Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

Phenology and Climate Change: Lesson 1

Insect Activity and Migration Timing

Heather Shaffery

  • Grade Level Grade Level 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th
  • Subject Subject Science
  • Course Course Biology I, Biology II, Environmental Science


In this lesson students will learn about phenology (the timing of biological events) by exploring a variety of insect data sets. Through scaffolded analysis of graphical data, the use of an interactive digital model, and life history descriptions, students will develop an understanding of (1) how temperature affects insect activity and migration and (2) how this has changed over time. From these activities they will draw conclusions and make predictions about the biological significance of the data sets. Additionally, the will learn about how scientists collected the data used in the lesson.

Essential Question(s)

How do insect activity and migration change seasonally? Why is the timing of seasonal insect activity and migration important?



Students listen to an NPR story about the “insect highway” and generate questions.


Students create and interpret graphs of seasonal insect activity data and begin generating “big science ideas”.


Students revisit their initial questions, and learn about phenology and the source of the Explore data.


Students explore a model of insect migration data and identify patterns in insect arrival over time.


Students determine what information they still need to answer their remaining questions and create a Six-Word Memoir summarizing their learning.



Begin the lesson by going to slide 5 and introducing students to the NPR Look Up! The Billion-Bug Highway You Can't See story. Play the “5 Minute Listen” version of the story. After listening once, play the story a second time. During this second play, provide students with sticky notes and ask them to come up with questions about the story as they listen. If you will be using a Driving Question Board (see paragraph below Teacher’s Note: Media), have them write each question on its own sticky note.

Go to slide 6. Using the Stand Up, Sit Down strategy, have students share out their questions one at a time and create a class list from the responses. Use these questions to begin a class Driving Question Board. If a driving question board is not a feasible option for your class(es), questions can also be recorded in another public place (e.g., poster paper, Google Doc, etc.); just make sure the information can be referred back to at a later time.


Break students into 8 groups. Provide each group one year of the % insect arrival data (10, 25, 50, 75, 90% arrival). While working on the following activity, have a volunteer from each group, one at a time, add their data on the large class graph. They will look at this as a class later.

Hand out a copy of the Daily Insect Density Figure to each of the groups. Go to slide 7. Using the WIS-WIM strategy, ask students to identify features of the graph(s), determine the meaning of those specific observations, and interpret the entire figure. When all groups have finished, go to slide 8 and ask a few volunteers to share their conclusions with the class.

Next, return to the whole-class graph of insect arrival data. Use the WIS-WIM strategy here too, but ask the class to develop the ideas together as a group. Whether you choose to record students’ WIS-WIM information on the figure is up to you. Guide students to explain the meaning of the graph in one to two sentences and record their final conclusion(s) on the Big Ideas anchor chart. Finally, show students slide 9 to help them understand the relationship between the two graphs. If they are struggling to interpret the graph adequately, you could show this slide first to scaffold their understanding.


Go to slides 10-14 and review the information with students. They cover insect migration and reasons why organisms would migrate, followed by a brief overview of phenology. Slides 15-17 cover how radar is used to detect organisms and example radar images. Detailed notes are provided in the notes section of these slides.

Go to slide 18. At this point, the class should return their attention to the questions they generated in the Engage. Determine whether they can answer any at this point, and if so, whether the answers belong on the Big Ideas list. After that, solicit any new questions students have after their Explore activities. If the questions were grouped by theme, this is also a good point to re-evaluate the themes to determine if there are better ways to group the questions. Go to slide 19. Also ask students to add any other big ideas they’ve taken away from the notes they’ve taken throughout the Explain.

Go to slides 20-21 to provide students some life history information about potato leaf hoppers, which are the focal organism in the Extend activity.


Now that students have examined the seasonal activity of resident insects (i.e., from Oklahoma), next they will explore insect migration timing using potato leafhopper data. Go to slide 22. Direct students to the “Leafhopper Migration” page of the Shiny app and show them how to change the model’s variables. See the Leafhopper Migration Guide for details on how to help students navigate the model. Provide students with a copy of the Lesson 1 Extend handout.

Have students focus on map 1 to begin. They should pick a year early in the time series and move the days of the year slider to look for patterns in insect arrival. Next, they should select a different year for map 2 and repeat the process, looking for patterns in insect arrival for that year specifically. Finally, have them compare the side by side maps to identify trends between the years. Direct their attention to the horizontal latitude line as part of their analysis. This shows an approximate average of the range over which the insects have migrated (e.g., as insects are detected in more northern states, the line will shift north).

Bring students together as a class to discuss their results. Go to slide 23 and ask volunteers to share their findings. Continue the conversation by going to slide 24 and having students discuss the questions.


Go to slides 25. Return one more time to the list of student questions to determine whether any can be answered and whether any should be removed (e.g., can’t be answered, are no longer interesting, etc.). Give students a few minutes to think about what other information they might need to answer their existing questions. From these ideas, encourage them to generate questions that would help them collect the missing information they need (what question could we ask to generate/find the information we need?). Add these to the question list. Next, go to slide 26 and ask students whether there are any new Big Ideas to add to their list at this point.

Go to slide 27. To wrap up the lesson ask students to create a Six-Word Memoir to summarize the most scientifically meaningful thing they learned about insect phenology (i.e., a cool fact about leafhoppers wouldn’t be meaningful in this case).