Ecosystem Plan - Lesson Plan
- Open the lesson by reviewing the space the ecosystem will be designed for either through pictures, drawings, or an in-person visit. Consider all the non-living parts of the ecosystem and encourage students to brainstorm the characteristics of the environment that they can remember. How big is it? Is it sunny or shady? Is it warm or cool? How much rainfall does it get? Is it close to any other water resources? What is the soil like? Is it hilly or flat?
- Tell them that they will be designing an ecosystem to fill this space. Their job is to choose a minimum of 8 plants and 5 animals that could survive in this environment and who would, together, support one another in a food web. In my classes, when I told them that the best designs would be given to our restoration partner and that we would actually be planting many of the plants they chose, the students became totally excited.
- Ask the students what they would need to consider in choosing their plants and animals. For instance, should you choose all carnivores? Should you choose all trees? This is an ideal time to bring up the concepts of interdependence and biodiversity. Emphasize that the animals and plants will be dependent on each other and their environment so choose carefully so that all the organisms have everything they need to survive. Also, emphasize how greater diversity generally makes an ecosystem more healthy and more sustainable.
- Once students have a good sense of the assignment and the keys to success, pass out the assignment sheets. Read through the sheets together, highlighting the things they are responsible for doing – making index cards for each species, creating a poster, writing a description of the ecosystem, drawing a map and creating a food web.
- Divide them into groups, show them where resource materials are, show them where the poster making materials are, and have them get to work. As students work on this project it is critical to continually remind students of the big picture. Is your ecosystem diverse, balanced and sustainable? How do all your organisms fit together in a food web? Does each species have everything it needs to survive in your area? I found that my students became totally engrossed in the individual plants and animals and forgot to consider whether they had the necessary adaptations to survive in the environment – an endangered salamander living near the area where people walk their dogs or a coyote in an urban park setting. Encourage students to choose the most robust and adaptable species rather than the cutest and cuddliest species.
- When the posters are complete, set aside a day for students to present their designs. Some questions you may want to ask include:
- What are the relationships between the living and non-living parts of your ecosystem?
- How did your group maximize the diversity in the space you were given?
- What challenges arose and how did you overcome the problems?
- What guided you to choose one organism over another?
- How will the presence of humans and their pets affect the ecosystem?
- If your plan is implemented, how hard will it be for our class and future classes to maintain the ecosystem once it is established?