Grade level

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.

4. Pond Water


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.

2. Water Analysis


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.

3. Soil Analysis

Soil Profile from Tabott county, Tennessee

Students conduct 4 tests of soil quality in the classroom that can then be applied to their terraqua columns and to the outdoors: visual observation, soil separation, pH, and Tullgren Funnel (to isolate living things in the soil). They make comparisons between 2 different types of soil and draw conclusions about how "healthy" each soil is. Through this process, students discover the major "ingredients" of soil: clay, silt, sand, organic material, water, air, living things, and minerals. By recording information in their science journals, they learn how to keep good notes and share the information with others in the class during a concluding class discussion about what "healthy" soil might look like and why.

Watersheds Box

This box covers watersheds, wetlands, and the shaping of the San Francisco Bay Area. Students will create several 3 dimensional classroom models to explore watersheds, erosion, sedimentation, and wetlands.Students will explore the geography of the local area through maps and physical exploration, thereby learning where water in the Bay comes from and the path it takes before it reaches the ocean. Throughout the unit are strategies to apply classroom learning to the real world in the form of:

  • case studies - learning about the science behind the recent Hurricane Katrina disaster
  • projects - studying erosion at a local creek and staging a town hall meeting about California's levee system

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.

Ecology Box


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.