4. San Francisco Bay Watershed


Students get an introduction to the San Francisco Bay watershed by studying a map of California. The concept of a watershed is solidified using the San Francisco Bay watershed as an example. Major geographical landmarks are identified on the map. Students then turn their hands into a portable map of the watershed. They discover how the water cycle determines the flows of water in different seasons, and therefore determines the utility of dams and reservoirs to even out the flow. In the process, students learn about the reasons the Bay is so important to California’s people, economy, and wildlife. This lesson may be extended into a history of the San Francisco Bay lesson.

Can feel a sense of place and connectedness to other parts of the state.
Can identify the major landmarks in the San Francisco Bay watershed.
Can see similarities between very large watersheds (on a statewide level) and very small ones (on a neighborhood level).

2. Watersheds and Wetlands

Wetlands book: First page of a 6th grade student's book on wetlands, written and shared with the 4th grade class.Wetlands book: First page of a 6th grade student's book on wetlands, written and shared with the 4th grade class. Cardstock paper, water spray bottles, markers and sponges are turned into models of wetlands and watersheds in this simple activity. Students follow the path of the water (and urban runoff) to a bay and develop an initial understanding of what watersheds are. Then some students add sponges to the borders of their bay to simulate wetlands and compare watersheds with wetlands to those without. Students extrapolate the role of watersheds as reservoirs in times of drought, as sponges in times of flood, and as filters for pollution. Finally, students compare watersheds with wetlands to those without after a “toxic chemical spill” (Koolaid drink mix) to see the effects of pollution throughout the watershed as well as to discover the role of wetlands in reducing the harm of severe pollutants to a bay. This series of activities is an excellent prelude for a wetlands restoration field trip (see the Save the Bay field trip planning guide) so that after learning what wetlands are, they can explore and restore a wetland area firsthand. Another extension and application of these ideas might be an exploration of the students’ own watershed, the effects of urban runoff and watershed protection.

1. Water Cycle Stories

In this lesson, students review the water cycle (a concept most have hopefully explored before in elementary school science) and write stories to describe the journey of a water molecule through the water cycle. They begin by labeling a drawing of the water cycle, noting the locations that water may be stored on the planet and the processes through which water travels from one location to another. They then envision several journeys as a class before writing a story to describe the journey of a water molecule through the water cycle. An optional mini-investigation to complement this lesson involves observing the transition of water through its 3 phases (ice, water, water vapor) after an ice cube is zipped into a resealable plastic bag and taped to a sunny window.

8. Ecosystem Organization

Ecosystem Pyramid student workEcosystem Pyramid student work The study of ecology has many layers, ranging from the individual organism, to the population, to the ecosystem, to the planet. It is important for students to know the levels within this hierarchy and to recognize which level they are focusing on at any one time. For the purposes of this activity, students will learn about the different levels (organism, population, community, ecosystem, biome, and biosphere) by choosing an organism and the illustrating a pyramid about that organism. The result is a colorful display of organizational pyramids.

6. Food Webs

In this 2-3 day activity, students choose an organism and research its life cycle, food chain, and habitat. The student research is assembled in 2 ways. First, the classroom is cleared of tables and chairs while students use their organisms to create a food web stretching the length and width of the classroom. Second, the pages are assembled to create a field guide for your local area or for a field trip into a state or national park nearby. I found this to be an extremely effective way to get students interested and excited about an upcoming field trip. I choose insects, birds, fish, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles commonly sighted at Point Reyes National Seashore for students to research a week before the scheduled field trip. On the field trip itself, students were very excited to spot their animals and the student who did the research would usually come forward to tell his or her classmates all about their organism.

5. Food Chains

Students review the concepts of food chains and the roles of organisms in a food chain through a simple card sorting activity. Cards representing different individuals in a California ecosystem are first sorted by herbivore, carnivore, dentrivore, and omnivore, then are reordered to create several food chains. In addition, students begin to understand the idea of a food pyramid – since all living things use energy to move, reproduce, respond to the environment and grow, less energy is available to pass on at each link of the food chain.

1. Terraqua Columns


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.