STEM Tuesday– Deserts — In the Classroom

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Deserts may seem dry and desolate, but they are thriving ecosystems filled with wildlife and plants that have adapted to survive harsh conditions. And even though school is out, these activities can help kids learn about the amazing desert and the unique life that thrive there.

Weird, Wild, Amazing! Desert: Exploring the World’s Incredible Drylands

by Tim Flannery; illustrated by Sam Caldwell

Welcome to the weird wildlife you might find in a desert, from ants to lizards, rattlesnakes to scorpions. Each of the seventeen animal profiles is filled with in-depth and sometimes bizarre facts that highlight issues like climate change and conservation or explain more about evolution and habitats.




Classroom activity: As students read through this fascinating title, tell them to create a comic book profile of one of the strangest animals described. They can use a notebook to record the animal’s name and basic information, and they can also record its “super powers”—its unique adaptations that help them survive in the desert. Students should give their creature a comic book character name, and then they share their desert superheroes with the other students.

Cactus Queen : Minerva Hoyt establishes Joshua Tree National Park

by Lori Alexander

What if you knew a place that was filled with thorny, spiny beauty and dainty wildflowers, but all other people saw was a wasteland? In the early 1900s that’s how people thought of the Mohave desert. But Minerva Hoyt saw the desert as a habitat worth saving, and she went all the way to Washington to let the Park Service know.



Classroom activity: Have you ever noticed the waxy coating on a cactus? What is it for? To help students understand, try this activity. Gather your materials: two sheets of paper towels, wax paper sheet a bit bigger than a paper towel sheet, and a cookie sheet. Wet the paper towels so they are slightly damp. Roll one paper towel and use a paper clip to hold it. Lay it on the cookie sheet. Lay the other paper towel on top of the wax paper, roll it, and secure it with a paper clip. Lay it on the cookie sheet. Leave the sheet in a dry place for a day and then check i. How damp are the towels now? Which one is wetter? The one wrapped in wax paper keeps the towel damp, trapping in the water just like the waxy layer on a cactus does.

A Walk in the Desert (Biomes of North America)

by Rebecca L. Johnson, illustrated by Phyllis V. Saroff

A lower middle grade text, this book uses photographs, notebook-like illustrated sidebars, and an engaging text to explore various North American deserts and the ways numerous plants and animals have developed strategies to exist in these challenging conditions. It also explores the interconnected food web and provides ideas for further research.



Classroom activity: Tell students to imagine one of the creatures in this book is the main character of a story. Have them write about its day in the desert from morning until nighttime. What other creatures does I meet? What problems does it face? Encourage students to use details from the book and do further research if they’d like. When they are done, ask them to add a few pictures—either drawings or printed images of the desert. And also ask them to create an interesting title for their book. When finished, students can host an author reading and display their book to the class.


Karen Latchana Kenney loves to write books about animals, and looks for them wherever she goes—from leafcutter ants trailing through the Amazon rain forest in Guyana, where she was born, to puffins in cliff-side burrows on the Irish island of Skellig Michael. She especially enjoys creating books about nature, biodiversity, conservation, and groundbreaking scientific discoveries—but also writes about civil rights, astronomy, historical moments, and many other topics. Visit her at

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