Day One of Plaid Pete Gets Decomposed!

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SWBAT describe how organisms transfer energy within food webs.

Big Idea

How does a food web show relationships within a specific ecosystem? What is The Energy Cycle, and how does it transfer energy through an ecosystem? Just like Plaid Pete - students play the game "Decomposer" to learn these important concepts.

Setting Up the Investigation

Connection to The Next Generation Science Standards

In this investigation, students continue the work that will lead them to understand the Disciplinary Core Idea of Ecosystems:  Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics - Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems -  that 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 a relatively stable web of life.  Newly introduced species can damage the balance of the ecosystem. (5-LS2-1); Cycles of Matter and Energy Transfer in Ecosystems - 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.  (5-LS2-1) the Crosscutting Concept of Systems and System Models  - A system can be described in terms of its components and their interactions (5-LS2-1); and the Crosscutting Concept of Energy and Matter - energy can be transferred various ways and between objects.

Please Note:  The Lexile Level for Plaid Pete Discovers What Matters in Ecosystems - Lab Scenario Sheet Lesson 13 is 740 (5th Grade Range is 740 - 1010).

The Preparation Time for This Investigation is approximately 40 minutes.

Preparation time for first time construction of the following is approximately 30 minutes - Biome Food Chain Cards (Forest, Grassland, Desert, Tundra & Aquatic)

Materials Needed:

One copy for each student of

Plaid Pete Discovers What Matters In Ecosystems - Lab Scenario Lesson 13

One copy for team of one of the following:  Forest Biome Food Chain Cards; Grasslands Biome Food Chain Cards; Desert Biome Food Chain Cards; Tundra Biome Food Chain Cards; and Aquatic Biome Food Chain Cards

One copy for each team of Food Chains Fact Cards

One copy for each team of Rules - Decomposer

One copy of Plaid Pete Discovers What Matters In Ecosystems Word Wall Cards - Lesson 4

One copy for each student of Plaid Pete is Perplexed - Lesson 13 Check-Up


Focus & Motivation

10 minutes

Introduce Scenario

I tell my students, "We are nearing the end of the research that will help us to develop our model ecosystem - just like Plaid Pete. This is a lesson that will help us pull together some of the important concepts we have been learning.  Just listen to Plaid Pete in this scenario as he tries to do the same!"

I pass out the Plaid Pete Discovers What Matters In Ecosystems - Lab Scenario Lesson 13 and my students get out their highlighters.  I tell them there are 3 reader's theater parts, Plaid Pete, his friends, Landen, and a narrator.  Students work in their teams to highlight the text and decide who will read the parts.  Students read the parts in their teams, as I circulate and listen in.

As before, we are continuing to work on aspects of Reading Fluency, so I listen in for teams that are doing a great job of using appropriate phrasing, intonation, and rate, so that I can give high praise after the scenario is read.

Learning Objective & Success Criteria

Note:  Consistent with the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol, I am now including a language objective with each lesson.  These objectives were derived from the Washington State ELP Standards Frameworks that are correlated with the CCSS and the NGSS.

I share the learning objective and success criteria:  

Learning Objective:  I can describe how organisms transfer energy within food webs.

Language Objective:  I can speak in compound and complex sentences.  [ELP.4-5.10]

Success Criteria:  I can collaboratively construct and describe transfers of energy in a food web with my team.

Pre-Assessment/Quick Write:  Students list their ideas about food chains and food webs

I tell my students, "Before we begin, I would like you to look at the question at the bottom of your scenario:  What do you know about food chains or food webs?  Please do a 5 minute "quick-write" and tell me everything you know.  When you are finished, raise your hand and I will collect your paper"  This is an individual activity.  As I collect papers, I am scanning the information that students have written.  It gives me a general idea of my students' prior knowledge. 

When all student papers have been collected, I tell my students, "Now we are going to get ready to play the game "Decomposer.  Before we can do that though, we need to review our vocabulary from lesson 4.  Get ready for a quick round of "Pepper."

Vocabulary Review

5 minutes


My students stand at their desks, and we begin a quick vocabulary review of the terms introduced in Lesson 4 using Plaid Pete Discovers What Matters In Ecosystems Word Wall Cards - Lesson 4. The terms, producers, consumers, and decomposers are particularly important for my students to review before they play the game.  In this Video Clip students actively engage in in the Vocabulary strategy of "Pepper."  Much like the practice from which this strategy gets its name.  Instead of randomly batting out a ball to practice catching skills, I randomly call out the definition of a word and call on students to name the term.  The first round, students practiced with the cards at their desks.  We played the second round with the cards turned face down.  It always gets a little more competitive, as seen in Video Clip 2.  

The Word Wall Cards are posted on our Science Word Wall  I try to sneak in vocabulary practice anytime during the day when I can - for example when we are lining up to go to specialist classes, lunch, or to the buses at the end of the day.

Guided Exploration

20 minutes

Introduce Food Chain Game - Decomposer!

