Investigating Systems

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Students will be able to identify and describe the components to a typical ecosystem. Furthermore, students will understand how energy flows and matter cycles throughout ecosystems.

Big Idea

Ecosystems are complex systems by nature and are composed of both biotic and abiotic components.

Learner Goals

Note: I recommend that you first check out this resource in order to get the most out of this lesson!

In high school I took several drafting classes and, for a while, I had hoped to become an architect. With respect to planning instruction and teaching, I feel that I can still live out the detailed approach to building something intricate and complex even though the product is a lesson rather than a certain "built environment".

The lesson-planning document that I uploaded to this section is a comprehensive overview of how I approach lesson planning. This template includes the "Big Three" aspects of the NGSS standards: Disciplinary Core Ideas, Crosscutting Concepts, and Science Practices. Of course, there are many other worthy learning goals, skills, instructional strategies, and assessments that can be integrated into a class session. I don't feel compelled to check every box but, rather, use it as a guide to consider various options and tailor the lesson in light of these.

With regard to this particular lesson students will be able to...

1. Develop (and use) a model to illustrate the role of photosynthesis and cellular respiration in the cycling of carbon among the biosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere, and geosphere. (HS-LS2-5.)

2. Organization for Matter and Energy Flow in Organisms (LS1.C): The process of photosynthesis converts light energy to stored chemical energy... (see NGSS for full description)

3. Cycles of Matter and Energy Transfer in Ecosystems (LS2.B): Photosynthesis and cellular respiration (including anaerobic processes) provide most of the energy for life processes.

4. Energy in Chemical Processes (PS3.D): The main way that solar energy is captured and stored  on Earth is through the complex process known as photosynthesis.

I hope you get some value from my work!

Anticipatory Set ("Hook")

10 minutes

Imagine Scattergories meets Sir David Attenborough. He's the BBC Planet Earth personality, by the way.

Think, Pair, Share

Think: On their own, students are to think of as many kinds of systems as possible in one minute.

Pair: Next, using the whiteboard square with the entire team, create a combined list of systems in two minutes.

Share: Lastly, groups will recite their list (in turn) and, for any team that shares the same answer, that answer must be crossed off; this is the Scattergories connection. Teams are to keep track of the total number that the team had to begin withand how many unique answers were left (uncrossed off). This hook gets students thinking of how ubiquitous systems are in both the natural and built environments.

Note: The teacher can be lenient or stringent when accepting or rejecting student answers. I'm a bit more lenient since I haven't formally instructed on this topic yet. Grace abounds to all!

Instructional Input/Student Activities

45 minutes

1) Frayer Model Template/Systems Vocabulary Activity: Using the Frayer Model template, students will formally define and describe the term “system”. When viewing the template in a clockwise fashion, this requires students to complete:

-Formally define the term (I supply this definition: "a group of parts that work together as a complex whole")

-describe two characteristics (such as "complex), "parts that work together")

-identify two non-examples (harder than one might think)

-draw an example of a system

-identify two examples


*Here is one approach to visualizing an open system. I use a modified version but both are completely accurate I believe. However this model addresses the concept of feedback that I discuss later on.

2) Structure of an Ecosystem: Using the Systems Graphic Organizer Template, in conjunction with the instructor’s Ecosystem Graphic Organizer PPT, students will detail the inputs, outputs, and throughputs of a living system.

3) Aquarium Systems Powerful Classroom Assessment (PCA): Students will complete the following questions as a way to apply skills and knowledge of biology (in general) and ecology (in particular) given that this is the last unit of the curriculum and students ought to be proficient in these areas. This is one of a series of year-end review opportunities in preparation for final exams and our state's End-of-Course assessment.
  1. Experimental Design (#1-3)
  2. Forming a Proper Scientific Conclusion (#4)
  3. Cell energy (#5)
  4. Protein manufacture (#6)
  5. Evolution (#7)
  6. Energy transfer in an ecosystem (#8) [Main idea]
  7. Technical Solution (#9)

Closure: What did we learn? Where do we go from here?

5 minutes

Aquarium Systems Powerful Classroom Assessment:  Review answer key for #1-9 (peer assessment).

Lesson Extension & Follow-Up Activities

Aquarium Systems Powerful Classroom Assessment (PCA): 

A quick scan of this document reveals a completed controlled experiment with data that is used to respond to #1-4 (pp. 2-5). This assessment is geared toward making the concept of a system become more relevant and real-world in nature. It also provides a scaffold or template for future experimental designs that WA students must be able to complete on their own. That being said students will complete Designing a Controlled Experiment (#10) for homework that will be peer-reviewed in class the next day.

Please find the scoring guide here. Specifically, the criteria are described on pp. 8-10.