Day One of Plaid Pete and Friends Build A Model Ecosystem

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SWBAT collaboratively construct a model ecosystem and create diagrammatic models to show transfers of matter and energy within that ecosystem.

Big Idea

What can be learned by observing a model ecosystem? Students construct their model ecosystems and use them to examine matter and energy transfers.

Setting Up the Investigation

In Lesson 16, Plaid Pete Has a Plan, student pairs chose either a primarily aquatic or a terrestrial based ecosystem and worked collaboratively to construct a plan to build their model ecosystem in a shoebox. They used what they have previously learned about the role of living organisms within an ecosystem, and the way matter and energy transfers from one trophic level to another.  

Today, they will use their plan to collaboratively construct their ecosystem, so that tomorrow they can create models to diagram the transfer of energy and matter within those systems.

Connection to The Next Generation Science Standards

In this investigation, students finalize 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) and the Crosscutting Concept of Systems and System Models  - A system can be described in terms of its components and their interactions (5-LS2-1).

The Preparation Time for This Investigation is approximately 10 minutes.  

Materials Needed:

One copy for each student of Plaid Pete Discovers What Matters In Ecosystems - Lab Booklet Lesson 16 (Handed out in the previous lesson)

One large shoebox for each team

A variety of craft supplies (e.g. construction paper, feathers, beads, material scraps, string, yarn, etc. - students are creative and can come up with some amazing things given an odd assortment of materials!)

One sheet of white ledger size paper for each team 

Books or Research Materials on Ecosystems - I used The Ecosystems Series Media Enhanced Books AV2 by Weigl

Focus & Motivation

20 minutes

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.

We are high on motivation today - so the bigger job is to get my students focused!  I share the learning objective and success criteria:  

Learning Objective:  I can collaboratively construct a model ecosystem and can create models to show transfers of energy and matter within that ecosystem.

Language Objective:  I can use Science words and phrases in written text.  [ELP.4-5.7]

I share that I specifically expect to hear and see the Science Vocabulary that we have learned in this unit as I am moving between groups.  I point to the Word Wall where we have collected all of our vocabulary for this unit.  

Success Criteria:  I can work cooperatively with my partner to build a model ecosystem, and to complete all required sections of my lab booklet. 

Construct A Layout

We bring out the trophic pyramid plans that were constructed yesterday, and I ask my teams to carefully review them.  I tell each of my teams that they need to be sure that they include at least one of the food chains listed in their trophic pyramid in their model ecosystem.

The last item that teams need to complete before they begin construction, is a layout of where they will place the items in their shoebox.  I instruct teams to take the shoebox that will hold their ecosystem, and make an outline of it on white paper.  They need to work together to determine where they will place these items and construct a visual model that will help them to construct their ecosystem. Example 1 is one pair's plan for their layout, while Example 2 is the plan that another pair prepared for their layout.

When they have completed this layout, I allow them to collect their materials and begin construction.

Pairs Activity

40 minutes

Construct Ecosystems

Students have the Plaid Pete Discovers What Matters In Ecosystems - Trophic Pyramid Plan that each team completed yesterday for their chosen ecosystem.  They also have the resource materials -  The Ecosystems Series Media Enhanced Books AV2 by Weigl,  they used to plan with.  These provide pictures and visuals to support their efforts.  They use these today, along with the layout they created to begin creating their ecosystems.  

As teams work, I circulate between them, listening in and monitoring that teams are following the plans that they have created.  I tell them, "Show me where the food chain you have listed in your trophic pyramid is represented in your model."  

Construct Classroom Ecosystem

Once I am sure that my teams are well underway and they have moved on to the coloring portion of their plans, I pull a few students aside at a time to begin the steps to construct our classroom ecosystem.  Although my students have had ample exposure to the plant part of ecosystems, I do feel that this experience would not be complete without having exposure to the animal part of the ecosystem.  I want them to have the opportunity to care for a living creature and to understand the delicate balance that is necessary to create a habitat where a living organism can thrive.  I have selected fiddler crabs, because it will provide considerable opportunities to integrate Science and Math (measurement) skills.  We will need to attend to salinity, pH, nitrite and nitrate levels, and students will have to take responsibility for their care.  

I have purchased an aquarium, filter, heater, and materials to set up a fiddler crab habitat. This pair sets up the gravel layer, as this pair sets up the sand layer  As students work on their shoebox ecosystems, I call pairs over to assist me in setting up the classroom ecosystem.  I know that in order for them to take ownership, they need to have a part in constructing and maintaining it.  They are all quite excited for the opportunity to help.  Once the filter is in place and the debris has settled, we will be ready for fiddler crabs.

Reflection & Closure

5 minutes

Set the Stage for Tomorrow

When I give the signal for time to clean up, I hear a chorus of groans!  Students are asking me if they can stay in at recess tomorrow to work on their shoebox ecosystem models - they just need to add one more thing!  I am asked if they can use the classroom computers to do additional research on decomposers.  I don't want them to get lost in the craft/creation part of this so I warn them - I will be looking at the food chain in your lab booklets to make sure it is represented in your model!

And oh my, do we have some lovely models!  Just as an example, we have a Rainforest Ecosystem, a Cave Ecosystem, and an Estuary Ecosystem.

This sets the stage for tomorrow's lesson - taking their physical models and creating diagrams that represent transfers of matter and energy.