Box: Ecology Box
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The Ecology Box covers ecosystems, food webs, habitats, and water/soil quality monitoring. Students will investigate water and soil quality, study habitats ranging from a drop of pond water to a rotten log, and learn about population change through various case studies. At the core of this unit is a long term project where students build mini-ecosystems with water collected from a local creek, soil from the schoolyard, and seeds. Their ecosystem will be monitored over one month as the plants grow and the water quality changes (measured by pH, temperature, dissolved oxygen, and water volume). In the second month, students will design their own experiments with their mini-ecosystems. Student teams will model various human environmental impacts (pollution, acid rain, global warming, etc.) and observe the effects on the plants, soil, and water in their mini-ecosystem.
Students discover what ecosystems are by exploring the relationships between him/herself, other living things, and the student's environment. Students create and study miniature ecosystems by building a terraqua column - a 2 story soda bottle tower with soil and plants on the top and a water source on the bottom. The terraqua columns will be used throughout the ecology unit for practice with water and soil quality monitoring and with making and recording observations. Later in the unit students can conduct independent investigations with their terraqua columns.
For 2-3 groups to share:
For whole class to share:
Students conduct 3 tests of water quality in the classroom that can then be applied to their terraqua columns and to the outdoors: pH, dissolved oxygen, and temperature. They make comparisons between different types of water and draw conclusions about how "healthy" each water source is for fish and other organisms. Through this process, students practice their observational and data analysis skills. Water quality monitoring data is routinely used in the "real world" to determine the effects of habitat restoration, development, pollution, and wastewater treatment. It is often the initial step in describing the health of an ecosystem. There are hundreds of ways to extend this simple activity and make connections to the real world - from monitoring water quality in a local creek to making comparisons between different bodies of water in your area.
Delve into a micro-habitat that is the size of a drop of water. This lesson allows students to explore the plankton (organisms that drift with the currents) that exist in a drop of pond, lake, or bay water. A microscope is required to view most organisms although some are observable with a hand lens. If possible, this is a fantastic opportunity for students to collect the pond water themselves using pantyhose and a small bottle. If you are pursuing a restoration project, collecting water might be an excellent excuse for an initial visit (as long as the creek/body of water has regions of relative calm where algae can grow on the rocks). Plans for both an initial creek visit activity and a classroom investigation of the water sample are included in this lesson plan. If it is not possible to bring students to the creek or pond, then you can collect the sample ahead of time and skip the creek visit and sense of place activity.