Day Two 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 collect data and use their physical models to examine matter and energy transfers within ecosystems.

Setting Up the Investigation

This is Day Two of a Three Day Lesson.  Click here for Day One of Plaid Pete and Friends Build A Model Ecosystem.

On Day One of this investigation, students worked in pairs to collaboratively construct shoebox models of a chosen ecosystem.  Today, they will use those 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), and the of Crosscutting Concept of Energy and Matter  - Energy can be transferred in various ways and between objects (5-PS3-1) 

The Preparation Time for This Investigation is approximately 5 minutes.  

Materials Needed: 

Plaid Pete Discovers What Matters In Ecosystems - Lab Booklet Lesson 16 (Handed out in a previous lesson)

Model ecosystems (aquatic and terrestrial) that students have previously created

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

Day One

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!)

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

Focus & Motivation

5 minutes

Classroom Ecosystem

The fiddler crabs for our classroom ecosystem are now at home in their new habitat. Students came running in the door this morning and immediately gravitated to the aquarium to check out their new classmates.  I tell them that later today, we will be learning how to care for our new critters so that their ecosystem will be healthy.  I hear comments all day like this one, "I just can't wait for Science!"

And yes - there are a million questions!  These kiddos are engaged!  Chock this one up under opportunity lost - I should have had a pad of sticky notes out, or a question collection chart handy!  I am setting one up tomorrow!  

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 remind my students of the learning objectives and success criteria that we are working on for this project:  

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 working with groups and pairs.  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 team to build an ecosystem, and to complete all required sections of my lab booklet. 


After sharing the learning objectives and success criteria, I specifically leave time for any pressing questions that need to be answered before we begin our day.  This sets the pace for the day and allows some of my more anxious students to lower their stress levels so they can be productive.  We have much to accomplish!


15 minutes

Data Collection

I ask my students to get out their Plaid Pete Discovers What Matters In Ecosystems - Lab Booklet Lesson 16, and come to our meeting area and sit with their team.  I then ask them to turn to page 6 in their booklets.  I explain that just as scientists do in the field when they are studying a natural ecosystem, we will be collecting data on our classroom ecosystem of fiddler crabs.  I remind my students that in the last unit we learned that there are two types of data - quantitative, and qualitative.  We discuss the meaning of these two types of data.  Students are able to respond that quantitative data is data that involves numbers, and qualitative data is data that involves words.  

I ask my teams to turn and talk and answer the question,  "WHY would scientists want to collect these types of data on a model ecosystem that they were studying?"   I call on a student who responds that, "They want to study how things work."  I ask, "What do you mean by things?"  I further prompt the student to use their Science Vocabulary.  The student responds, "They want to study the food chains and food webs in the ecosystem."  I ask, "WHY would they want to study food chains and webs?"  I have to prompt my students to talk in their teams again and ponder that answer.  

I call on a student who comes up with the response, "Maybe they want to study what happens in an ecosystem - how one organism affects another."  I state that, "Yes!  Everything in an ecosystem is connected.  Scientists know that when you change one factor - biotic or abiotic - it has an effect on everything within that system.  An ecosystem is like any system - it is a collection of parts.  However, changing one part has an effect on the entire system."  

Quantitative Data

I ask my students to, "What kinds of quantitative data will tell us how our classroom ecosystem is functioning?"  I call on a student and they respond, "We could check the temperature of the water.  That is measured in numbers."   I confirm that temperature is one of the pieces of data we will be collecting.  I explain that the temperature of the fiddler crab habitat should be between 75 and 85 degrees.  I tell my students, "There are also some other factors that measure the quality of the water.  One of these is called pH.  This is a measure of how acidic the water is.  Water that we drink is usually neutral - that means it has a pH of about 7.  Water that has a pH of less than 7 is acidic, water that has a pH of more than 7 is alkaline.  Different organisms need their water to be at different pH levels, however fiddler crabs need a neutral pH of 7."  I show my students the Test Strips that we will use to measure this.

I say, "We also need to remember that fiddler crabs come from a mangrove swamp ecosystem - that means they need "brackish" water, or water that is slightly more salty than fresh water but not as salty as sea water."  I explain that we will use an instrument called a hydrometer to measure the salt content of the water. I point out that fiddler crab need a measurement of somewhere between 1.005 and 1.010 on the hydrometer to be healthy.  

Students were quite excited when their turn came to check the temperature, and use the hydrometer to check the salt content.  Their teacher was not so excited when one of the crabs crawled up the cord to the heater and out of the top of the aquarium, only to engage in a mad race around the classroom. Fortunately, a fearless student scooped it and returned it to its home, averting disaster!  Sorry - I missed the video of that one.

Qualitative Data

We discuss what kinds of observations we might make that would help us determine the health of our classroom ecosystem, and decide that we will report on the appearance of the water, the activity level of the crabs, and any other things we notice.  

Students will be collecting data for a five day period.  Each team will collect data on one day, and post the data for the other teams to copy into their booklets.  This is a student example of a completed set of data.  


Small Group Meetings

40 minutes

Lab Booklets

I tell my students that today, they need to work on constructing the diagrams and models in their Plaid Pete Discovers What Matters In Ecosystems Lab Booklet - Lesson 16.  This booklet serves as a review of all of the models and concepts that we have learned about in this unit, applied to the shoebox ecosystem that they have constructed with their partner.  I know my students need this additional practice to solidify the important concepts they have learned so that they can be successful on the end of unit assessment.

However, I also know that some students need additional support, so I have planned two small group instruction opportunities.  I have broken my students into a group of primarily Aquatic Ecosystems, and another into primarily Terrestrial Ecosystems.  I call each group up, one at a time, and get them started by reviewing each section and discussing its application with their specific ecosystem. 

Small Group Meetings

Aquatic Ecosystems Group

While the teams who have chosen to construct a terrestrial ecosystem work in their lab booklets, I meet with my Aquatic Ecosystems Groups. Although my students are working in teams, I have particular concerns about a few students who routinely struggle.  I have ensured that they have additional support by asking that a peer in their pair function as a "Science Helping Partner."

Yesterday, we identified the pages in our Science Notebooks that could assist us in completing these sections.  Students will also need to use the research materials provided to them to complete these sections.

A sample of completed pages from students' booklets looks like this Example A, Example B, and Example C.

Terrestrial Ecosystems Group

I then meet with my terrestrial ecosystems group.  I follow the same procedure for these students - assigning "Science Helping Partners" as needed, and providing support, encouragement, and resources, to those students who need them.  I am trusting that I have provided the instruction to my students to accomplish the tasks I have given them.  Now my role is to serve as a sounding board and to step back and allow them to use problem solving strategies to accomplish their goal of completing this project.

A sample of completed pages from students' booklets looks like this Example D, Example E, and Example F.

Reflection & Closure

5 minutes

Set the Stage for Tomorrow

Again, students are not pleased to begin clean-up and prepare to go home.  They are pleased that tomorrow we will have more time to work on any unfinished sections of the Lab Booklet, as well as prepare for the upcoming Unit Assessment.  

I provide my students with small (1.5 x 2 inch) Post-It Notes, and ask them to "flag" unfinished pages of this booklet, as well as any other unfinished pages of their Science Notebook for this unit.  This is a strategy I have previously used to assist my students who have difficulty tracking assignments.  

I again share with students that their final scores for this unit will be a compilation of this completed Lab Booklet, and the End of Unit Assessment.  The final lesson that includes the End of Unit Assessment will be scheduled for the last day of data collection for our classroom ecosystem.  This will give them time to study in the classroom.  This is particularly important for students who often do not experience success because for whatever reason - home studying doesn't happen.