Introduction to Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, & Dynamics: Preassessment

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SWBAT demonstrate their prior knowledge about what is living vs. non-living, and the components of ecosystems.

Big Idea

What do students already know about the characteristics that define living things? What do they already know about the components that combine to form an ecosystem? Students take a pre-assessment that will be used to inform instruction.

Unit Explanation

Unit Rationale

This unit builds upon the previous unit where students investigated the concepts of matter and non-matter, and that matter is constructed of particles that are too small to be seen.  Students were also introduced to the idea that matter can neither be created nor destroyed.  That concept will be further explored in this unit, as they trace the flow of matter through ecosystems.  While a basic understanding of the concepts of matter are helpful for this unit, they are not a pre-requisite for instruction.  

Big Ideas In This Unit 

#1 Organisms are interdependent with one another and their environment.

#2 Matter and energy flow through an ecosystem.

Note:  The assessment boundary for the Next Generation Science Standards at 5th Grade, do not require that students demonstrate understanding for the movement of matter through ecosystems at molecular levels. However, as those topics are addressed in Middle School Standards, they will be introduced in this Unit.

Next Generation Science Standards Addressed by this Unit:

Disciplinary Core Ideas:

5-LS1.C Food provides animals with the materials they need for body repair and growth and the energy they need to maintain body warmth and for motion.

5-LS1.C Plants acquire their material for growth chiefly from air and water.

5-PS3.D The energy released from food was once energy from the sun that was captured by plants in the chemical process that forms plant matter from air and water.

5-LS2.A The food of almost any kind of animal can be traced back to plants.  Organisms are related in food webs in which some animals eat plants for food and other animals eat the animals that eat plants.  Some organisms, such as fungi and bacteria, break down dead organisms (both plants or plants parts and animals) and therefore operate as "decomposers."  Decomposition eventually restores (recycles) some materials back to the soil.  Organisms can survive only in environments in which their particular needs are met.  A healthy ecosystem is one in which multiple species of different types are each able to meet their needs in a relatively stable web of life.  Newly introduced species can damage the balance of the ecosystem.

5-LS2.B Matter cycles between the air and soil and among plants, animals and microbes as these organisms live and die.  Organisms obtain gases, and water from the environment, and release waste matter (gas, liquid, or solid) back into the environment.

Crosscutting Concepts:

Energy and Matter

Energy can be transferred in various ways and between objects

Matter is transported into, out of, and within systems.

Systems and Systems Models

A system can be described in terms of its components and their interactions.



50 minutes

Introduce the Unit

I tell my students that today we are beginning a new unit:  Plaid Pete Discovers What Matters in Ecosystems.  

I ask them if they notice anything familiar about that title - they chime in simultaneously -  "Matter."  I say, "Yes, we will again be looking at matter, but this time we will be looking at it within the context of ecosystems."

I explain that Plaid Pete and his friends have yet another exciting adventure for us, and that I am sure this one will prove to be just as much fun as the previous unit.  

I tell them that just like with our previous unit, I need to have some understanding of what they already know.  They are now accustomed to my pre-assessments and understand that this is not graded.


I hand out the Plaid Pete Discovers What Matters In Ecosystems Pre-Assessment to my students.  I want to ensure that reading is not a barrier to their understanding, so I read the assessment to them and ask them to complete it to the best of their ability.  

Construct a Model

After we have finished the last question on the assessment, "What is an ecosystem"  What are some things commonly found in an ecosystem?" - I hand out a blank piece of paper to each student.  I tell them, "Now that you have answered this final question, I want you to draw a diagram/model of an ecosystem.  You can think about your answers to this last question on our pre-assessment, and about everything you have learned before about ecosystems.  You can use colored pencils in your drawing/model.  Be sure to add labels to your model."

One of the outcomes specified by the Next Generation Science Standards for this set of standards is that students will, "Develop a model to describe the movement of matter among plants, animals, decomposers, and the environment."  

Now that my students have some experiences with drawing models, I want to collect a pre-assessment model that they glue into their Science Notebooks.  My purpose for this is two-fold.  First, it will give me information in a graphic form that is not impacted by language.  This is particularly important in assessing my English Language Learners.  Secondly, I will be asking students to reflect on their learning at the end of this unit - and a picture truly is worth a thousand words.  The growth they see in their models will be so much more meaningful to them than a score on a piece of paper.  I instruct students to fold their completed models "hamburger style" and glue them into the next clean page of their Science Notebooks.  I collect the notebooks, as I will be looking at these models, in addition to their written pre-assessments.

I also collect the written assessments and score them by comparing them to the Learning Progression Rubric for Ecosystems.  While the learning progression doesn't specifically state that students will know all of the characteristics of living things, I am hopeful that they will have some ideas of a good number of them.  The precursor NGSS skills specifically mention growth, so I will be looking for that characteristic from my students.  I have simply copied the Disciplinary Core Ideas and Crosscutting Concepts of The Next Generation Science Standards in a format so that I can compare my students' responses to determine where their understandings fall on the continuum between what they should already know, the ideas they need to master this year, and what they will be expected to master in the next few years in Middle School.

Like many places, my school is grappling with increasing mobility of students.  I don't know what type of Science curricula were taught with these new students.  In addition, with the emphasis on Reading and Mathematics in this past decade, I know that content area subjects like Science and Social Studies often get left off of the already overcrowded plate of what students are expected to learn in any given school day.  While it may seem strange to assess a basic concept such as living vs. non-living, sadly - I find that a great many of my students do not understand, or cannot articulate this concept.  

I already suspect that it is one I will have to teach.  If students can't even determine what is alive vs. what is not, they will have a very difficult time understanding the big ideas of this unit.  

I look at the results of my assessment, and my suspicions are confirmed.  I discuss some of my findings in this Screencast.  I have also included a picture of this student's ecosystem next to the assessment.  It is typical of many of my student's pictures, indicating that they have a limited understanding of ecosystems.  Those that did include more detailed pictures, included pictures of local habitats.

Setting the Stage

15 minutes

Science Notebooks

We prepare our Science Notebooks for our new unit.  First, we write the unit name and big ideas on the first page of the unit (For this first unit, this will be on the next clean page of our Science Notebooks).  At the end of the unit, students will come back and create an illustration(s) representing what they learned in this unit.  

Since this unit will have 2 big ideas, I have students watch as I model dividing  the page in half and writing the following on the top section:  

Big Idea #1:  Organisms are interdependent with one another and with their environment.  

Then on the bottom half I write:

Big Idea #2:  Matter and energy flow through an ecosystem.