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Common Loons in the Classroom

Elementary, Middle


The goal of the six lessons in Common Loons in the Classroom is to foster an appreciation of loons with the students while also proving the importance of clean water and healthy aquatic systems.  Each lesson is structured in the same manner with background information, discussion questions and classroom activities.  The discussion questions can be used as is or in different manners depending on how the teacher wants to proceed.

Lesson 1: Students are introduced to the different types of loons and some of their many adaptations to their primarily aquatic lives. The classroom activity “Beaks and Feet” has students thinking about adaptations that birds have for their different ways of life. Students build different bird bodies (beaks, wings, tails, etc.) to match a food item that their bird must catch and eat.

Lesson 2: Students learn about the annual migration pattern for Common Loons, including some of the different ways people have studied loon migration. The classroom activity “Migration Challenges” includes the opportunity to create a loon migration route, and the Incredible Loon Journey Board Game follows the perils loons face in getting to their wintering ground. An extension activity allows for the board game to become an obstacle course.

Lesson 3: Students learn how males establish and defend territories, including the calls they make and what they mean to other loons, as well as the nest-building and incubating stages of a loon’s life. The activity "A Loon's Journal" allows the students to take on the point of view of a male loon and describe the journey and process of finding a nesting area.

Lesson 4: The students learn about newly-hatched chicks, how they are fed, how they grow, and how they compete with their siblings for both food and attention. The classroom activity “Feeding Frenzy” has students pretending to be loons, feeding, and tallying their fish totals in a simulation game. Students failing to meet the two-fish minimum get weaker while those that eat more than two fish stay healthy. The class can chart the number of “healthy” vs. “weak” loons over time, and make predictions about the sustainability of their loons. Students need to be able to add fractions (1/4, 1/2, and 3/4). 

Lesson 5: Students learn about the six of the most critical threats to loons today and have an opportunity to think about how their actions might help loon conservation. The classroom activity “Loon Lake Town Meeting” turns the classroom into a town meeting, with each student acting out a specific community member who may be for or against a new development proposed for the pristine shores of Loon Lake. Students can review the proposed development and discuss the costs and benefits to the community.

Lesson 6: Students learn about the different ways that scientists have studied loons, including the internet “loon cam” and Maine Audubon’s Annual Loon Count, and management techniques like artificial nesting platforms that offer loons new nesting opportunities. The classroom activity “Build A Raft” has students discussing the pros and cons of managing loons with artificial nest sites, and has them construct their own platform out of straws and play clay to test different designs. A second classroom activity “How Many Loons?” is designed for older students, and gives them several data sets with loon population numbers that they can compare and contrast over time.

General Assessment

What skills does this resource explicitly teach?

The focus of the resource is to build knowledge for the students; therefore, it does not explicitly teach a specific skill.


  • Excellent quantity and quality of background information for the teacher. It is presented in such a way that it can also be given to the students.
  • The activities are engaging and interesting and aimed at a variety of learning styles.
  • The resource is well formatted and easy to use for the teacher.  All materials are included and easily reproducible like the board games and activity cards.


  • The lack of assessment tools.
  • The lack of suggestions for learners who have difficulty with the material.
  • The resource has a strong Maine focus with its data and maps. This may present some difficult for a teacher to use the resource and have a local focus.

Recommendation of how and where to use it

Common Loons in the Classroom is an excellent stand alone resource for the Science classroom with its focus on habitat and conservation.  It could be used as a supplemental resource for classrooms looking at the themes of habitat, migration, and threats to wildlife.  It would also be a great resource should a school have a population of loons nearby that could be observed.  This would make the learning more important and relevant to the students.

Relevant Curriculum Units

The following tool will allow you to explore the relevant curriculum matches for this resource. To start, select a province listed below.

Themes Addressed

  • Ecosystems (3)

    • Appreciating the Natural World
    • Habitat Loss
    • Wildlife Protection
  • Food & Agriculture (1)

    • Aquaculture
  • Water (1)

    • Marine Environments

Sustainability Education Principles

Principle Rating Explanation
Consideration of Alternative Perspectives Very Good

Within the activity "Loon Lake Town Meeting" the students are tasked with representing various stakeholders in a plan for the development of a local lake.  This activity allows the students to have an appreciation of the different points of view of the issue.

Consideration of Alternative Perspectives:
  • Satisfactory: absence of bias towards any one point of view
  • Good: students consider different points of view regarding issues, problems discussed
  • Very good: based on the consideration of different views, students form opinions and  take an informed position
Multiple Dimensions of Problems & Solutions Good

Throughout the resource the students examine the dynamics of these dimensions.

Multiple Dimensions of Problems & Solutions:

Effectively addresses the environmental, economic and social dimensions of the issue(s) being explored.

  • Satisfactory: resource supports the examination of  these dimensions
  • Good:  resource explicitly examines the interplay of these dimensions
  • Very Good:  a systems-thinking approach is encouraged to examine these three dimensions
Respects Complexity Very Good
Respects Complexity:

The complexity of the problems/issues being discussed is respected.

