Exploring Ecosystems (SHRUBs- Students Helping Restore Unique Biomes).- Day 2

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SWBAT identify the different parts of our local ecosystem and help with restoring native plants.

Big Idea

Learning and studying about ecosystems by actually visiting them allows students to make real world connections.

Lesson Overview- 5 E Lesson Plan

5 minutes

Unit 4: Ecosystems

Lesson 5: Exploring Ecosystems- SHRUBs- Day 2

5E Lesson Planning:

I plan most of my science lessons using the BSCS 5E Lesson Model: Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate.For a quick overview of the model, take a look at this video.

I use this lesson model because it peaks the students' interest in the beginning during the "Engage" portion and allows for the students to actively participate in the investigations throughout the subsequent steps. The “Evaluate” component of the 5E Lesson Model can be used in many ways by the teacher and by the students.

A great resource for lesson plan frameworks and explanations is the Community Resources for Science. The 5E Lesson Planning template and 5E Lesson Prompts come from this website. 

Unit Overview:

In this Unit students will learn about ecosystems and the transfer of energy through ecosystems. The lessons in the unit are primarily based on our local ecosystem- the Santa Monica Mountains. This area is known as a Mediterranean Ecosystem or Biome and we will learn about the plants, animals, climate, and human impacts on this area. 

Lesson Overview:

In this lesson, students will participate in 3 activities on a field trip to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. This is our 2nd visit to the park as part of the SHRUBs program (Students Helping Restore Unique Biomes). This hands-on, real world experience will help support the learning we are doing in the classroom in connection to Ecosystems.

Materials Needed:

  • Nature notebook
  • pencils
  • small clipboards
  • National Park provides equipment for planting


Next Generation Science Standards:

The NGSS standards that will be covered in this unit/ lesson are:

5-PS3-1. Use models to describe that energy in animals’ food (used for body repair, growth, motion, and to maintain body warmth) was once energy from the sun.

5-LS1-1. Support an argument that plants get the materials they need for growth chiefly from air and water.

5-LS2-1. Develop a model to describe the movement of matter among plants, animals, decomposers, and the environment.

Disciplinary Core Ideas:  This lesson aligns to the Disciplinary Core Ideas of

PS3.D: Energy in Chemical Processes and Everyday Life  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-PS3-1)

LS1.C: Organization for Matter and Energy Flow in Organisms  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. (secondary to 5-PS3-1)  Plants acquire their material for growth chiefly from air and water. (5-LS1-1)

LS2.A: Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems  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 an ecosystem. (5-LS2-1)

LS2.B: 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)


Crosscutting Concepts:

Systems and System Models  

  • A system can be described in terms of its components and their interactions. (5-LS2- 1)

Energy and Matter  

  • Matter is transported into, out of, and within systems. (5-LS1-1)  

  • Energy can be transferred in various ways and between objects. (5-PS3-1)

Science & Engineering Practices:

Developing and Using Models:

Modeling in 3–5 builds on K–2 experiences and progresses to building and revising simple models and using models to represent events and design solutions.  Use models to describe phenomena. (5-PS3-1)  Develop a model to describe phenomena. (5-LS2-1)

Engaging in Argument from Evidence

Engaging in argument from evidence in 3–5 builds on K– 2 experiences and progresses to critiquing the scientific explanations or solutions proposed by peers by citing relevant evidence about the natural and designed world(s).  Support an argument with evidence, data, or a model. (5-LS1-1)


10 minutes

I remind the students about the previous field trip we had to the Santa Monica Mountains. I ask them to share what they learned from our visit to Paramount Ranch and I write their responses on the board. The students talk about the hike we went on where we learned about the different plant communities in the Santa Monica Mountains. We also looked at some of the native plants and their structures and the students mention the seed collection activity where one of the rangers described seed dispersal and how to collect seeds from plants to help support restoration.

I explain to them that we are doing work and learning about the Mediterranean Biome or ecosystem and show them the map of where the other similar ecosystem are.  (insert map). I also tell them that we will be using  our Nature Journal to record observations during our hike and other activities and that we will be planting native plants and learning how to use a science tool called a dichotomous key.

We also talk about the different plants we observed and the basic structures of the plants (roots, stems, and leaves). We will be having another lesson about plants and their structure when we talk about photosynthesis.

I also talk to the students about the animals that live in the Santa Monica Mountains with a focus on the mammals. We review the terms carnivore, herbivore, and omnivore with them. I explain to them that we will be looking at mammal skulls and figuring out what type of mammal it is. 


130 minutes

This will be our second field trip to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. During the first field trip, we did a short hike to learn about the different plant communities that make up this Mediterranean Biome, we learned about the different parts of plants, and we also learned about how to collect seeds from plants. 

