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Daily Do

How do beavers change their environment?


Is Lesson Plan



Daily Do Updated: Additional Activity Added June 10, 2020

Welcome to NSTA's Daily Do

Teachers and families across the country are facing a new reality of providing opportunities for students to do science through distance and home learning. The Daily Do is one of the ways NSTA is supporting teachers and families with this endeavor. Each weekday, NSTA will share a sensemaking task teachers and families can use to engage their students in authentic, relevant science learning. We encourage families to make time for family science learning (science is a social process!) and are dedicated to helping students and their families find balance between learning science and the day-to-day responsibilities they have to stay healthy and safe.

Interested in learning about other ways NSTA is supporting teachers and families? Visit the NSTA homepage.

What is sensemaking?

Sensemaking is actively trying to figure out how the world works (science) or how to design solutions to problems (engineering). Students do science and engineering through the science and engineering practices. Engaging in these practices necessitates students be part of a learning community to be able to share ideas, evaluate competing ideas, give and receive critique, and reach consensus. Whether this community of learners is made up of classmates or family members, students and adults build and refine science and engineering knowledge together.


Today's Daily Do revisits, How do beavers change their environment?, a task based on the NSTA eBook Beavers Building Ecosystems. In the first version, students and their families think about the different ways we can represent data and how thee different representations help us recognize patterns in data.

In this updated version, students and their families engage in science and engineering practices and use the thinking tool of cause and effect to explain the phenomenon of beaver dam cleaning dirty (sediment-filled) waters. Take this task outdoors and prepared to get wet!

Activity One (May 27, 2020)


Before you invite your students to read aloud or read along with you, take a few minutes to become familiar with the eBook and suggested supporting resource(s).

STEP 1. Watch the video (above) for guidance on how to best use the Think Like a Scientist: Beavers Building Ecosystems eBook with your students.

STEP 2. Open the Think Like a Scientists: Beavers Building Ecosystems eBook. You may want to pause here and read the eBook to identify pages with (a) big ideas you want to emphasize through questioning and/or discussion and (b) embedded tasks that will require students to develop new knowledge and skills to complete. Note: View 1:18 - 1:48 for clear instructions on using the interactive features on page 10 to collect and record data.

STEP 3. Gather paper, pencils, and crayons, colored pencils or markers.

Now you're ready to begin today's task!

Note: Beavers Building Ecosystems' many interactive features allow students and families to figure out how beavers use external body parts to build dams and to become familiar with different types of beaver dams and how these dams change the surrounding environments. Below are additional opportunities the eBook provides for students and their families to engage in the science and engineering practices to make sense of science ideas.

Engagine Students with the eBook

Page 10. Before reading the Beavers Building Ecosystems, make sure to watch the video companion to the book (above) from 1:18 to 1:48 for clear instructions on using the interactive feature to collect and record data.

You might consider providing students blank printed tables to record the data or creating a class data table so students can see the data when you turn to page 11 (Note: There is a hint button on page 11 that reveals the completed data table but it is difficult to read even on a large screen.)

Page 10

When you turn to page 11, ask students, "A table is one way to represent data. What other ways might we represent our data that would make it easier to identify which tree (or trees) the beaver is most likely to cut down to make dams and to get food? Why do you say so?" Instruct students to turn and talk with a partner to exchange ideas before asking them to share ideas with the class. Students might say:

  • Bar graphs because the tallest bar will be easy to notice
  • Pictographs because you see the pictures of the trees and can easily match them to the pictures on the map (page 11)
  • Pie charts because easy to see which wedges are thickest and thinnest
  • Data table because easy to count the number of x's for each tree

You might group students by the type of representation they chose and allow them to create graphs of the tree data. Then regroup students so there are many different representations of data in each group. Provide student groups with the map of page 11 and ask them to identify the location(s) where beavers will have plenty of food. Within the group, ask students to share how easily their data representation allowed them to identify the locations. Ask, "Which representation do you think made it easiest to identify locations where beavers will get plenty of food? Why do you say so?" Students may share a variety of responses; this is OK. Listen for students to share ideas about graphical representations making it easier to see patterns in data.

Activity Two (Updated June 10, 2020)

Page 29. The Beavers Building Ecosystems eBook presents students with a lot of information between pages 21 and 29 including (not in order of appearance)

  • Water can pick up and move sediments - tiny particles of rocks we call pebbles, sand and clay. (Soil is made up of sediments and organic materials.) You can see different kinds of sediments on page 25.
  • Faster moving water can carry more sediment than slower moving water.
  • Beaver dams cause moving water to slow down.

The following investigation can support students in making sense of the these science ideas and use them to explain how beaver dams clean polluted water.



This investigation uses a simple version of a stream table. Ideally, each group of four students would have their own stream table, but you can do the investigation as a whole class. If you choose to do the investigation outdoors (it could get messy!), make sure you have easy access to a water source.

Materials (per student group)

  • rectangular aluminum pan (any size will work)
  • bucket or other container for catching water (If you do this activity outdoors, you can let the stream drain onto the ground.)
  • clear, wide-mouth container for pouring water* (pitcher, wide-mouth jar, etc.)
  • two handfuls of sediment (can take from the ground outside school or home; don't use sandbox sand alone but you can mix it with other sediments)
  • thin twigs/sticks and leaves to create beaver dam
  • thin book or piece of wood to create a gentle incline
  • video camera (optional)
  • towel or paper towels

*This container should hold enough water to fill the aluminum pan about 1/2 full of water.

Cut small flaps in one end of each aluminum pan (see images below). The open flap represents the open river channel. (In the second part of the investigation, students build beaver dams that cover the opening.)

Draw lines to mark flap location

Make sure not to detach the flap

Say to students, "Did you know that beaver dams could clean water? This is a really interesting phenomenon!" You might show students the pictures on page 21 (dirty water) and pages 18 and 32 (clean water).

Next, say, "I'm wondering if we could use this model of a stream to figure out how beaver dams clean water." Place the aluminum pan on the table lining up the flap end with the edge. Place the thin book under the other end to create a gentle incline. Tell students the flap is the river channel (you might point to the river channels on pages 21, 18 and 32).

Ask students, "What else do we absolutely have to include in our model of a stream?" Students might say

  • water
  • dirt
  • beavers
  • beaver dam
  • fish
  • plants

Say to students, "If we only want to include the nonliving parts of the stream ecosystem, which of these things (parts/components) should we include? (Water, dirt and the beaver dam.) Be prepared to distinguish between living and once-lving. The beaver dam is nonliving even though it is made from things that were once alive (twigs, sticks and leaves).


Stream and Mountains

NSTA Collection of Resources for Today's Daily Do

NSTA has created a How do beavers change their environment? collection of resources to support teachers and families using this task. If you're an NSTA member, you can add this collection to your library by clicking ADD TO MY LIBRARY located near the top of the page (at right in the blue box).

Check Out Previous Daily Dos from NSTA

The NSTA Daily Do is an open educational resource (OER) and can be used by educators and families providing students distance and home science learning. Access the entire collection of NSTA Daily Dos.

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