Acting on Learning Poor/Not considered

As this resource is focused on building knowledge, acting on learning is not easily measurable.  Attitudes and habits may be positively affected but the activities do not work toward observable change.

Acting on Learning:

Learning moves from understanding  issues  to working towards positive change — in personal lifestyle, in school, in the community,  or for the planet

  • Satisfactory: action opportunities are included as extensions 
  • Good: action opportunities are core components of the resource
  • Very Good: action opportunities for students are well supported and intended to result in observable, positive change
Values Education Very Good

The "Look Lake Town Meeting" allows for students to shape their own beliefs and values regarding the issue.

Values Education:

Students are explicitly provided with opportunities to identify, clarify and express their own beliefs/values.

Empathy & Respect for Humans Poor/Not considered

This is not a focus for this resource.

Empathy & Respect for Humans: Empathy and respect are fostered for diverse groups of humans (including different genders, ethnic groups, sexual preferences, etc.).
Personal Affinity with Earth Good
Personal Affinity with Earth:

Encourages a personal affinity with -the natural world.  

  • Satisfactory: connection is made to the natural world
  • Good: fosters appreciation/concern for the natural world
  • Very Good: fosters stewardship though practical and respectful experiences out-of-doors 
Locally-Focused Learning Satisfactory

The geographic focus of the resource is in Maine; however, concern for loons and birds is a common theme.

Locally-Focused Learning:

Includes learning experiences that take advantage of issues/elements within the local community. 

  • Satisfactory: learning is made relevant to the lives of the learners
  • Good: learning is made relevant and has a local focus
  • Very Good: learning is made relevant, local and takes place ‘outside’ , in the community 
Past, Present & Future Very Good

Through the use of data throughout the resource, the students gain an understanding of the past and can get a sense of the present and future of the loon population.

Past, Present & Future: Promotes an understanding of the past, a sense of the present, and a positive vision for the future.

Pedagogical Approaches

Principle Rating Explanation
Open-Ended Instruction Good
Open-Ended Instruction :

Lessons are structured so that multiple/complex answers are possible; students are not steered toward one 'right' answer.

Integrated Learning Satisfactory
Integrated Learning:

Learning brings together content and skills  from more than one  subject area

  • Satisfactory: content from a number of different  subject areas is readily identifiable
  • Good:  resource is appropriate for use in more than one subject area
  • Very Good:  the lines between subjects are blurred 
Inquiry Learning Satisfactory
Inquiry Learning:

Learning is directed by questions, problems, or challenges that students work to address.   

  • Satisfactory: Students are provided with questions/problems to solve and some direction on how to arrive at solutions.
  • Good: students, assisted by the teacher clarify the question(s) to ask and the process to follow to arrive at solutions.  Sometimes referred to as Guided Inquiry
  • Very Good:  students generate the questions and assume much of the responsibility for how to solve them.  . Sometimes referred to as self-directed learning.


Differentiated Instruction Good

There are no suggestions for those students who may have difficulties with the lessons.

Differentiated Instruction:

Activities address a range of student learning styles, abilities and readiness.

  • Satisfactory:  includes a variety of instructional approaches
  • Good: addresses  the needs of visual, auditory &  kinesthetic learners
  • Very Good: also includes strategies for learners with difficulties
Experiential Learning Satisfactory

There are a number of simulation activities within the resource.

Experiential Learning:

Authentic learning experiences are provided

  • Satisfactory: learning takes place through ‘hands-on’ experience or simulation
  • Good: learning involves direct experience in a ‘real world context’
  • Very good: learning involves ‘real world experiences’ taking place’ beyond the school walls.
Cooperative Learning Satisfactory
Cooperative Learning:

Group and cooperative learning strategies are a priority.

  • Satisfactory:  students work in groups
  • Good: cooperative learning skills are explicitly taught and practiced
  • Very Good: cooperative learning skills are explicitly taught, practiced and assessed
Assessment & Evaluation Satisfactory

At the end of several of the lessons there are assessment suggestions that are made.  There are a variety of ways that the teacher can assess the students' products after the lessons by using the Lesson Objectives included in each lesson as a focus.

Assessment & Evaluation: Tools are provided that help students and teachers to capture formative and summative information about students' learning and performance. These tools may include reflection questions, checklists, rubrics, etc.
Peer Teaching Satisfactory

Students share their ideas and work throughout the activities.

Peer Teaching:

Provides opportunities for students to actively present their knowledge and skills to peers and/or act as teachers and mentors.

  • Satisfactory: incidental teaching that arises from cooperative learning, presentations, etc.
  • Good or Very Good: an opportunity is intentionally created to empower students to teach other students/community members. The audience is somehow reliant on the students' teaching (students are not simply ‘presenting')
Case Studies Poor/Not considered

No case studies were provided.

Case Studies:

Relevant case studies are included.  Case studies are thorough descriptions of real events from real situations that students use to explore  concepts in an authentic context.

Locus of Control Poor/Not considered

This is not the intent of this resource.  It is meant to build knowledge.

Locus of Control: Meaningful opportunities are provided for students to choose elements of program content, the medium in which they wish to work, and/or to go deeper into a chosen issue.