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John Muir Study Guide

Science Lesson Plans

Learning about John Muir's life can serve as a launching pad to science-based environmental studies through plant and animal habitats, ecosytems, earthquakes, avalanches, glaciers, geology, weather, biodiversity, and forests, as we discover that, as John Muir said, "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe."

These lesson plans are aligned to the California Academic Content Standards for Science for each grade level.


Kindergarten - Grade 1 | Grade 2 | Grade 3 | Grade 4 | Grade 5 | Grade 6 | Grade 7 | Grade 8
Grades 9-12

Kindergarten - Grade 1

Living Things Have to Have A Habitat: HTML | PDF
John Muir traveled all over the world in his study of wild plants and animals and the natural environments in which they live. This lesson plan introduces the concept of habitat to first grade students.
  • Learn why Muir became so fond of wild places and wild creatures
  • Make a Zoological and Botanical Garden
  • Learn Bill Oliver's song, "Have to Have a Habitat."
California Science Standard, Grade One, Life Sciences: 2a(a). Students know different plants and animals inhabit different kinds of environments and have external features that help them thrive in different kinds of places.

Grade 2

Soil: HTML | PDF
John Muir was a successful fruit rancher as well as a naturalist. He understood how important fertile soil is for plant growth. In this lesson, students will learn about the source material for soil and will examine various soil samples to determine their composition and ability to hold water. Students will evaluate samples as to their ability to support plant life.
  • Learn how Muir observed soil degredation in Wisconsin
  • Examine soil samples to determine composition
  • Conduct a simple experiment to determine water-holding capacity of different soils
  • Evaluate plant growth in different soils
California Science Standard Grade Two, Earth Sciences: 3c. Students know that soil is made partly from weathered rock and partly from organic materials and that soils differ in their color, texture, capacity to retain water, and ability to support the growth of many kinds of plants.

Grade 3

Diverse Environments: HTML | PDF
John Muir traveled all over the world learning about the plants and animals that inhabit the various life zones. In this lesson, students learn about various plants and animal species that live in diverse environments.
  • Investigate some of the diverse environments (biomes) John Muir visited.
  • List and research each one.
California Science Standard Grade Three, Life Sciences: 3b. Students know examples of diverse life forms in different environments, such as oceans, deserts, tundra, forests, grasslands, and wetlands.

Grade 4

Unique Ecosystems: HTML | PDF
In John Muir's travels around the world, he found plants and animal species that could naturally be found nowhere else. In this lesson, students investigate and identify both the living and nonliving features of an ecosystem which make them unique.
  • Explore ecosystems in your state and the plants and animals that live there.
  • Identify the non-living components of the ecosystem that supports each species, including soil, water, climate, altitude, and geographical location.
  • Discover other living species found in the same unique ecosystem.

California Science Standard Grade Four, Life Sciences: 3a. Students know ecosystems can be characterized by their living and nonliving components.
3b. Students know that in any particular environment, some kinds of plants and animals survive well, some survive less well, and some cannot survive at all.

Grade 5

Severe Weather: HTML | PDF
Throughout his life John Muir had many adventures that brought him in close contact to nature's most severe weather conditions, including thunderstorms, blizzards, and floods. In this lesson, students gain and understanding of various kinds of severe weather, including thunderstorms, blizzards, tornadoes, hurricanes, drought, and flooding.
  • Learn how Muir climbed a tree during a powerful windstorm to experience its energy firsthand!
  • Investigate the various types of severe weather: thunderstorms, blizzards, tornadoes, hurricanes, drought, and flooding and answer a series of questions about them.
  • Write and give oral reports about these phenomena.

California Science Standard Grade Five, Earth Sciences: 4c. Students know the causes and effects of different kinds of severe weather.

