Designing and Carrying Out Your Very Own Animal Behavior Experiment

Mark Stefanski, Marin Academy and Understanding
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Initial Publication Date: July 2, 2009


In this lesson, students will review the process of science and then design and carry out an experiment using pill bugs (isopods). Other organisms could be used in place of the pill bugs. Students are asked to address a specific question, test hypotheses, identify and describe variables, and make use of a control group. Students are asked to provide a written report that includes methods used, data collected, a summary and interpretation of the data, and a list of resulting questions. Students reflect on the process used by charting their pathway on the Science Flowchart that is provided on the Understanding Science website. A full description of the activity can be found at

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Learning Goals

  • Animal behavior

Process of Science Goals:

  • Science deals with the natural world and natural explanations.
  • The process of science involves testing ideas about the natural world.
  • The process of science is non-linear and iterative.
  • The process of science involves observation, exploration, discovery, testing, communication, and application.
  • In science, answering one question often leads to many more questions and additional research.

Context for Use

I employ this activity within the context of an Advanced Biology Honors Course for high school juniors and seniors. The activity is conducted within a larger context of a unit on Behavioral Ecology.

Description and Teaching Materials

A full description of the activity is available at the Understanding Science web site.

Below is a file that describes the expectations for a student write-up.
Expectations for a Student Write-up ( 30kB Jul1 09)

Teaching Notes and Tips

Review the process of science introduced in a previous lesson such as Introducing the Understanding Science flowchart. Ask students to describe what they recall about the process of science. Key descriptors might include multifaceted, complex, non-linear, and even messy!

Let students know that they will now have the opportunity to design and carry out their own experiments using an animal that they are probably very familiar with, but have not yet examined closely - pill bugs. (Note: you may have a mixture of pill bugs and sow bugs, so explain accordingly.) But first, it will be necessary for them to make some initial observations before deciding what they want to investigate.

Provide a container of pill bugs to each pair of students. Ask students to observe the animals and to make simple changes in their environments to see how they respond. Remind them that they are not to make any changes that might harm the animals. Have students record what they discover.

After about 20 minutes of observations, provide each student with a copy of the Student Worksheet. Review the information with the students.

Provide a copy of the Student Expectations for each student. Review the information.

During the rest of the class period, students should discuss with their partners what question they would like to answer about the pill bugs and how they could design an experiment to answer that question. They should develop a working hypothesis and consider independent and dependent variables and the use of a control group. Let them know that they will be able to conduct their investigations during the next class period. Note: You may or may not want to review their ideas prior to implementation.

Use the next class period to conduct the student investigations. Students are asked to write a report as described in Student Expectations. Not all students will complete their investigations. You may want to provide additional class time to do so, or you can allow discussion based upon what the students have learned thus far.

Have students present their methods and findings to the rest of the class.

Provide an opportunity for students to reflect on their process - see step 6 of Student Expectations.
Share the process pathways developed from the student reflections.


I use the written report that the students turn in as a primary means of assessment. I take a special look at the culminating section:

c. Provide a reflection on your process. At which points did you experience your greatest successes? At which points did you experience your biggest challenges? In the end, what did you learn most about the process of science? Please be honest and open in your reflection. If at certain points you were genuinely intrigued and excited by what you were doing, say so. If at certain points you felt that your journey was dull and boring, include this, too. (1 page max).

I also note the level and quality of engagement, participation, and communication on the part of students as they are engaged in the activity.

References and Resources

Teacher resources:

For information on isopods: