Project Crystal Summer Program (3-5, and 6+)

During this virtual environmental education program, 3rd – 5th grade and middle school scientists are invited to take part in ecological research in Crystal Cove State Park’s Moro Canyon, right from their own school site! As young scientists help Crystal Cove Conservancy, Crystal Cove State Park, and UC Irvine study the best way to restore native plant communities, they’ll learn about concepts like plant ecology, food web dynamics, and how we can use science ideas to protect our wild places.

This program is designed for students in 3rd-5th grade, but can be expanded to include middle school by incorporating computer model and data analysis methods! The curriculum includes two to three weeks of lessons, each with four days worth of activities to incorporate into your classroom so that your students can connect with Crystal Cove Conservancy staff from the field at Crystal Cove.

Our Project Crystal Research Question:

How can we choose the best plants to grow in a restoration project in Moro Canyon? Restoration can be a really difficult process, and sometimes plants don’t always grow and survive. With climate change and human impacts on ecosystems making it harder for plants to grow, are some plants better than others for creating a healthy and resilient ecosystem? One of the threats to a plant’s success is herbivory by insects. Some plants may be able to protect themselves from this herbivory by attracting the natural enemies of those herbivorous insects, such as birds! Do certain plants attract more birds, or make it easier for birds to eat insects off their leaves? Students can can test this in their own gardens by placing clay caterpillars on different plant species and recording how many of the caterpillars have signs of being attacked by birds! Our Project Crystal research question is: Will birds eat more caterpillars off of certain plant species?


If you have any questions about the program, feel free to contact Kaitlin, Education Manager, by emailing

Week 1: Setting up our Experiment

Week 2: Collecting Data and Making Recommendations

Week 3: Explore at Home Extension (optional)

Each activity is standalone, and can be done before, after or throughout Project Crystal!

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