Lesson Plan

Life in the Extreme

students entering cave
Indian Tunnel

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Grade Level:
Fourth Grade-Twelfth Grade
Art, Biology: Animals, Biology: Plants, Botany, Climate, Climate Change, Earth Science, Environment, Geology, Hydrology, Landscapes, Mathematics, Physical Education, Physical Science, Science and Technology, Visual Arts, Volcanoes, Wildlife Biology, Writing
3-5 hours at the park for the site visit
Group Size:
Up to 36 (6-12 breakout groups)
in the park
National/State Standards:


Students take measurements in the field, analyze their data, and develop hypotheses about how different micro-environments affect the distribution of plants and animals in the park. Students are also asked to communicate their understanding and attitudes about the park using graphics and language arts skills. (FIELD TRIP & CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES)


  1. Engage in experiential learning.
  2. Employ technology to make scientific measurements. 
  3. Formulate and test hypotheses and modify ideas based on observations and data.
  4. Demonstrate creativity and communication skills using graphics and language arts.


Craters of the Moon is one of the harshest environments on earth! Summer air temperatures can exceed 100°F. Solar heating of the black rocks can produce surface temperatures in excess of 150°F. In addition, little moisture falls during the growth period and it is quickly absorbed by the porous rock. Winter can be -30°F and bring several feet of snow. Despite these extreme conditions, the park is home to a wide diversity of plant and animal species:

  • >752 types of plants
  • 61 mammal species
  • >220 bird species
  • 10 reptile species
  • Thousands of different insect species
Experiencing, investigating and pondering how life survives and is interconnected with the physical environment should lead the students to the realization that even in an extreme environment, life finds a way! 

How does geology affect life?

Cracks in the lava form a kind of micro-habitat that provides a number of advantages for living things, particularly here in the high desert.
Shade reduces solar heating, provides shelter from the wind, traps moisture (even ice!) and soil. 

Wind-blown soil, or loess, provides an important growth medium for plants. 

Solar Heating can lead to temperatures that exceed 150°F on the surface of the dark lava rock. High temperatures may cause animals to alter their active periods from daytime (diurnal) to twilight (crepuscular) or night time (nocturnal). 

In summer, porous lava rock provides insulation and a cool refuge for heat-sensitive species like pika. In winter, temperatures beneath the lava and/or a thick blanket of snow provides the stable temperatures many animals need for hibernation (ex. bats, marmots and ground squirrels).
The lava rock provides den and nest sites for a variety of species. Bears have used lava tubes for den sites. Marmots den in rocky areas and many of our lava tubes contain pack rat middens and nests. Some lava tubes and cliff faces provide nest sites for great horned owls, violet green swallows, ravens,  mountain blue birds and prairie falcons.

A wide variety of other wildlife visit caves and waterholes in order to obtain water from melting ice.


Equipment is available for loan from the park for use during your visit.

The equipment bag includes the following measurement tools:

  • anemometer (wind)
  • thermometer (temperature)
  • light meter (light)
  • carpenter's rule (distance)
  • measuring tape (distance)
  • hand lens (close up viewing)
  • humidiguide (humidity)
  • GPS (location)
  • Beaufort Wind Scale (wind)
  • Field Worksheets to estimate and record field data.



Formative Assessment: e.g.,  questioning and creation of student posters.

Summative Assessment: Students will be able to develop a conclusion(s) with supporting evidence to prove their thinking.

Park Connections

Actively engages students in seeing the interconnection between life and the physical environment of the park.


Have students create, draw, and describe a make believe creature of their own design that they think would thrive here at Craters of the Moon. Name their creation and describe the special adaptations that allow it to survive in this extreme environment. 

Additional Resources

Students may be interested in completing a Citizen Science Booklet with their families during subsequent visits to the park. This free activity book allows participants to conduct park resource observations and earn a sticker.


Adaptation, interrelationship, ecology, environment, cinder, lava, lava flow, rafted block, lava tube, solar heating, insulation, habitat, micro-habitat, volcanic glass, humidity, shelter, weathering, survival, hypothesis, transect, GPS

Last updated: January 13, 2018