This is a 2-week unit on Ecology, in which students will be introduced to the interaction and interdependence between organisms and the environment. In exploring ecosystems they will learn about Earthís basic biomes, the abiotic and biotic factors that make up different ecosystems, and how these factors interact with living organisms in the classroom. This unit will introduce biodiversity and population dynamics within ecosystems and how they are important in structuring an ecosystem through food webs and trophic interactions. Students will investigate the biodiversity of invertebrates and microorganisms from a nearby offshore ocean ecosystem. Finally, students will build ecosystems in jars that they must balance to keep alive.

  • These lessons & activities will cover most of the Ecology standards in the California Science Standards:
  • Students will know that ecosystems are balanced between competing effects.
  • Students will know how water, carbon, and nitrogen cycle between abiotic resources and organic matter.
  • Students will know that biodiversity is the sum total of different kinds of organisms and is affected by alterations of habitats.
  • Students will know the Earth contains many different biomes, and the organisms living in these biomes have adapted to them.
  • Students know that humans can have negative impacts on ecosystems.
  • Students know the roles of producers, consumers, and decomposers in an ecosystem and recognize they must be balanced to keep an ecosystem stable.
  • Students know that energy is passed through food webs.
  • Students will know what can cause changes in population size.
  • Ocean Literacy Essential Principles 5 and 6 will also be covered:
  • Students will know the ocean supports a great diversity of life and ecosystems.
  • Students will know the ocean and humans are inextricably interconnected.
  • Ocean ecosystems donít have much life: Students will hypothesize and then count actual biodiversity in a mini ocean ecosystem during the lab.
  • If you canít see something immediately then thereís nothing there: Students will use dissecting scopes to find microscopic life within a small patch of ocean turf.
  • Something has to be moving to be alive: Students will see and touch ocean invertebrates that donít move but are still alive.
  • An organism has to have a mouth to eat and live: Students will see and touch living ocean invertebrates that donít have mouths but have other methods of feeding (like filtering or symbiotic organisms).
  • There is nothing that I can personally do to mitigate global warming: Students will calculate their carbon footprints and learn ways to lessen the amount of carbon dioxide they emit during their daily lives.
  • This unit involves 3 PowerPoint mini-lectures, 1 outdoor activity, 1 small group activity making posters, 2 wet labs (1 using microscopes and marine organisms and 1 building ecosystems), 1 computer lab and 1 movie and reading activity.
  • Introduce vocabulary during the week including ecosystems, abiotic, biotic, food chain, food web, energy pyramids.
  • Students will perform an indoor and outdoor activity to discern what is alive and what is not.
  • Students will work in groups to design an organism in a biome and list abiotic and biotic factors with which it interacts.
  • Students will explore the real biodiversity of two ocean ecosystems Ė the tide pool and the turf from the tide pool, using living organisms in the classroom.
  • Introduce population dynamics, birth rates, death rates, and biogeochemical cycles.
  • Students will discuss Easter Island and the tragedy of the commons.
  • Students will watch a portion of the movie 180o South.
  • Students will calculate their carbon footprints using the Earthday
  • website.
  • Students will design and build an aquatic ecosystem in a sealed jar using living freshwater organisms and monitor its progress.
  • These lessons were designed for a 10th-grade Biology class, and could also be appropriate for middle school classes.
  • Each lesson or activity takes place during one 45-minute class period.
  • Students were introduced to the basic principles detailed above before participating in the activities, but had no other previous experience with the concepts.
  • Most lessons/activities include a worksheet to be completed by the students during and following the activity as a form of assessment. If not completed during class, the students took home the worksheet for homework.
  • The concepts learned during the activities were incorporated into a test given by the teacher at the end of the unit.
  • After building their jar ecosystems, students monitored the ecosystems for a period of weeks to continually assess progress.
  • These activities were all performed in 45-minute class periods.
  • Lectures were given during one period and each activity was performed in one period.
  • Included in the PowerPoint files are notes on the slides for how we presented the information and are only a guide.
  • Students are introduced to Ecology.
  • Students do worksheet investigating what makes something alive or not.
  • The class then moves outside and students walk around with a worksheet and list 20 things in their surrounding ecosystem that are alive, not alive, or were once alive but now are not.
  • Students learn about the different biomes of the Earth.
  • Students learn about abiotic and biotic factors of ecosystems.
  • Students learn about the roles of organisms in ecosystems.
  • The class is divided into groups and each group receives a biome for which they invent an organism that lives in and is adapted to it.
  • Students will incorporate their knowledge of abiotic and biotic factors in ecosystems and how these factors interact with organisms in the ecosystem.
  • Students explore the biodiversity of two ocean ecosystems by interacting with living organisms in the classroom.
  • The class is divided into two groups, which participate in two different stations and switch halfway through the class.
  • One station participates in qualitative discussions about tidal pool organisms with the teacher, and also get to hold and touch these organisms including starfish, hermit crabs, sea slugs, etc.
  • These discussions include biodiversity, population dynamics, food webs, and physical characteristics and adaptations of the organisms themselves.
  • The other station investigates quantitatively the biodiversity of microscopic turf organisms under microscopes by counting the number of organisms found and identifying them using a key.
  • The students complete a worksheet during the activity; they record notes from the qualitative discussion, and also hypothesize, collect data, and make conclusions at the quantitative microscope station.
  • Students read about the Tragedy of the Commons and Easter Island, and watch a portion of the movie 180į South.
  • Students learn about population dynamics, balance in ecosystems, and resource usage.
  • Students use a website to calculate how many planet Earths it would take to sustain their style of living.
  • The site has students enter information about their daily lives including water usage, food usage, recycling, trash etc.
  • We first discuss as a classroom what an ecological footprint is, and what it means to live sustainably.
  • Students have a worksheet to fill out as they do the online activity that discusses ways humans affect the Earth and also explores ways to live more sustainably.
  • Students work in groups to design a freshwater aquatic ecosystem that will persist in a completely sealed glass jar.
  • We had the students work in groups of three or four per jar to decide what organisms they wanted to put in their ecosystem.
  • Students could choose from algae, aquarium plants, soil bacteria, snails, and ghost shrimp.
  • Each group must justify and rationalize their choices of organisms before they can build their jars by stating what each organismís role in the ecosystem was, and how it would help maintain balance.
  • Students build their aquatic ecosystem themselves in an assembly line.
  • Afterwards, students complete a worksheet where they drew out the carbon cycle and the food web for their individual jars using the organisms they put in.
  • We completely sealed the jars and placed them outside in a courtyard.
  • Every week students look at the jars and discuss what has changed, what looks different, and why those changes may have occurred.
  • The group whose jar lasted the longest (5-6 weeks!) received a prize of 2 tickets each to the Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography.


Savanna Biome


Lesson Specifics
  • Grade Level: 10th-grade Biology class, or middle school classes.
  • Time Frame: Each lesson or activity takes place during one 45-minute class period.
  • Science Standards: These lessons and activities will cover most of the Ecology standards in the California Science Standards. Ocean Literacy Essential Principles 5 and 6 will also be covered.

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