} CAS: Teachers - My Expedition to Africa

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Connected Experience: My Expedition to Africa


In this unit for the classroom and museum gallery, students will classify living and nonliving components of their own diorama display, and construct a fictional narrative of an expedition to that particular habitat.


In this unit for the classroom and museum gallery, students will:

  1. classify living and nonliving components of a habitat.
  2. record objective data and subjective impressions from a diorama into their science journal.
  3. construct a fictional narrative of an expedition to a particular habitat.


  • note cards
  • masking tape
  • student journals
  • pencils
  • popsicle sticks, or folded note cards
  • Example Journal Page
  • Guiding Questions for any Diorama


Living Things

  • ant
  • bird
  • bush
  • cat
  • deer
  • fish
  • flower
  • grass
  • leaf
  • lizard
  • log
  • monkey
  • mushroom
  • tree
  • turtle

Non-living Things

  • cave
  • cloud
  • dirt
  • ice
  • mountain
  • air
  • pond
  • rain
  • river
  • rock
  • salt
  • shade
  • sunlight
  • warm
  • breeze
  • wind



  1. Write the terms listed above on note cards, and tape these cards to the board in a random arrangement.
  2. Write the names of African dioramas onto popsicle sticks. Available dioramas include:
    • Mountain Gorilla
    • Bushbuck
    • Olive Baboon
    • African Lion
    • Cheetah
    • Roan Antelope
    • White Throated Savanna Monitor
    • Sable Antelope
    • Klipspringer
    • Black Lechwe
    • Namib Desert
    • Cape Floristic Province
    • Penguins
    • Hunter’s Hartebeest
    • Kirk’s Dikdik
    • Somali Arid Zone
    • African Reptiles
    • Montane Forest
    • Jackson’s Chameleon
    • African Hunting Dog


  1. Introduce the concept that the Earth is made up of different environments (ecosystems), and discuss the typical features of representative environments, such as grasslands, forests, desert, wetlands, and the ocean.
  2. Define habitat as the place where an organism lives, providing the food, water, and shelter necessary for survival. Many possible environmental factors might affect a plant or animal in their natural habitat.
  3. Divide the board under two section headings: living things and non-living things. (Note: Living things include those that were alive at one time; a log was once a tree, and a stick on the ground was once a branch.)
  4. Invite a small group of students to approach the board. Have each student select a card and reposition it under the correct heading. Evaluate the decisions as a class before calling up subsequent groups.
  5. Explain that the field trip to the California Academy of Sciences will include a visit to African Hall. In this exhibit, scientists have arranged preserved, stuffed animals in life-size displays representing scenes from habitats in Africa. To build a realistic scene, scientists needed to design the display based on evidence collected from observing the natural world.
  6. Tell students that by going to the California Academy of Sciences the class is going to travel back in time several centuries, when the convenience of airplanes, cameras, and computers did not exist. In the past, to learn about a new area, naturalists sailed to undiscovered lands and undertook expeditions that involved documenting the natural world in detail. Likewise, students will select their own African habitat to record for prosperity.
  7. Prepare students for the museum assignment by having them paste in, or write down sections from, the Example Journal Page into a science journal.
  8. As students work, have individuals randomly pick a habitat popsicle stick from a cup. Several students can fit comfortably in front of a display, but aim to divide the class to take advantage of the wealth of ecosystems available.
  9. Inform them that upon returning to school, their assignment will be to write a narrative, a story that describes an event or experience. Depending on the level of your students, you may control the options for voice and plot (e.g. a day in the life of a scientist; tale through the eyes of an antelope).

At the Academy


  1. Remind students that because they will be writing a story upon return to school, they should focus on accurately documenting a setting, like a news reporter.
  2. Allow students to explore the gallery. Then, set aside at least 10 minutes for students to document their assigned diorama.
  3. Optional: Bring along the Guiding Questions for any Diorama, to be asked by the Teacher or Chaperones. These questions will engage senses other than sight, providing useful ideas for a narrative. Responses should be written separately from objective observations (e.g. “Imagination Time!” on the Example Journal Page).

Back at School


  1. Tell students that they will now have the opportunity to reflect on their trip to African Hall.
  2. Using the board or a graphic organizer worksheet, break down the essential components of any narrative:
    • Setting: Where does the action take place? Include a time, place, season, and use sensory details to recreate the experience.
    • Voice: Who is the narrator? How do they think and feel?
    • Characters: Besides the narrator, are there other people or animals involved? What are they like, and what is their role in the story?
    • Problem: What specific situation or incident does the story relate?
    • Plot: What events occur? Engage the reader by showing what happens with specific details, rather than merely listing a timeline of events. Help the audience imagine that they are standing right next to the narrator - seeing, hearing, smelling, feeling, and tasting along with the storyteller.
    • Resolution: What was the result after all of the events took place?
  3. Give students ample time to plan their story, encouraging them to use their journals as a primary resource. If time runs short, assign the final draft as homework.


In a separate class period, have students present their stories to group members. After each reading, listeners should critique the work in terms of meeting the requirements for a successful narrative. Have groups vote on the best example from each group. Have the chosen writers present to the entire class, and assess student understanding through recall of the narrative components after each reading.

California Content Standards

Grade Three

Life Sciences

  • 3b. Students know examples of diverse life forms in different environments, such as oceans, deserts, tundra, forests, grasslands, and wetlands.

English-Language Arts: Writing

  • 2.1 Write narratives.
  • 2.2 Write descriptions that use concrete sensory details to present and support unified impressions of people, places, things, or experiences.

Grade Four

Life Sciences

  • 3a. Students know ecosystems can be characterized by their living and nonliving components.

English-Language Arts: Writing

  • 2.1 Write narratives.

Grade Five

English-Language Arts: Writing

  • 2.1 Write narratives.

Grade Six

Life Sciences

  • 5e. Students know the number and types of organisms an ecosystem can support depends on the resources available and on abiotic factors, such as quantities of light and water, a range of temperatures, and soil composition.

English-Language Arts: Writing

  • 2.1 Write narratives.

Grade Seven

English-Language Arts: Writing

  • 2.1 Write fictional or autobiographical narratives.

Grade Eight

English-Language Arts: Writing

  • 2.1 Write biographies, autobiographies, short stories, or narratives


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