EXPLORING ECOSYSTEMS Lesson Plan

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1 EXPLORING ECOSYSTEMS Lesson Plan TARGET AUDIENCE Fourth through Seventh grade STANDARDS VA grades 4-6: Scientific Investigation, Reasoning, and Logic; Living Systems; Resources; Force, Motion and Energy; Living Systems VA grade 7: Life Science LS.7-LS.11 MD grades 4-7: Skills and Processes; Life Science; Environmental Science DC grades 4-7: Scientific Thinking and Inquiry; Life Science; Resources; Ecology * See page 4-6 for an in-depth list of standards of learning covered in this program. OVERARCHING GOAL To investigate the relationship between the plants, animals and environmental/non-living factors existing in various ecosystems. STUDENT OBJECTIVES 1. Students will identify interactions of humans, plants, animals, and environmental/non-living factors from within an ecosystem (forest, river, or estuary) based on their needs for food, water, shelter and energy. 2. Students will compare and contrast the components of their ecosystems with the Biodiversity Wall in the Discovery Room, and will look for components of ecosystems in the Hall of Mammals. STUDENT OUTCOMES 1. Students will demonstrate an understanding of the concept of an ecosystem through group presentations and discussion of how humans, plants, animals, and environmental/non-living factors interact and are dependent on one another. MATERIALS, RESOURCES, TIME, SPACE Materials: Objects representing different plants and animals with corresponding image cards. Image cards depicting environmental/non-living factors, large poster paper and markers. Exploring Ecosystems/ Hall of Mammals Activity Sheet. Time: 45 min. in the Discovery Room. Space: Discovery Room, Hall of Mammals. Denotes helpful suggestions! 1

2 PROCEDURE Welcome: Scientist Discussion (2 minutes): Teachers and students are welcomed. The lesson begins with the instructor referencing a scientist in the museum who studies ecosystems: ECOLOGIST. Students will be told that they will practice being Ecologists in today s lesson as they study the relationship of organisms and the environment within 4 different ecosystems in the surrounding D.C area. Brainstorming (Focus on Students Previous Knowledge) (5 minutes): First: students will be asked to think about what they already know about ecosystems (this will activate prior knowledge and help the students become more comfortable providing thoughts). Students will be asked: What do you think about when you hear the word Ecosystem? The instructor will document the student s descriptions, strategically placing them into two groups, first without headlines. Students will be encouraged to expand on their thinking and make connections. (E.g. if the student says whale, the instructor will ask them to further their thinking by asking where the whale lives, what does it eat, need to survive, etc.) Second: to generate further thinking the students will be asked what each group has in common. This will assist students in recognizing the two major groups that make up an ecosystem (living and non-living elements). This activity should encourage students to reflect on the relationships that exist and how both groups work as a whole to retain balance. Students will explore the Discovery Rooms Biodiversity Wall which displays plants and animals from 4 ecosystems within 50 miles of Washington DC. The FOREST, RIVER, MARSH and ESTUARY/BAY. Today, students will be working as teams of scientists to design an ecosystem exhibit. Modeling (Reference for Small Group s Activity) (8 minutes): In order to visually demonstrate the connections between living and non-living elements, the students will participate as a group in designing a MARSH ecosystem. The students will be asked to think of connections as the instructor models effective thinking strategies and questioning. What does each element provide and/or need from another? Arrows and words will be added Helpful Suggestion: Ask students to think of their Basic Needs : Food, Shelter, and Warmth etc. How are the Basic Needs needs of plants or animals the same or different? Students will be told that there will be three sources to get information from in their small groups: 1.) From what they already know; 2.) From the characteristics of the objects they observe; and 3.) From information they read in the Biodiversity Wall Field Guide. It will be reinforced that there are many possible answers and no single right one, as long as they can justify their decisions. Centers (Exploration and Discussion in Small Groups) (15 minutes): The students will be divided into five groups. Each group will have 1 ecosystem bag which will include objects as well as laminated cards representing plants, animals and environmental/non-living factors from a single ecosystem. Each station will be managed by 2

