Exploring Ecosystems (SHRUBS- Students Helping Restore Unique Biomes)- Day 1

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SWBAT identify the different plant communities in the Mediterranean Ecosystem, identify the parts of a plant, and how seeds disperse.

Big Idea

Learning and Studying about Ecosystems by actually visiting them allows students to make real world connections.

Lesson Overview- Outdoor Education

5 minutes

Unit 4: Ecosystems

Lesson 4: Exploring Ecosystems- SHRUBs- Day 1

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 Template and Planning 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 tell the students that we will be going on our first field trip to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and I ask them to remind me about what Ranger Robert talked about when he visited the school to introduce us to the SHRUBs program. The students remember what the acronym stands for: Students Helping Restore Unique Biomes

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 go over what we will need to be safe on our hike and give the students a hand out to remind them and their parents about what is needed on our hikes. (insert handout).

I tell the students that our focus on this field trip is to learn about the different plant communities in the Santa Monica Mountains, to learn about native plants and their structure, and to learn about seed dispersal and collection in the area. 

Explore/Explain/ Elaborate

130 minutes

This will be our first field trip to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. In the previous section I remind the student about safety and when we arrive at Paramount Ranch, the rangers give us another safety talk. We participate in three activities lead mostly by the national park rangers, but these activities can be replicated if you have a park nearby (or even on your school grounds if you have access to plants- although the hike would be more of a walk)


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 Coyote Trail in the Paramount Ranch 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 first hike,  I made sure that the students know how to be prepared. 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. (insert graphic here).

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" (insert photo). We let the students take a restroom break if needed and divide them into their groups.

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  the different plant communities they will find here in the mountains. The hike leader reminds the students about these plant communites- Coast Sage Scrub, Oak Woodlands, Riparian, Chapparal, and Grasslands,

Plant Structure:

The students learn about the structure of plants. The ranger has the students look at some diagrams of plants and also talks to the students again about the different plant communities that are in the Santa Monica Mountains. The ranger then discusses photosynthesis with the students and then tells them about the native plants that they will be "meeting" and labeling. She tells them that when they are going to meet a plant before it is going to be planted, that they need to give it a good hug so that it can be taken out of its container. She shows them how to do this and how to gently get the plant out of its plastic pot. She then tells the students to place  the plant on the table and use laminated labels to label the roots, stems and leaves. The students are then asked to sketch their plant on a piece of paper and also label their plant on the drawing as well as to name the plant. (insert photos of drawings)

Seed Presentation:

The ranger leads the students on a discussion about seeds and the different types of seeds the native plants have. He also talks to the students about how seeds disperse. He mentions that some seeds have structures that allow them to blow in the wind and others are able to stick to animals in their fur to get moved to another place. He asks the students about what other ways seeds can be moved and the students mention that they can be moved by animals in their mouths and that birds can also spread them around.'

The students then learn how to do seed collection since this is a part of the restoration the National Park does. They collect the seeds by shaking a plant pod from a needle grass and collecting the seeds onto paper plates. We remind the students to wear gloves since the needle grass can poke their hands.

The students then place the seeds into envelopes so the rangers can use them in their native plant nursery for restoration.  (insert photos of students collecting seeds).