Grade 6

Earthquakes: HTML | PDF
John Muir experienced two tremendous earthquakes during his lifetime. In this lesson, students investigate the causes of earthquakes and where they typically occur, and to study important earthquake events that have affected our world in recent history.
  • Read Muir's fascinating first-hand account of the tremendous 1872 earthquake which he experienced while living in Yosemite Valley.
  • Learn about and see visualizations of the World Tectonic Plates and several kinds of geological faults
  • Understand the meaning of the Richter scale
  • Research one of ten major earthquakes in the past century, and be able to identify its location, magnitude, epicenter, and the amount of damage it caused.

California Science Standard Grade Six, Earth Sciences:
1d. Students know that earthquakes are sudden motions along breaks in the crust called faults.
1e. Students know major geologic events, such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and mountain building, result from plate motions.

Grade 7

Glaciers: HTML | PDF
John Muir understood that Yosemite Valley and similar valleys were formed by the slow action of glaciers, during a time when many believed such valleys were formed by sudden cataclysmic events. This lesson plan helps students to understand the powerful geological phenomenon of glacial activity.
  • Read John Muir's explanation of glacial action resulting from his first-hand observations
  • Research one of four aspects of glacial activity

California Science Standard Grade Seven, Earth and Life History: 4a. Students know Earth processes today are similar to those that occurred in the past, and slow geologic processes have large cumulative effects over long periods of time.

Grade 8

Avalanche! HTML | PDF
Among John Muir's many thrilling and extreme adventures was his experiencing an avalanche firsthand. This lesson plan explores the causes of avalanches.
  • Read an excerpt about John Muir's wild ride on an avalanche from his book The Yosemite.
  • Learn about the geological processes and conditions in which avalanches can occur.
  • Conduct a table-top experiment comparing various consistencies of snow and angles at which avalanches may occur.

California Science Standard Grade 8, Physical Science - Forces: Students know:
2c. when the forces on an object are balanced, the motion of the object does not change.
d. how to identify separately two or more forces acting on a single static object, including gravity, elastic forces due to tension or compression in matter, and friction.
e. when the forces on an object are unbalanced the object will change its motion (that is, it will speed up, slow down, or change direction).

California Science Standard Grade 8, Investigation and Experimentation:
9. Scientific progress is made by asking meaningful questions and conducting careful investigations.
Students will:
a. plan and conduct a scientific investigation to test a hypothesis.

Grades 9-12

Forest Management: HTML | PDF
For much of his life, John Muir struggled to save and protect the Giant Sequoia trees of the southern Sierra. This lesson plan students will consider opposing views on how fire management should be conducted in the Giant Sequoia ecosystem and evaluate the merits of each position.
  • Learn how non-destructive periodic forest fires were according to John Muir's own observations.
  • Watch a free 20 minute video, An Ancient Race of Giants, [View on YouTube: Part 1 | Part 2] which contrasts the two techniques that have been advocated to manage the Sequoia forest: controlled burning and logging.
  • Ask probing questions to evaluate the pros and cons of each management technique, and express opinions based on full consideration of opposing points of view.

California Science Standard Grades 9 - 12, Life Sciences (Ecology):
6b. Students know how to analyze change in an ecosystem resulting from changes in climate, human activity, introduction of nonnative species, or changes in population size.

California Science Standard Grades 9 - 12, Investigation and Experimentation:
1m. Investigate a science-based societal issue by researching the literature, analyzing data, and communicating the findings. Examples of issues include and water use decisions in California.

Acknowledgments: These Science Lesson Plans for Grade K - 8 were written by Janet Wood, M.S. Geoscience Education. The Lesson Plan for Grade 9-12 was written by Joe Fontaine, retired high school science teacher, former President of the Sierra Club, and John Muir Award winner; with additions by Janet Wood and Harold Wood.

Social Studies Lesson Plans
Lesson Plans
Through the Eyes of John Muir: A Multi-disciplinary Approach to Looking at our World by Janice Kelley

© Copyright 2004 by Sierra Club. Permission to reprint for school purposes is granted to all public and private school teachers. All other rights reserved.
John Muir Study Guide

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