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Interaction of Wildlife Systems on the Neuse (lesson plan)


Students will learn about the life cycle of the American Shad and its importance to the Neuse River Basin. They will document the process of raising shad in the classroom. The life cycle of the shad and the systems, both fresh and salt water, that are essential to the process will be visually documented by students through nature journals and student created species field guides.

Subject Areas
Science, Visual Arts
NC Standards Correlations
Marine Science
Visual Arts
BV 1.1, BV 1.3, BV 2.2, BV 2.3, BV 3.1

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Student Learning Objectives

  1. Students will study the life cycle of an andromous fish and its role in the local ecosystem. We will be working in conjunction with the Shad in the Classroom program from the NC Museum of Natural Sciences ( but this lesson could be taught on its own.
  2. Using art to document science helps students understand how the disciplines complement each other and how art can be used to enhance observation skills.
  3. Both scientists and artists must develop strong observation skills. Drawing encourages students to practice these skills. The time spent studying the subject and deciding how to draw it are important for this development process.
  4. Students learn to think visually. Our students live in a visual world but they often don’t take time to observe and wonder. Preparing their own visual image lets them think through the process and consider how to best represent concepts and features.
  5. Experimenting with different drawing mediums such as pencil and ink or colored pencils can show students how their observations can be represented in different ways. Techniques and strategies for drawing are also important. Examples would be to have students draw the large shapes before details or moving from whole to parts.
  6. Nature Journals and Species Field Guides combine artwork and written information on the same page. A thoughtful approach to composing the page is necessary to create a balanced page that clearly shows all the information the artist would like to share.
  7. Students were introduced to watercolor techniques including wash, dry brush, sponging, and salt.
  8. As a final activity, students were asked to evaluate the process of raising shad and creating nature journals. They were then asked to assess the value of the program for future classes and comment on the parts of the program they found most valuable and explain their reasoning.
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  1. Student will begin this project by working in groups to discuss how the shad fit into the ecosystems within and around the river and create a list of the animals that might interact with the shad.

  2. Once the class has compiled a list of the possible animals that benefit from the shad life cycle, they will look at Audubon prints (carolina parrot and curlew) as well as field guides of the various animals to see how they are portrayed by different artists.

  3. Students will choose one of the animals on the the shad interaction list and create their own 8 x 10 in. double-sided Species Field Guide which will be hand-drawn and hand-written.

  4. Next students will view examples of nature journaling by leading naturalists such as Claire Walker Leslie and John Muir Laws to provide students with background information for their own journals.

  5. Students will create and personalize their own nature journals and will document the process of raising fish eggs and releasing the fry into the river.

Writer’s note: One day of the nature journaling required students to create a water color of the shad fry in the river. We began with simple watercolor techniques and then more experienced students shared some ideas about watercolors such as painting the background first and using small amounts of water. Once the watercolor was dry, students glued them into the nature journal.


Group discussion requires that students understand the inderdependence of different groups of animals, birds and fish near the river ecosystem.

Student Species Field Guides show attention to detail and documentation of an animals life cycle and habitat.

Nature journaling encourages close observation, page composition, research skills, patience and practice

Lesson Resources


anadromous- Relating to fish, such as salmon or shad, that migrate up rivers from the sea to breed in fresh water

ecosystem- a biological community of interacting organisms and their physical environment

predator- an animal that lives by killing and eating other animals

prey- an animal that is hunted and killed by another for food.


paper for nature journals

colored pencils

watercolors and brushes

field guides


Field guides:

   E Nature Field Guides

   NC Wildlife Shad Profile

   Peterson Field Guides

   Golden Guide Field Guides

Nature journals:

   Keeping a Nature Journal

   Introduction to the Nature Journal

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