From Seed to Seed:
17: Take a Hike
Associated Lesson Topics:
Planting the Seed...
What do you think the word ecology means? Can you infer what is meant by the word ecosystem? Can you tell me about some different types of ecosystems? Have you ever visited a particular ecosystem? What are the different parts that make up an ecosystem? Are there any unique ecosystems near the school that would be fun to visit?
The National Science Education Standards require that students in grades 5-8 develop an understanding of the structure and function of living systems. This requires changing their focus from the individual organism to the entire ecosystem. The best way to investigate an ecosystem is to visit one or several on field trips. Is there a forest near your school? A grassland? A wetland? In place of a "procedure," in this activity we offer some suggestions for things to explore when you visit your ecosystem of choice.
Ideas for Exploring the [Forest] Ecosystem
1) Get students acquainted with forest organisms by playing a
game of food chain tag. Each student is given a card with the name of
a forest organism on it. The person who is "It" can only tag what it would
eat. The person who gets tagged is then It and again tags only what it
2) Have students go on a scavenger hunt, but encourage them not
to touch anything in the forest. Have them search for and record in their
journals things that have to do with plants and animals (e.g., pine cone,
animal tracks, scat).
3) Provide students with a data sheet and have them sit down
by themselves in one spot in the forest for 10 minutes and remain completely
quiet. Have them record all of the different organisms they see in that
10-minute period. The observations should include animals and insects
as well as any trees or small plants with which these organisms interact.
Next, have a group discussion about what the students witnessed and what
they noticed about the interactions.
4) Forests can be home to other smaller ecosystems, like that
of a rotting log. Find a rotting log in the forest and explore what is
taking place. Bugs, moss, and fungi are returning the tree to the soil
by hastening decomposition.
5) If possible, visit both a coniferous and a deciduous forest
and compare them. What are some differences between these two forests?
For example, is one darker that the other? Why do you think this is so?
Does the vegetation differ between these two types of forests? What reasons
do you have to explain this difference? Do the same types of organisms
inhabit both places? Which one would you rather call home? Why?
6) If you are unable to take a field trip to explore an ecosystem, a second option is to create your ecosystem of choice in the classroom. GrowLab Indoor Light Gardens are ideal for this purpose. Students can research their choices (e.g., forest, rainforest, savannah, desert, tundra) and vote on which one they would like to simulate in the classroom. Students should research the different facets of their ecosystem, including which organisms live there. The students can then compile an information packet on their ecosystem, which will allow them to properly manage it over time.
Mary McAleese, a sixth grade teacher from Pocatello, Idaho, helped her students build a rainforest in their classroom. Local plant businesses donated tropical plants, including vines, and the students completed the look by adding appropriate paper-mache animals. She also placed a plastic shower curtain on the floor, covered it with soil, and allowed the students to explore topics like the effect of acid rain on plants and plant propagation.
On a smaller scale, fourth graders in Jeff Brohinsky's Hartford, Connecticut
classroom covered a GrowLab with Plexiglas and turned it into a giant
woodland terrarium, complete with flowers, tree seedlings, mosses, mushrooms,
Harvesting the Crop...
Why is there so much talk about preserving ecosystems? Why are they worth preserving? Is it important that we have many different ecosystems on our planet? Encourage students to research the work of a local conservation group to determine the importance of ecosystem preservation.
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