HABITAT for the Other 90%

By Jason Weinberger, July 2, 2009

Grade Level

  • High School


  • Design for the Other 90%

Subject Area

  • Science
  • Social Studies

Lesson Time

330 minutes for classroom activities


Before beginning this lesson, students will have completed a unit study plan on the topic of Ecology. Students will have a good understanding of the nature of how organisms interact with one another and their nonliving environment. These abiotic factors that influence the habitat of all organisms will be a very important deciding factor in this lesson. It is the intention of this lesson for students to make the connection between the habitat needs of endemic species to the habitat needs of the human species; that is to say, humans and nature must share habitat. Students will research the habitat requirements of one of five given families (scenarios). Students will use the design process, and information available through the Design for the Other 90% exhibition, to communicate a developed idea (product/service or plan) to improve the habitat for their particular client.

National Standards

Science Standard 2. Level IV. Understands Earth’s composition and structure 6. Knows the conditions of Earth that enable it to support life (e.g., force of gravity that enables the planet to retain an adequate atmosphere, intensity of radiation from the Sun that allows water to cycle between liquid and vapor)Standard 6. Level III. Understands relationships among organisms and their physical environment 2. Knows factors that affect the number and types of organisms an ecosystem can support (e.g., available resources; abiotic factors such as quantity of light and water, range of temperatures, and soil composition; disease; competition from other organisms within the ecosystem; predation) Standard 13. Level IV. Understands the scientific enterprise 2.  Understands that individuals and teams contribute to science and engineering at different levels of complexity (e.g., an individual may conduct basic field studies; hundreds of people may work together on a major scientific question or technological problem)  

Common Core Standards

Anchors for Reading:

Key Ideas and Details:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.1 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R. Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.3 Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.8 Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.9 Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.10 Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

Anchor standards for Speaking and Listening:

Comprehension and Collaboration:


Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.2 Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.3 Evaluate a speaker's point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.6 Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

Anchor standards for Language:

Conventions of Standard English:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.1 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

Knowledge of Language:

Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.

Vocabulary Acquisition and Use:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.4 Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases by using context clues, analyzing meaningful word parts, and consulting general and specialized reference materials, as appropriate.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.6 Acquire and use accurately a range of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when encountering an unknown term important to comprehension or expression.


Students will:
  • investigate how humans have adapted to diverse environments
  • design a product/service or plan that meets the needs (food, water, shelter) of people in a particular habitat



  • handouts (attached)
  • computer
  • media center resources
  • materials for poster presentation (poster board, art supplies) or
  • PowerPoint software for presentation


Before beginning this lesson, students should be familiar with the following abiotic factors:  
  • temperature: the degree of hotness or coldness of a body or environment (corresponding to its molecular activity)
  • sunlight: the rays of the sun
  • water: binary compound that occurs at room temperature as a clear colorless odorless tasteless liquid
  • nutrients: chemicals that an organism needs to live and grow
  • minerals: inorganic elements that are essential constituents of all cells
  • pH: the logarithm of the reciprocal of hydrogen-ion concentration in gram atoms per liter; provides a measure on a scale from 0 to 14 of the acidity or alkalinity of a solution (where 7 is neutral and greater than 7 is more basic and less than 7 is more acidic)
  • topography: the configuration of a surface and the relations among its man-made and natural features
  • elevation: a raised or elevated geological formation
  • precipitation: the falling to earth of any form of water
  • barometric pressure: the amount of downward force exerted by the weight of the air above us, relational to the amount of humidity (water) in the air
  • pollution: the introduction of contaminants into an environment that causes instability, disorder, harm or discomfort to the ecosystem
  • soil composition: the percent of mineral particles present in the soil (sand, silt, loam, and/or clay)


Day 1: 1. Teacher introduces the assignment by displaying examples and watching video imbedded in the Web site for Design for the other 90% -- https://other90.cooperhewitt.org -- as well as assign a directed reading  activity (excerpts from the exhibition catalog). 2. Teacher breaks students into groups of three or four. 3. Teacher begins by asking students to identify needs/problems that are met/solved by the products/innovations described in the exhibition.  Teacher will distribute the three essential questions to be answered through this assignment.  (See attached handout.)  In their groups, students will discuss/deliberate their responses to the three essential questions.  Students will revisit the answers to these questions at the end of the assignment to revise and/or edit their initial responses. Day 2: 1. Teacher will evaluate students’ consensus decisions/explanations of the three essential questions. 2. Once students’ have considered the topic of the assignment and developed a few initial ideas for brainstorming the general topic,   the teacher will distribute to each group their particular “case study” or country/habitat profile. 3. Student groups will plan a solution specific to their particular country’s profile.  Profiles of five potential countries are attached to this lesson.  The teacher may choose to add more if required; these countries are featured in the other 90% exhibition: Himalaya (Bhutan); Paraguay; Nigeria; Haiti; Mongolia. 4. Students will read the profiles and begin research of the design problem as interpreted from the essential question activity. Day 3. Today will be spent on research into the specific problem set identified for each group.  Remember to focus student research on the variations in abiotic factors for this country’s habitat/adaptations to the habitat. (Note: This step may take longer than expected.) 1. Students will attempt to complete Step 5 of the design process by the end of Day 3.  The teacher will facilitate the advancement of each group through all stages of the design process.  To help facilitate brainstorming, encourage wild ideas; then, to help with the narrowing down of the process, the teacher may want to take advantage of the decision making grid (attached), whereby students who have researched the problem may take their wild ideas and refine them by placing them in the appropriate box in the grid. 2. Students will then debate/deliberate which ideas should be ranked the highest according to their criteria and make a decision as to which idea will be prototyped for design.   Day 4: Today will be spent on further research into the problem if required. 1. The student groups will test and share prototyped idea with peers and evaluators to determine sustainability/feasibility of the idea. 2. Groups will revise/edit their ideas. 3. Groups will fully develop their solutions. Day 5: Today is for additional testing and revision.  Step 7 of the design process should be complete by the end of Day 5. 1. Student groups will finalize their solutions. Day 6: 1. The groups will present their design ideas. (Note: Design Process as described in the above procedures: 1.     Review the challenge 2.     Investigate the problem or opportunity 3.     Frame/Reframe the problem 4.     Generate possible solutions 5.     Edit + Develop ideas 6.     Share + Evaluate your process and ideas 7.     Finalize the solution 8.     Articulate the solution {assessment})


Students will present design ideas with the full understanding of scientific communication and scrutiny of peer review.  The groups will be evaluated on feasibility of their ideas by the other student groups.  Teacher will evaluate groups upon a rubric provided, or by other rubric of choice.

Enrichment Extension Activities

Have students debate or discuss the following questions: What obstacles are in place that may impede your design solution from being implemented into the culture/economy/society of the particular country of study? How ethical is it for Western designers to design for indigenous peoples?  (For example in Australia, traditional aboriginal housing is highly adapted to landscape and to the nomadic lifestyle and most attempts to create western style housing for indigenous communities have been ineffective.)

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