3 one chaperone/and or volunteer. Students will be encouraged to work as a team, talk out loud and that there is often more than one right answer. Student will create a spider-type web design showing the relationship between elements in their ecosystem using arrows and text. Students should use the group model as a reference. Students will be encouraged to make connections beyond the food chain, such as habitat and exchange of energy. Once completed, students will be asked to further their thinking by choosing a significant element from their ecosystem. Either one that they feel is important or interesting. They will discuss this element during the reconvene and sharing. Helpful suggestion: If there is time left in the end, make sure to revisit each componenet of the ecosystem, is there anything else? Always as the student s for their ideas first, however the chaperone and/or volunteer may need to provide supportive prompting and model effective thinking for the students. Make sure to include connections such as photosyntehesis, human influence and needs. Reconvene (Reflective Thinking Group Activity) (12 minutes): Students will reconvene and display their ecosystem exhibits. This will provide an opportunity to view each group s display, make comparisons and promote conversation. The instructor will visit each group and ask: What element did you chose from your ecosystem and why? The instructor will then remove that element from the poster and ask: What would happen if this element was taken away? What components of the ecosystem would be affected? Students will be asked to give themselves a round of applause for being such excellent Ecologists today. Ecosystems are complex and always changing never static! Students will be encouraged to look around and discover all the ways we are connected they will be encouraged to take their learning from today out into the world. Closure (Post Lesson Thinking) (3 minutes): Students will be encouraged to visit the Hall of Mammals (or possibly other exhibits) to examine ecosystems represented from different continents of the world. Their challenge is to look for plants, animals and environmental/non-living factors from a global ecosystem depicted in the Hall. Compare and contrast the local ecosystems studied within the Discovery Room with these global ecosystems. Exploring Ecosystems/ Hall of Mammals Activity Sheet will be distributed for students to complete while in the Museum (upon request). The students and teachers will be thanked for coming, and also the chaperones for their assistance. Students will be encouraged to visit again! 3

4 Helpful Suggestion: Alternate Activity for a special education group or ADHD group: Students can focus on the characteristics of one animal but still see the connections of the whole ecosystem. Each child or group of 2 3 children is assigned an animal or object with a card of information about that animal or object. Or, they can also get a field guide page (or adapted page) with information about their animal. After they have read the material, have the children go around and introduce their animal. Ask the students to think about who their animal or object is connected to as they go around doing their presentations. Give one group a ball of yarn and ask them to hold the end of the string. As a group they need to decide one animal/object they are connected to and why. For example I have the sun, I am connected to a fern because plants use the sun to make food. The next student group will pass the yarn to another group and state the connection. They can connect more than once but all groups should get the yarn at least once. Example for the importance of relationships within ecosystems: Tell the students you know that bald eagles are endangered meaning there are not very many of them left. What would happen if they became extinct meaning there were no more bald eagles? To demonstrate this have the bald eagle group let go of their string and the web will fall apart. 4

5 STANDARDS VA Grades : a) Distinctions are made among observations, conclusions, inferences, and predictions 4.5: Students investigate and understand how plants and animals in an ecosystem interact with one another and the non-living environment. Key concepts include: b) organization of communities; c) flow of energy through food webs; d) habitats; e) life cycles; f) influence of human activity on ecosystems. 4.8: Students will learn about some of Virginia s natural resources. Key concepts are: a) water resources; b) animals and plants; d) forests. 5.1: e) Data are collected, recorded and reported using a diagram. 6.2: b) Students will understand the role of the sun in the formation of energy sources. 6.7: Students will investigate and understand the natural processes and human interactions that affect watershed systems: Focus will be on: c) river systems and processes; d) estuaries. Grade 7: o LS.7: Students will investigate and understand that organisms within an ecosystem are dependent on one another and on non-living components of the environment. Key concepts are: b) interactions resulting in flow of energy and matter throughout system c) complex relationships within terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems. d) energy flow in food webs. o LS.8: Students will investigate and understand that interactions exist among members of a population. o LS.9: Students will study interactions among populations in a biological community. Key concepts are: a) relationships among producers, consumers and decomposers; b) relationships between predators and prey; c) competition and cooperation; d) symbiotic relationships. o LS.10: a) Students will understand the difference between ecosystems and biomes. b) Students will learn the characteristics of land and freshwater ecosystems. o LS.11: Students will investigate and understand that ecosystems are dynamic and change over time. MD Grades 4-7 Standard 1.A.1. Gather data from different forms of scientific investigations including print sources and personal observations. a) Support investigative findings with data found in books. e) Follow directions and keep accurate records of one s work for 5

6 comparison. Standard 1.B.1.a) Develop explanations using knowledge possessed and evidence gathered from print resources, observations and investigations. b) Offer reasons for their findings and consider reasons of others. Standard 1.C.1 Recognize that clear communication is an essential part of science. a) Make use of a diagram to summarize data. b) Submit work for the critique of others which involves discussing findings. Grade 4 Standard 3.F.1 Explain ways that individuals and groups of organisms interact with each other and their environment. a) Identify and describe the interactions of organisms present in a habitat: competition, beneficial interactions, roles within food chain and webs. b) Explain that changes in habitat are sometimes beneficial to it and sometimes harmful. Grade 6 Standard 3.F.1.a) Explain that populations increase and decrease relative to the availability of resources and conditions of environment. b) Identify and describe factors that could limit populations within environment. c) Explain competition for resources. Grade 7 Standard 3.E.1 Explain that the transfer and transformation of matter and energy links organisms to one another and their physical setting. Grade 7 Standard 6.A.1 Recognize and explain the impact of a changing human population on the use of natural resources. DC Grades 4-7 Grade 4: 4.1.2: Explain that clear communication is an essential part of scientific inquiry 4.1.5: Support statements with ideas and data found in print media : Organisms interact with one another in various ways : Recognize that some source of energy is needed for all organisms to stay alive and grow : Investigate an ecosystem of the Chesapeake Bay watershed and wetlands and describe how they support a wide variety of plant and animal life that interact with living and non-living things. Grade 5: 5.1: Scientific progress is made by asking relevant questions and conducting careful investigations : Explain how organisms can cause changes in their environment to ensure survival, and these changes may affect the ecosystem : Explain how changes in an organism s habitat are sometimes beneficial and and sometimes harmful and changes to the environment have caused death, migration and extinction. Grade 6: 6.1: Scientific progress is made by asking relevant questions and conducting careful investigations : Locate information in reference books. 6

7 6.6.1: Describe why water is essential for life and also for human activities : Explain the important role of the water cycle within a watershed. Grade 7: 7.1: Scientific progress is made by asking relevant questions and conducting careful investigations : Use a diagram to serve as a visual display of evidence for claims and/or conclusions : Recognize that in all environments, organisms with similar needs and living strategies compete with one another for resources : Describe how two types of organisms may interact in a competitive or cooperative relationship : Create a food web to explain how energy and matter are transferred : Describe how a population of organisms is held in check by one or more environmental constraints. 7

8 EXPLORING ECOSYSTEMS Background Information for the Teacher Information about Ecosystems An ecosystem is a naturally occurring assemblage of organisms plants, animals, and other living organisms living together within their environment, functioning as a loose unit. Ecosystems are one of the basic units of ecology, which is the study of the relationships between organisms and their environment. Ecology also includes the study of individual organisms, populations of individual species, or communities of many species in relation to their environment. Scientists who study ecosystems are called ecologists. Ecosystem level ecologists study the interactions within and between communities in relation to environmental factors. Ecosystem ecologists may study the energy flow and nutrient cycling within a system. They may also study food chains, or how organisms that decompose dead plants and animals provide a base for the entire system. An ecosystem is a dynamic and complex whole, interacting as a unit. Energy and matter flows between the components of an ecosystem. The organisms in an ecosystem are usually well balanced with each other and with their environment. This balance is achieved through various interactions such as predation, competition, parasitism, mutualism, and commensalism. The needs of the organisms, including food, water, and shelter, are met by other organisms and by nonliving factors in their ecosystems. Ecosystems are very complex, and their balance can be affected by even small changes in living or nonliving factors. Changes may be natural or caused by humans. Climate changes, introduction of new environmental factors or new species, or the removal or extinction of a species or factor in the environment, can have widespread results. Humans also interact with their ecosystems in both positive and negative ways. Humans obtain many of their needs from components of their ecosystems, and may rely on specific ecosystems for agriculture, commerce, tourism, and other uses. The size of an ecosystem can vary. It may be a whole forest or a small pond. Ecosystems are often separated by geographical barriers, like deserts, mountains, or oceans, or are isolated such as lakes or rivers. These borders are never rigid, though, so ecosystems tend to blend into each other. As a result, the whole earth can be seen as a single ecosystem, or an individual lake can be divided into several ecosystems, depending on the scale used. Biomes are related to ecosystems but are not the same thing. Biomes are major regional or global communities that are characterized by the dominant forms of plant life and the climate. Examples of biomes include temperate forests, grasslands, and deserts. Ecosystems may include one or more biomes depending on the size of the ecosystem in question. 8