In this field trip students learn about the different types of animals in the Santa Monica Mountains and what they eat, they learn about how to plant native plants, and they participate in a hike to review and learn more about the different plant communities in the Mediterranean Biome.


The first activity is the hike. The students are divided into 2 large groups ( about 35 students each) and then divided again into 2 groups. Each large group goes on a hike of the Ranch Overlook Trail in the Rancho Sierra Vista/Satwiwa portion of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (SAMO). The hike is led by National Park Rangers, interns and volunteers. Since this is our second hike, the students know how to be prepared, but I make sure to remind them of how they need to be safe in the outdoors. The day before the hike I remind the students to be prepared for the weather by wearing appropriate clothing (light layers for cooler mornings and warmer afternoons), a hat, bringing sunscreen, water, a snack, wear appropriate shoes and bring a small backpack to carry their items in as well as their lunch. 

We use a acronym called T.R.I.P. and I tell the students don't "TRIP" The T is for Ticks, R is for Rattlesnakes, I is for Insects and P is for Poison Oak. These are the most common safety issues we come across in this area.

The rangers give a safety talk to the students about staying on the trail and listening to the instructions that the rangers give. We also use a hand signal called "quiet coyote". We let the students take a restroom break if needed and divide them into their groups.

I remind the students that we will be recording our observations from the hike in our Nature Journals and that they should write or draw anything they observe on the hike. The rangers will stop and give the students opportunities to do some observations. We have made the Nature Journals ahead of time. I also give out field guides to help them observe the plants and animals in the Santa Monica Mountains.  

During the hike, I want the students to look for any plants or animals that might be found in this Mediterranean Ecosystem and I want them to also look for any differences or similarities to our visit to Paramount Ranch on our previous field trip. Ranger Robert and I also ask them the question of why it's important to maintain and restore these natural areas. We stop about half way through the hike and have the students do a Timed-Pair-Share to talk about the importance of restoration.

Restoration Activity (Planting):

The students learned about the structure of plants and about seed collection in our previous field trip. This time they get to plant native plants that they have learned about. The rangers and volunteers demonstrate how to plant plants and tell the students where they will be planted.

Students work in partnerships to plant the plants. I tell them that they need to record the steps in their Nature Journals (we will be planting native plants at school later this year) and I tell them to sketch the plants they are planting and to write any other observations they have made during the restoration activity. 

While the students are planting the plants, we talk about the plant structure and the adaptations these plants have to be able to survive in the Mediterranean ecosystem. Some students notice that the leaves on the plants are very small and I ask them why they think that is-some students mention that it's because they don't get as much water because of the hot dry summers. Another student  notices that some plants have waxy leaves and I tell them that this is another adaptation the plant has to help them with the limited water they get. We also talk about how many of the plants grow low to the ground to be protected from the winds.

Here is Ranger Alix giving directions to the students about planting: SHRUBs Planting Instructions

Mammal Presentation (Dichotomous Key):

We start this activity by reviewing the types of teeth on mammals and why they use these teeth. We focus the discussion on the mammals that live in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. The mammals that live here include mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes, skunks, deer, voles, mice, and many other rodents. I remind the students about the Food Chain and Food Web lessons we have previously done so they can connect this learning to the activity.

The ranger leads the students on a discussion about the reason mammals have certain types of teeth and she explains the dichotomous key activity. After she gives them directions, the students work in partnerships to observe different mammal skulls. They use a Dichotomous Key Recording Sheet to first predict what type of mammal it is and then they measure the length and width of the skull in centimeters. Depending on the Dichotomous Key, they can determine which skull it is based on the types of teeth it has and on its measurements. The students do this with a few skulls to practice.

After they have completed the activity,  the ranger brings everyone back to her chart and asks the student which skull they though belonged to which mammal. Here's Ranger Mary checking chart with the students. The students check their recording sheets and predictions to see how they did. Students checking dichotomous key notes and another student checking dichotomous key notes.


20 minutes

When we return to the classroom we make sure to look over our SHRUBs Nature Journals to record any observations or findings about our outdoor learning experience at SAMO. We talk about the different activities we participated in and we record these observations on our anchor chart. I guide the student discussion to focus on the plant communities we saw at Rancho Sierra Vista, what we did and learned about plant restoration and about the dichotomous key activity.  

I have the students talk in a Round Robin to share what they observed and to share their Nature Journals with each other. I also want them to discuss how the activities we did connect back to what we have been learning about the Mediterranean Ecosystem/biome. I have them also record these ideas in their Journals so I can check to make sure that they are making those connections. 

We will have one more trip to the Santa Monica Mountains and will wrap up our Ecosystem explorations with group presentations. These will be described in a later lesson.