that live there may change.
By observing the locations and behaviors of ants in the SOA project students may discuss what they think might happen to the ant biodiversity of two sampling areas if conditions changed. For example, if the grass was paved over or the pavement was driven and walked over regularly. They may also discuss the difference in how ants respond to rain (light or flooding) in paved v. grassy areas. Teachers may consider having students conduct a survey of biotic and abiotic factors in the ecosystems studied for further analysis. Students should propose solutions to maintaining biodiversity of ant colonies in their school yard and then discuss the merits of the solutions.
3.LS1-1 Develop models to describe that organisms have unique and diverse life cycles but all have in common birth, growth, reproduction, and death.
Teachers may use the resources provided, in the Teaching Materials section of this post, to help students learn the life cycle of ants. They may then have students draw and compare the ant life cycle to that of frogs, bees, butterflies, or grasshoppers while noting the differences between complete and incomplete metamorphosis.
Literacy: W.3.9 Recall information from experience or gather information from print and digital sources; take brief notes on sources and sort evidence into provided categories. SL.3.4 Report on a topic or text, tell a story, or recount an experience with appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details, speaking clearly at an understandable pace.
For the SOA project students should use the resources listed above in the Teaching Materials section (the free PDFs and Dr. Elanor’s book are a great start). They may then participate in the SOA project and collect data about the specific species of ant they collected, the habitats they were found in, and other observations. Textual information and research observations may then be shared through oral and visual displays.
Math: MP.2 Reason abstractly and quantitatively. MP.4 Model with mathematics. MP.5 Use appropriate tools strategically. 3.MD.B.3 Draw a scaled picture graph and a scaled bar graph to represent a data set with several categories.
Teachers may have students set up their SOA experiment, and while they are waiting for their 1 hour sampling period they may use magnifying glasses to observe the number of ants they find behaving in one four categories; guarding, foraging, defending, and grooming. Students may then create a bar graph of their findings. Teachers may also have students conduct a basic survey of ant mound locations and then graph findings into simple categories such as bare dirt, grass, pavement, or sand. To make the activity more complex teachers may also have students quantify the biodiversity of the “green” and “paved” study site and graph the data that is collected. This activity may also be incorporated into a simple mapping lesson.
Next. Gen. Science: 4-ESS2-2 Analyze and interpret data from maps to describe patterns of Earth’s features.
Although not the traditional study of geography students may use the SOA project as a platform to create their own maps of the topography and features around ant mounds found in their study sites. Students may use these maps to extrapolate patterns about the geographic location of ant mounds. Biotic and abiotic factors may also be examined and mapped; such as shade trees or bushes, moisture, temperature, plant biodiversity, nearby mounds, sidewalks, roads, etc. Students should create a proper map using keys, symbols, compass rose, scale bars etc.
Literacy: W.4.8. Recall relevant information from experiences or gather relevant information from print and digital sources; take notes and categorize information, and provide a list of sources. W.4.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
Students may use the texts suggested in the Teaching Materials section of this post to help them explain their findings in the geographic survey from the Next. Gen. Standards listed above. They may use the keys to identify the specific species of insect and to support or refute ideas about mound location preferences of different species.
Math: MP.4 Model with mathematics.
Teachers may have students use rulers or meter sticks to quantify distances of mounds, mapped in the activity listed above for NGSS. Students may make inferences about mound location to food sources, water, shade, protection or vulnerability to predators, or even substrate preferences.
Next. Gen. Science: MS-LS2-4 Construct an argument supported by empirical evidence that changes to physical or biological components of an ecosystem affect populations.
Students may use the SOA project as a platform for collecting data about the biotic and abiotic similarities of the grass and paved ecosystems of the study, and the ant species they observe. They may construct and argument about ant biodiversity based on changes to the ecosystem brought about by urbanization and paving.
Literacy: RST.6-8.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts. RST.6-8.2 Determine the central ideas or conclusions of a text; provide an accurate summary of the text distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.
Teachers may have students use Google Scholar to find scholarly articles related to ant distribution, feeding preferences, or other areas of interested related to ants that may be found in their local study sites for the SOA project (See Dr. Elanor’s Guide for more information). Students may develop a hypothesis, research their topic, and then provide a summary of their text and how it supports or refutes their hypothesis.
Math: MP.4 Model with mathematics. 6SP.B.5 Summarize numerical data sets in relation to their context.
There are a variety of studies that may be conducted through the SOA project outside of the collection of the vials of ants. Students may use data from the geographic map provided by the site, comparing the species found in different North American regions. Alternatively, teachers may have students set up behavior studies of ants or studies about ant mound locations and preferences. Data may be collected and analyzed. The Adult book Journey to the Ants: A Story of Scientific Exploration. Holldobloer and Wilson may also provide inspiration for more advanced studies and analysis.
Next. Gen. Science: HS-LS2-2 Use mathematical representations to support and revise explanations based on evidence about factors affecting biodiversity and populations in ecosystems of different scales.
Teachers may use the SOA project as a platform for further study of biodiversity. They may assign students to develop a study question and hypothesis about biodiversity in different habitats and have students develop a system for collecting data about their study question. One suggestion would be to have students map the biodiversity of the SOA study sites. For the SOA project they only ask for paved and grass, but teachers may wish to expand the comparison to forested, paved, grass, or dirt. Students may collect data about biodiversity of flora and fauna as well as vertebrates and invertebrates (use Dr. Elanor’s ant ID book to help). They may also calculate distances to food sources, water, shade, other mounds. Students may quantify their findings and then discuss whether their data supports or refutes their hypothesis about biodiversity of ant species. They may also discuss how this might affect the macro scale of consumers that rely on ants and their ecological services.