9 Example of Pond/Lake Ecosystem Image courtesy of Image courtesy of 9

10 Glossary abiotic Adjective. Non-living. assemblage Noun. Group. biodiversity Noun. The variety of organisms living within a specific habitat or region, or the world as a whole. biome Noun. A major regional or global biotic community, such as a grassland or desert, characterized by the dominant forms of plant life and the prevailing climate. biotic Adjective. Living. carnivore Noun. An organism that eats animals. commensalism Noun. A relationship between two organisms in which one benefits while the other is unaffected. community Noun. A group of plants and animals living and interacting with one another in a specific region under relatively similar environmental conditions. competition Noun. The demand by two or more organisms for limited environmental resources, such as nutrients, living space, or light. component Noun. A part of a system. deciduous Adjective. Losing leaves at the end of the growing season. diversity Noun. Variety or difference; a mix. ecology Noun. The science of the relationships between organisms and their environments. ecosystem Noun. A community of living organisms, together with their environment, functioning as a unit. environment Noun. The combination of external physical conditions that affect and influence the growth, development, and survival or organisms. filter feeder Noun. An animal that lives in water and feeds by filtering microscopic material from the water. habitat Noun. The area or environment where an organism normally lives or occurs. herbaceous Adjective. Lacking wood or xylem within its structure; a non-woody plant. herbivore Noun. An organism that eats plants. interbreed Verb. To breed with another species. introduced Adjective. Brought into and established in a new place or environment. Plants and animals that are introduced in a specific area are not native to that area. invertebrate Noun. An animal without a backbone or spinal column. migrant Noun. An organism that changes location, usually by moving from one region to another between seasons. migrate Verb. To change location, usually by moving from one region to another between seasons. mutualism Noun. An association between two organisms in which both organisms benefit. niche Noun. The function, position, or space occupied by an organism within a habitat or ecological community. nocturnal Adjective. Active at night. non-vascular Adjective. Lacking vessels that carry fluids or nutrients. omnivore Noun. An organism that eats both plants and animals. organism Noun. An individual form of life, such as a plant, animal, fungus, bacterium, or protist. parasitism Noun. A relationship between two organisms in which one, the parasite, benefits at the expense of the other, the host. permanent resident Noun. A bird or other animal that lives in one area and does not migrate. photosynthesis Noun. A process used by plants to convert water, carbon dioxide and sunlight into carbohydrates and oxygen. pollinate Verb. To transfer pollen from the anther, or male part, of one flower to the stigma, or female part, of another flower. Pollination allows plants to reproduce. population Noun. All the organisms that make up a specific group or live in a specific habitat. predation Noun. The capturing of prey as a means for obtaining food. range Noun. The geographic region in which a plant or animal normally lives or grows. species Noun. A group of organisms that share common characteristics and are able to reproduce with one another. The seventh largest grouping of organisms in the scientific system of classification. specimen Noun. An individual used to represent a group, such as a scientific genus or species. subspecies Noun. A smaller group of organisms within a species that live in a specific geographic range and may have different coloration or characteristics than other organisms of that species. Different subspecies are still part of a single species because they can reproduce with one another. substrate Noun. The surface or ground. territory Noun. An area occupied by a single animal, mated pair, or group, that is often defended against intruders, especially of the same species. vascular Adjective. Having vessels that carry fluids or nutrients. vertebrate Noun. An animal with a backbone or spinal column. wetlands Noun. A wet area, such as a marsh or swamp. woody Adjective. A plant with wood or xylem within its structure. 10