I pass out a Food Chains Fact Card to each of my teams.  There are 5 Food Chains Cards and I have 5 teams. I pass out the corresponding Forest Biome Food Chain Cards, Grasslands Biome Food Chain Cards, Desert Biome Food Chain Cards, Tundra Biome Food Chain Cards, and Aquatic Biome Food Chain Cards (One set per team).  I point out that each column is one food chain.  I then pass out Rules - Decomposer and explain the rules of the game.  

The game is played similar to the card game, Rummy.  Students use the Food Chain Fact Cards as a reference source.  The object is to construct Food Chains with at least 3 cards. Each food chain must begin with a producer.  For food chains where students later get a tertiary or quaternary consumer, they may add to their food chain when it is their turn. The object of the game is to use up all of your cards to construct food chains, and end with a single card to discard - saying you are "balanced" and have therefore won the game. The remainder of the players have been decomposed.

Once I have explained the rules, I allow my teams to begin playing.  I step back and observe, only inserting myself when there is a concern or a question.  My students have a rousing game of play - and we have the winners, and those that like Plaid Pete - have been Decomposed!

I tell my students, "This has been a terrific introduction to the concept of food chains, but as Plaid Pete has said - there is more to the story.  Let's get ready to hear some more information."


15 minutes

Discuss Food Chains Cards

I have previously pointed out the trophic levels on the Food Chains Cards to my students. Now, we examine them closely.  I ask students in different teams to compare and contrast them.  In this Video Clip I am questioning my students about what is at the beginning of every food chain.  They begin by listing the specific answers printed on the chart - grass, berries.  However, I push them further because I want them to understand the important concept that producers are the beginning of every food chain.

We also read the text together at the bottom.  We go over this carefully, paying particular attention to the idea that 90% of the energy is lost when moving from one trophic level to another.  The concept of trophic levels is important to introduce to students because it assists them in understanding how matter and energy are transferred within an ecosystem. When combined with the food pyramid (see the link below) they can better trace relationships in food chains and food webs.

I project the following information about Trophic Levels from CK12.  In my discussion, I specifically focus on the decrease in both energy and matter (biomass) when moving from one level to the next.

I ask my students the following questions:

Why is the bottom of the pyramid larger (indicating there are more plants, or producers, than consumers)?

How does the model of a pyramid support the idea of the importance of plants in any given ecosystem?

Introduce Video

I tell my students, as they have previously discovered - just when we learn to use one model to understand the natural world, we find that the model we are using is just a part of a larger, more complex model.  

I say, "This is also the case with food chains.  Food chains are a smaller model for the larger more complex model of food webs.  Let's listen as our friends at Scholastic give us some additional information on this topic."  Then, I play the Scholastic Study Jams Video:  Food Webs.  

Team Activity

15 minutes

Introduce the Task

After watching the video I tell my students, "Wow - this complicates the idea of simple food chains.  It also explains how the biotic components of ecosystems - the plants and animals can become so dependent on one another."

I hand each of my teams a small pad of post-it notes.  I tell them that I want them to construct a "food web" using the Biome Food Chain Cards that their team played the Decomposer game with earlier.  They will use the post-its to draw arrows and label the relationships between the producers, consumers, and decomposers.

I pass out the materials, and move between my teams - questioning, prodding, and ensuring that students are understanding the objective.  All the while, I am prompting my English Language Learners in particular to use compound and complex sentences in their oral discussions with me and their peers.

One team is working on this food web.  I move to another team, and they have constructed this. When I speak with them about it, it is clear that they have confused the concept of a food web and a food chain.  I spend a bit of time re-teaching using another set of Biome Food Chain Cards.  They are then able to complete the task successfully.

Oral Review of Concepts

I tell my students, "When we combine what we have learned about trophic levels, and the information from the video about food webs - it explains how energy is transferred through an ecosystem - and it all begins with the Sun - and plants!  We have a name for this in Science, and it is called "The Energy Cycle."  it describes how energy is transferred through an ecosystem.  We have to remember though, that 90% of the energy is lost as heat in each transfer."  

I ask my students to turn and talk in their teams and describe the steps in The Energy Cycle in ecosystems.  I randomly call on students to share what they have discussed.  I call on a student who describes his understanding for his peers in this Video Clip
Tomorrow morning, as part of their Do Now activity, my students will complete the Plaid Pete is Perplexed - Lesson 13 Check-Up.


10 minutes

Share Out

I ask my teams to share out a part of their food web and jot it down on a Post-it Note.  The following morning, just before I hand out the Plaid Pete Discovers What Matters In Ecosystems Lesson 13 Check-Up, I ask them to share out a part of their food chain and we have this discussion.

I pass out the Plaid Pete Is Perplexed - Lesson 13 Check-Up.  In addition to asking my students to complete the Energy Cycle, I also ask them to label the type of energy transfer by writing one of the following on top of the arrows:  motion energy; sound energy; light energy; heat energy; electrical energy; and motion energy.  I know my students will encounter this on our state assessment and this is a great opportunity for them to practice! This is one student example of a completed Check-Up.