11 Resources Suggested Web Sites: Chesapeake Bay Foundation Missouri Botanical Gardens Biomes of the World, Freshwater Ecosystems, and Marine Ecosystems Institute of Ecosystem Studies Defenders of Wildlife National Wildlife Federation Field guides Office of Naval Research Habitats National Geographic Society Habitats National Geographic Society and World Wildlife Federation Ecosystem video, audio, and photography World Wildlife Fund Local Links for Biodiversity, Washington DC, Museums and Nature Centers Suggested Books: Begon, M., Harper, J.L. & Townsend, C.R. (1996). Ecology: Individuals, Population, and Communities. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Science. Ricklefs, R.E. (1990). Ecology. NY: W.H. Freeman and Company. References Begon, M., Harper, J.L. & Townsend, C.R. (1996). Ecology: Individuals, Population, and Communities. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Science. Burton, D. (1996). Ecology of Fish and Wildlife. Albany, NY: Delmar Publishers. Krebs, C.J. (1994). Ecology: The Experimental Analysis of Distribution and Abundance. NY: Harper Collins College Publishers. Pickett, S.T.A., Kolasa, J. & Jones, C.G. (1994). Ecological Understanding. San Diego: Academic Press. Ricklefs, R.E. (1990). Ecology. NY: W.H. Freeman and Company. Valiela, I. (1995). Marine Ecological Processes. NY: Springer-Verlag. 11

12 EXPLORING ECOSYSTEMS Activity Sheet Ecosystems in the Hall of Mammals Name Complete the chart for one of the following ecosystems in the Hall of Mammals: North American temperate forest; North American frozen north; African savanna; African desert; South American rainforest; Australia. List at least 5 plants and animals you see in this ecosystem. List non-living components you see in this ecosystem (water, shelter, etc.). HINT: You may need to carefully look, listen, and read the backgrounds, painted pictures, and written descriptions in the Hall to find more information and some of the non-living components! In the Discovery Room, you saw examples of water sources, flowering plants, trees, insects and other invertebrates, fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals from several local ecosystems. What specific types of environmental factors, plants, and animals were MISSING in the Mammals Hall global ecosystems? 12

13 EXPLORING ECOSYSTEMS Post Activity to do in the Classroom Schoolyard Ecosystems Objectives: 1. Students will identify plants, animals, and environmental/non-living factors that compose a local ecosystem (schoolyard). 2. Students will sort and arrange plants, animals, and environmental/non-living factors from within an ecosystem (schoolyard) according to potential interactions. Time: Two 55-minute periods (could be longer depending on complexity of project) Materials: Activity sheets from Museum visit; reference books on ecosystems; white paper and colored pencils; large poster-size paper; markers; string; glue; a variety of natural objects found in the schoolyard; pictures of various plants, animals, and habitats. Post Activity Discussion (10 min; Day 1) Students share their findings from the Exploring Ecosystems lesson and the Hall of Mammals visit. Teacher lists the additional characteristics and vocabulary about ecosystems as students presents their findings. Post Activity Problem Solving/Application (45 minutes, Day 1; 35 minutes, Day 2) Introduce the problem students will solve. You are scientists at NMNH who have been asked to make an exhibit showing the relationships between components of a local ecosystem. Ask students to arrange the objects in a web-type design that reflects how the plants, animals, and environmental/non-living factors might interact in an ecosystem. 1. In the classroom, students compile a list of the plants, animals, and nonliving/environmental factors they will include from the local ecosystem. Reference books may be used to determine which species can be found locally. 2. Student groups assemble a variety of natural materials from the schoolyard that represent plants, animals, and non-living/environmental factors from the local ecosystem. When they cannot collect the objects (i.e. live insects), they should use white paper and colored pencils to make field drawings. 3. Back in the classroom, students supplement the natural materials and field drawings they have collected to represent components of the ecosystem with pictures cut out from magazines. Teacher circulates and asks questions to guide them. 4. Students use string and glue to attach objects, drawings, and pictures to a large poster-size sheet of paper in a web design. Students draw lines with arrows and descriptions of interactions between parts of the ecosystem web. Post Activity Presentation (20 minutes): Members from each group present their ecosystems and explain how their exhibit demonstrates the components of ecosystems and the interactions between those components. 13

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